Staff blog: Tests and First dives

In North Milimani, born and raised

Living in the coral, is how I spent most of my days

Swimming around, maxin, relaxing all cool

Eating some algae, along with the school

When a couple of Wrasse who were up to no good, started making trouble in the Seagrass roots

I got in one little fight and my fins got scarred

So I said “I’m moving from this home, to the Anemone over there!”

After 8 great weeks on camp as a volunteer, the prospect of spending another month as the new Conservation Officer and a full member of staff was to good to pass up on.  1 week later, with the arrival of two new Marine Research Assistant Vounteers; Danny and Romany, I was given the task to prepare them for BSP Surveys. We quickly breezed through the Marine Park, Invertebrate and Fish I.D lectures and got to work on the identification tests. Both of them didn’t disappoint and after only 3 days they passed not only the invertebrate test but the Territorial fish test too.

Next came their first dive as official members of the prestigious BSP team, after a quick dry run on camp, we decided that Romany would have a go at invertebrates while Danny enjoyed the easy life of physical duty. Other members of the team included myself (Schooling fish), Abbie (Benthic) and Olivia (Territorial fish).  Rendezvousing with our Boat captain Musa on the Frontier boat, we all enjoyed the sunshine and surf on the 30 minute trip out to the Milimani North dive site.

Milimani North is a fantastic site, composed of a large flat expanse of vivid corals, which drops off to 20m depth forming a large colourful reef wall. It was at this wall Abbie our dive leader decided we would conduct our survey.  The schooling fish surveyor; myself on this occasion leads from this point, swimming along casually, at a depth of 11m while recording all the schooling fish in the vicinity. Physical comes next; just behind schooling fish, reeling out the transect line. A few minutes behind, once all the fish have recommenced their natural life rhythms come the last 3 members of the survey team, Territorial up front, followed closely by Invertebrates and Benthic.

Hoping this would be an interesting dive for our two newest members, I was not disappointed, just as we reached the end of the transect line, a humongous Loggerhead seaturtle rocked up and accompanied us for 10 minutes. She must have been a full metre in length and was completely unfazed by the 5 astonished divers. As we said our goodbyes and began to reel in the line, we all knew that this dive would be a memory to treasure and could all look forward to conducting many more BSP dives at the many exciting dives sites found at Mafia Island, Tanzania.

By Jamie Lawson, Marine Conservation Officer

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Volunteer blog: My first week on camp

I arrived at Mafia Island this time last week and it already feels like I’ve gained memories that will last me as a lifetime. As a Divemaster learning to further my knowledge in marine conservation I felt like this would be a great opportunity in bettering my skills with the hopes of working in marine conservation in the future. It's great to be surrounded by other volunteers who share a passion for nature and looking after our oceans, everyone has a great attitude and I already feel a proper member of the group. 



Camp life is a welcome simplicity. Its lovely to be involved in everything, from setting up the dive equipment in the morning to making the bread in the evening. Although the camp is basic, I find there’s always something to do . I spend my downtime studying fish identification, visiting the village and the beautiful beach, and talking with the other camp members. The staff have been great and very resourceful. I have no reservations with asking for help or advice as they are more than happy to give it. There’s also plenty of fun to be had in the evening, so far we’ve been treated to quizzes , bonfires at the beach , amazing meals at restaurants on the beach , and an opportunity to show off my dance moves at the local bar.

Of course as good as life on land is , I came here to dive and get as much time underwater as possible and I have in no way been disappointed. I am already working as part of the survey team and have been thoroughly content with the level of abundance and variety of fish and now that I can identify them down to species level its all the more enjoyable. You can really see the effect the marine park has had on the marine life . On my second dive I had a great encounter with a turtle . Visibility and water temperature are also a big plus.

So with what looks like another great week about to begin I cant wait to learn more, have great times with new friends , and see more of this beautiful ocean . Until next time , Hakuna Matata !

By Danny, Marine Volunteer

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Volunteer blog: Why teachers make the happiest people

There are a lot of theories claiming that teachers make the happiest people. The best way to test those theories? Spend four weeks teaching English on the beautiful tropical palace that is Mafia Island. With white sandy beaches, golden sunrises and enthusiastic students, it’s hard to imagine a better place to volunteer and make a difference.

One question I always want to know before jetting off on a project like this is ‘what is your average day like?’

Well, this was my day:

8am: Plan lessons

9am: Teach animals to Utende nursery

11am: Saunter down to the beach to teach weekdays to Masai warriors

12pm: Lunch time!

1pm: Teach emotions to the housekeepers at Big Blu diving lodge

2pm: Teach clock time to Pole Pole lodge

3pm: Use anagrams, pairs and hangman to teach jobs to Utende school

4pm: Teach synonyms and antonyms and make Mafia Island tourism leaflets with adults from the village

5pm: Take a stroll along the beach as the sun begins to set

6pm: Dinner time!

7:30pm: Head to the bar for games, drinks and potential pizza!

8:30pm: Return to the beach for a bonfire whilst gazing at shooting stars and the milky way.

My favourite thing about teaching? The rewarding feeling you get when you witness a student improving from lesson to lesson. When I first taught Masai warrior, Julius, his English was next to nothing. Three weeks later and he’s now able to count to twenty, read and write weekdays and sing the months of the year. To know that I contributed to this makes me feel good. To know that he has gained something from this and wants to encourage his friends to start learning makes the whole island feel good.

The Teaching and Beaching project on Mafia Island will not only provide you with amazing memories, skills to take home and friends for life, but it will also leave something behind that the community will be forever grateful for.

And that’s why teachers make the happiest people! 

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We have Finally seen hippos on Mafia Island!

After spending some time on Mafia Island you’ll quickly learn that this is a hotspot for many forms of wildlife: fish, birds, crabs, insects, but you would hardly expect the biggest animal of them all to be the hardest one to find. Being a small island off the coast of Tanzania, few of Africa’s larger mammals have made it here, with one exception: the hippopotamus. Only one publication mentions hippos on Mafia Island, with the last verifiable record dating all the way back to 1915. Since then, the presence of hippos on Mafia Island has been pure speculation and rumour.  What has happened since then? Perhaps they were exterminated, or simply stuggled to survive on such a small island. But if you ask any Mafia Island local they will tell you with extreme confidence that there are hippos here. Some say they are pygmy hippos, some say normal hippos. Surely there must be some truth to this rumour, right? The forest team here decided to have a look for them.

The difficulty with spotting hippos is they spend their days underwater, then come out at night to feed. So if you want to see them you have to catch them at twilight. We first set out on day trips, but no luck, the hippos were either sleeping or weren’t there at all. After the first two trips I was convinced that hippos on Mafia Island existed only in the imagination of the locals. How could such a big creature be so hard to find? Then we decided to camp, to catch the hippos when it was too cold for them to hide in the water… during the night.

I spoke to the head of the Mafia Island Marine Park (Musa), who assured me that he had grown up near a lake where he saw hippos every day, and that we should stay with his brother (Juma) in the house where he grew up. Okay. So we departed during the day with two tents, a hammock, a packet of pasta, half a loaf of bread and low expectations. After a rough journey on what the locals call a road, we finally arrived. We quickly set up camp and Juma took us to the lake. The time was 4:30pm. Once we reached the lake Juma climbed a tall tree and began to whistle louder than any man with a whistle could whistle. Last, I’d heard hippos don’t whistle so I wasn’t sure if this would be an effective communication method. Until I heard laughter and Juma shouting boko (hippo), so we all began to climb trees, and there, in the lake, we could see two giant hippo heads, each with a set of waggling ears. Immediately all doubt vanished. These were hippos, big hippos, Hippopotamus amphibious.

After admiring the hippos we made dinner and tried to sleep among the pervasive rumbling of the river horse. Much of the night was spent peaking out of the zip of our tents in curiosity and fear at the surrounding moonlit grasslands. But now we know.

By Edmond

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Volunteer blog: Mange Reef and Sandbank

After a 7am early morning start to account for the two hour journey, the entire camp boarded Yanga (our boat) as Mussa (our captain) set sail for Mange reef and Sandbank.  The Mariners, joined by the newly trained terrestrials, hoping to see white tip reef sharks, were eagerly anticipating their first dive as they set across the glistening waters of the Indian Ocean.

As the divers descended 15m towards the majestic reef, they encountered countless species of Parrotfish, Angelfish and Stingrays amongst many others including the favourite Red-tooth Trigger fish, never previously been seen inside the bay.  With jet streams of Fusiliers crossing our paths, we ventured onwards across the sandy bottom in search of the elusive white-tip reef sharks but to no avail. The second dive followed after a surface interval, again to encounter the breathtaking surroundings and marine life that Mange has to offer.  Upon resurfacing, the two dive teams swapped stories, with one team seeing dolphins and the others coming back with comical stories of certain members of the newly trained terrestrial divers sneezing snottily in masks. 

As the boat headed back to collect the Teachers and for a brief relax on the Sandbank, the sun's intensity was visible from hundreds of metres away…   As the divers disembarked the boat, food bags were swapped between the two groups to much delight.  After a relaxing break, and photo-shoot, Mussa called “All aboard” and our tired crew waded through the crystal clear waters back to the boat.  As we sailed off into the setting sun, we were briefly stalled by Dave as he accidently jettisoned his water bottle off the boat causing a quick salvage mission for his beloved bottle. Ten hours after beginning our adventure, the tired voyagers returned to camp for a quick refresher before dancing the night away in style at our favourite local watering hole.

By Dave Pearson, Marine Research Assistant Volunteer, Brendan Boylan, Teaching Volunteer and Jamie Lawson, Marine Assitant Research Volunteer

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Staff blog: Giants of the Reef

Epinephelus lanceolatus also known as the Giant Grouper is classified as the largest bony fish currently found on coral reefs around the world. This huge fish is in fact found on Mafia Island, Tanzania, and I have had the chance of seeing it a few times whilst diving. Spanning to a length of up to 2.8m and to the incredible weight of 400 kg, this fish provides a humbling sight underwater, especially as it is usually followed by an array of other species including remoras and golden trevally.

Image courtesy of Steve Harwood

One of the local dive sites within the Marine Park which Frontier TZM occasionally visits, named Kinassi Pass, is the prime location for spotting large marine species such as giant groupers, giant reef rays, barracudas, cobias and turtles. Each dive there is as exciting as the next one, simply due to the shear size and number of species present on the reef. Schools of hundreds of eyestripe surgeonfish can be spotted there as well other large groupers such as the Malabar grouper and Potato grouper. Kinassi Pass is located at the entrance of the bay, meaning there are strong tidal currents that regularly occur there. The dives I have done there have mostly been drift dives, rendering the experience even more exciting and heart-pumping. Once whilst reaching a depth of 26m, I managed to spot a school of pickhandle barracuda, a huge honeycomb moray eel, two hawksbill turtles and a pair of giant reef rays gliding above the reef all within the first 20 minutes of the dive! The giant groupers found on Kinassi Pass are notorious amongst the dive centres across the island, one individual has even been aptly named “Jesus” due to the fact that his sheer size induces underwater swearing when spotted by tourists…


Image courtesy of NOAA

Large individuals such as the giant grouper found at these dive sites are an important indicator that the coral reef is in good health and not currently threatened by fishing. This in turn provides strong support for the importance of local marine parks and regulated fishing.

By Margaux Steyaert, Dive Officer

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