(Tanzania) – Deeply committed to the conservation of the region’s sea turtles, dugongs and whale sharks, as well as the preservation and rehabilitation of the Shungi Mbili coral reef, Thanda Island’s support for Sea Sense, a Tanzanian marine conservation NGO, has already facilitated meaningful results within its first year.
Addressing a shared concern for the marine biodiversity of the waters off Thanda Island and the area surrounding Mafia Island, Thanda Island’s donation of US$20,000 has played a significant role in the advancement of research, education and the broader engagement of the local communities in sea turtle conservation in particular.
Six Community Conservation Officers have been recruited to monitor the number and species of nesting turtles, recording 344 green turtle nests and two hawksbill nests. More than half of all nests laid in Tanzania each year are laid in Mafia Island confirming that the island continues to support the country’s largest green turtle rookery. Historically turtle nests were routinely poached but the establishment of a community nest incentive scheme, which provides a small financial incentive to report every successful hatching, has helped reduce this. Additionally, the reporting system provides an opportunity for Conservation Officers to sensitize their fellow citizens on the importance of sea turtle conservation and threats to sea turtle survival.
In May, Sea Sense provided theory sessions and practical training on sea turtle conservation to 18 Thanda staff (13 local staff and five management staff). A re-established nesting site, the Thanda Island team were taught the essential field skills of nest relocation and post-hatching excavations to record hatching success. Information was also shared on dugong and whale shark biology and conservation.
The funding also supported a Green Turtle Population Census on nearby Juani Island where most of the nesting is concentrated. Each encountered female turtle was measured and examined for the presence of existing tags, or later tagged. Tagging data was analysed to allow calculation of clutch frequencies, inter-nesting durations, level of nest site fidelity and re-migration intervals. Conducted for the 5th successive season, the data has already started to provide information on remigration intervals with several females having been encountered during previous nesting seasons. Preliminary data analysis suggests 2016 will have been a very successful nesting year.
Using World Environment Day as a platform to spread key messages to the residents of the local seafaring communities, Sea Sense was able to mobilise a variety of groups to conduct a series of clean-up activities, using the opportunity to sensitise citizens on the links between poor waste management and human health. Furthermore, a community theatre group staged a series of short plays delivering key messages on the impact of illegal fishing practices and the role of governance of marine and coastal resources that reached approximately 1400 people. The poor commitment of village leaders to fight illegal fishing practices was identified as a major issue stimulating heated discussion. This demonstrates the positive impact the awareness programme has already generated in growing the desire to challenge and demand accountability.
Sea Sense was also able to initiate the setup of a focus group discussion between 38 fishery stakeholders where it was clear the relationships between fishers, fish traders, village councilors and leaders were weak. The widespread confusion about the types of fishing licenses, vessel registrations, associated charges and their validity period were addressed by a District Fisheries Officer. Migrant fishers were raised as a concern with an agreement to enforce limits on these reached. The session provided an opportunity to address inherited and inaccurate knowledge of the key endangered species and their habitats.
Supporting this initiative further, Thanda Island’s donation facilitated the visit to two migrant fisher camps totaling over 500 fishermen where Sea Sense were able to address illegal fishing issues as well as poor waste management resulting in clean-up operation at both camps. The minimal resistance and suspicion received by the Sea Sense team compared to previous meetings was noted. It is evident that the funding of the NGO’s ongoing work has facilitated an increasing level of trust which in turn has provided the opportunities to influence attitudes towards the exploitation of marine resources and deliver the successes that have been achieved through the partnership to date.