A scene that appears romantic belies a harsh reality
Arriving in Jambiani on the South-West coast of Zanzibar, we were greeted by a romantic scene, a classic image of an exotic island.
Arriving in Jambiani on the South-West coast of Zanzibar, we were greeted by a romantic scene, a classic image of an exotic island. The full moon rising was massive, and its light transformed the Indian Ocean into a mercury sea. The tops of the waves breaking on the distant reef shone bright white, and their constant falling carried across the lagoon to our rustic beachside cottage. But soon we were confronted with a sight that at first seemed wonderful, but was to reveal a harsh reality in this beautiful scene.
Along the beach hundreds of girls and women in beautiful Kangas, their heads covered according to Muslim tradition, walked onto the beach from among the palm trees, and into the shallow waters. Was this a festival? Or a happy tradition to enjoy the water by the full moon? But they dispersed along the coast, and we watched them bend over wooden poles that seemed to be arranged in large squares. It was intriguing.
A woman working in her 'seaweed garden'
We soon got to know our friendly neighbours, Chris and Connie from Switzerland, who have a house on the beach and know the community well. They explained that in the mid-1990s an international company that buys seaweed to produce fertilisers and health products, had trained people in Jambiani how to grow seaweed in the lagoon and prepare it for export. Initially they paid an adequate price. But meanwhile they were training villagers along the entire coast of East Africa, from Mozambique to the Red Sea, in the same techniques. As the supply grew, they offered less and less per kilo. They were now offering US0.70¢ for five kilos of dried top grade seaweed. To earn $1.00, the women need to grow and harvest at least 26 kilos of seaweed.
With most people making only $3.00 per month from their hard labour, most of the men went back to fishing in the ocean lagoon. However, with a growing population, fish stocks are in decline, and the catching of certain species, like octopus, is having a serious effect upon the entire eco-system, including the coral reef. The lagoon is under serious stress, and fishing alone cannot sustain a family. Tourism also remains weak with competition from large resorts to the north. So, without choices and facing poverty, the women go on harvesting seaweed, night and day, for a pittance.
Sponge farming in the Jambiani lagoon
This situation, both the economic plight of the people and the destruction of the lagoon eco-system, inspired Chris and Connie to establish the NGO "Marine Cultures". Supported by a few private donors, they travelled to South-East Asia to research aquaculture, to find sustainable ways for the people of Jambiani to earn money from the lagoon.
They are now running an experimental sponge farm, and teaching fishermen how to grow sponges on lines in the lagoon, keep the lines clean and harvest them. They are looking at international markets for sponges, in the aquarium trade, for painting and car cleaning products and in hospitals. Sea cucumbers, pearls and coral can also be grown and harvested in a sustainable way in the warm lagoon environment. The success of their work will help lift the community out of poverty, and take the pressure off the marvellous marine life that lies between the reef and the coastline.
Marine Cultures brings economic and conservation knowledge to coastal communities to create sustainable livelihoods and decrease pressure on marine life. They are helping a new generation make the transition from sea-hunting to become sea-gardeners.
Marine Cultures is creating sustainable livelihoods for the Jambiani community
Author: Roddy Bray
Published Date: 14 Feb 2011
Location: East Africa | Tanzania
Themes: natural world, society | conservation, ocean, social development