Volunteer blog: Sammy Attoe

Flying into Mafia Island, in a tiny eight person plane, I had no idea what to expect. As we passed over the crystal blue waters below, however, my anxiety soon turned to excitement as the waters around the island gave a glimpse of what was in store for me.

My first week on camp - a collection of huts blended into the surrounding trees - has flown by. In this short time, most of which I’ve spent underwater, I have done and seen a huge amount. Completing my Advanced Open Water Diver course has been an immensely fun and rewarding experience. I have progressed my skills as a diver while getting to see stunning aquatic life, from the huge Titan triggerfish and Giant reef ray to the tiny but beautiful Nudibranch. I have been able to explore deeper depths on the deep dive where the suns light struggles to penetrate the meters of water, while I have also seen the reef as I’m whisked past by the current on a drift dive. I found myself extremely exhilarated if not a bit concerned as to what was happening and where we were going.

There’s no better way to spend your days than by diving at Mafia and I cannot wait for what the island will have me see next, not only on the diverse reefs of which I’ve only scratched the surface, but in the local fauna. Monitor lizards and colourful spiders much too big for my liking are but some of the creatures I’ve spotted so far. I also hear there are monkeys…

By Sammy Attoe, Marine Volunteer Research Assistant

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Tanzania.


Forest ARO Blog: Kate Helliwell

Unless you are one of those cleaver creatures in this world that has evolved with no predators and little threats to survival, you will undoubtedly need to evolve a survival strategy that protects your species from predation or extinction. One of these adaptions is camouflage. Here on Mafia Island you can observe all types of insects, reptiles and amphibians among other creatures that all have their individual methods of not being seen.

A fascinating creature such as the chameleon even has the ability to change its skin colour to its surroundings in order to hide from birds or snakes. Some chameleons even use this ability to inform others of their mood, turning black when angry for instance. The mechanism behind this is a collection of cells called chromataphores each containing different pigments these pigments have the ability to change location within the cells, different arrangements have different colour intensities. A flap necked chameleon found on camp last week had this ability and was seen changing from a plain green to a speckle green as it crawled further into a lime tree, we even managed to lose him a few times on his travels around the tree!


Amphibians and other reptiles are made up of browns, greys to camouflage into bark as a first line of defence. Some amphibians have also evolved chromataphores, they are also known to hide under leaf litter and blend into their backgrounds.  In such case that when the amphibians are seen toxins may be secreted from the skin as a second line of defence. These although successful use up much needed energy therefore animals favour camouflage as a preferred strategy for defence.

Other creatures such as insects have evolved to imitate certain leaves, fruits and seeds in order to blend into to their backgrounds. On Mafia crickets, and praying mantis have leaf like twiggy bodies  helping them blend into the leafy branches of nearby trees, it is only however when they move that this illusion is exposed. Species of butterflies have similar adaptations; the African Migrant looks astonishing like the underside of a leaf with noticeable veins on its wings for instance.

Below are some camouflaged creatures, see if you can spot the chameleon the amphibian and the insects in each…

By Kate Helliwell, Forest ARO

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Tanzania.


Forest ARO Blog: Marieke Tichler

As I flew over the Indian Ocean to Kilindoni, I could already see the amazingly blue turquoise waters and astonishing green colour covering whole of Mafia Island. I was picked up by a piki piki as the roads were too slippery to go by tuk tuk, due to the heavy rains. While we drove to Utende, people were smiling and children were waving, and I clung on, hoping I wouldn’t fall off the motor bike. I made it to camp safely and got a warm welcome from Jen and Louise. Jen showed me around camp, gave me a quick tour through the village where we got us some fish and later on showed me the pretty beach of Mafia Lodge.

Image courtesy of Alex Ward, Tanzania Marine volunteer

This is the general beach we use to hang out in the heat of the day or after a hard day of work. Up to now we did some walks through the mangroves to get an idea of their use and status, and Kate took me on a few bird surveys in the wetlands and along the beach. We also did some maintenance work on camp, like digging a new bio-pit and broadening the path for the trolley of the divers to use. Sundays here are our day off and so Saturday night is the time to go and see the city lights. There are two bars here in the village, called Mapenzi and Toplife, of which the former one we went to last Saturday. Here we chatted with the locals, showed off some of our dance moves on the dance floor and made friends with one of the Masai guys, who later on showed me some of his hand crafted bracelets at his home, for me to buy. The next day we got invited by the manager of one of the lodges, where we could come for a swim in his nice swimming pool, which was a relaxing way to end the week. All in all, a pretty darn good first week!

By Marieke Tichler, Terrestrial Assitant Research Officer

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Tanzania.


Volunteer blog: David Lankes

6:30am wake up on a camp duty day (which involves cleaning and preparing various aspects of the camp for functionality in the day) may not be everyone's idea of a pleasant morning. However, instead of a typical UK breakfast of cereal and toast to get your motor started, there are some other tasty alternatives on this little east African island. A freshly baked Chapatti, made by a local lady at the beach, accompanied by a gingerbread cake (acquired on the neighbouring island of Juani) and a hot coffee gets my morning started just right. Or the daily freshly baked bread made by our very own camp members (which often tastes interesting) with some butter and the local mixed fruit jam. For lunch, there is a daily standard meal of rice and beans, which, although repetitive, I still find quite scrumptious when dosed in soy sauce and chicken stock. We are also lucky to have a guava tree as well as two lime trees by the kitchen! The limes can make refreshing limeade when mixed with sugar and water.     

When it comes to dinner, the options are endless. If you're not up for the pumpkin, cabbage, spinach, potatoes or other things prepared on camp by our cook Teresa, then there is also the option of going into town to eat at a local bar or food vendor. My personal favourite local meal is called chips ma-yai, which is basically an omelette with integrated potato wedges, which I often have with a couple of beef skewers (Mishkake) or a chicken wing, delicious! Alternatively there is also a variety of freshly made samosas to buy, ranging from vegetable to fish and fruit fillings! And on special occasions, which usually fall every Sunday night or to wish a hearty goodbye to a camp member, a special effort is made which even puts the Ritz chefs to shame; for example last weekend we were donated a filleted fish which we grilled over a camp fire and seasoned with our limes and local spices to create a Michelin star meal.

So, as you can see, not only does this island offer a highly varied marine and terrestrial abundance of life which is the focus of Frontier's research, but it also offers you the option of  experiencing the equally varied and abundant worldly flavours to be found here!

By David Lankes, Marine volunteer

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Tanzania.


Volunteer blog: Catherine Jones

Mafia Island and the surrounding ocean is home to a vast array of marine life, from the huge Whale Shark to tiny Nudibranchs. During my time spent diving these waters and taking part in the marine surveys I have been luckily enough to see and learn a lot about many of the different species here.
I have been a scuba diver for 8 years and so I recognized a lot of the species, although did not know the names or much about many of them as I am not from a biology background. So its great to have able to learn more about the different species and be able to name what I see whilst diving!

One species I was previously aware of and as an underwater photographer get really excited about spotting, are Nudibranchs.  Nudibranchs are also known as sea slugs, but don’t imagine the boring, ugly slugs you get in your garden at home, these little creatures are brightly coloured, beautifully decorated and patterned in a huge variety of combinations, more than you could possibly imagine!

Nudibranchs may look like pretty and delicate creatures but they are all carnivores and as they have no shell they have adapted different methods to defend against predators. These tend to be camouflage or chemical warfare. Some secrete acids that put off fish and others toxins that can kill, some even borrow sting and toxin off the creatures they eat!

On Mafia Island I have seen the majority of Nudibranchs on a dive site called Nudi City. This site is a shore dive and although it can be a bit tricky to reach due to currents, we have had to abort 3 out of 5 times! When you do manage to get there it is well worth the effort! There are not only lots of Nudibranchs, but also many other invertebrates, loads of pufferfish, rays and plenty of other reef fish such as triggers and sweetlips.

My top 5 Nudis of Mafia Island so far, all of which I found and photographed at Nudi City are the following:

1.    Risbecia Pulchella – These can grow up to 11cm in length and are mostly found crawling in pairs.

2.    As yet unidentified but possibly Nembrotha Milleri – This nudibranch was found moving along the sand at the bottom at Nudi City.

3.    Glossodoris Cinta – Also named my me as the Cupcake Nudibranch as it looks like it has sprinkles on the top.

4.    Chromodoris Annulata – Another large Nudibranch, it can grow up to 10cm and can be found from the Red Sea all the way to the Eastern Indian Ocean.

5. Cuthona Kanga – This last Nudi is my favorite and the only Aeolid of the top 5. Aeolids have clusters or rows of long tentacle like cerata of their surfaces. These cerata contain lobes of the digestive gland which special sacs at their tips which store stinging cells ingested from their prey.

By Catherine Jones, Marine volunteer

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Tanzania.


ARO Blog: Jen Freer

On Wednesday morning we were lucky enough to witness the 1st green turtle hatching of the season on Juani Island. It was incredible to see these tiny turtles instinctively know to dash down to the sea. We helped them on their way by creating a pathway and providing moral support! Now they are at sea they are on their own. What other challenges will they face in their lifetime? And how can we help them?


On Tanzania many people still eat and trade turtle meat. In 2001, with no enforcement, 49% of turtle nests were poached around Mafia.

SOLUTION:  Night patrols and public awareness campaigns have reduced poaching rates to 1%.


With increasing coastal populations and tourists comes greater demand for food. Fishermen often resort to destructive fishing practices to meet these demands. Dynamite fishing, for example, destroys coral reefs and seagrass beds that turtles use at all stages of their development.

SOLUTION: Marine Protected Areas create safe zones for turtles. Mafia Island Marine Park (MIMP) has designated zones in which no fishing is allowed, restricting fishing activities to certain areas. This multi-use approach does not exclude fishermen altogether and allows for a closer relationship between the authorities and the community. This is vital for cooperation and the success of the Marine Park.


Building of hotels on turtle nesting beaches can reduce the frequency and success of turtle hatchings. This has been the case in Zanzibar, and could become a problem around Mafia in the near future when word spreads of its unspoiled environment and exotic location.

SOLUTION: Limits can be set on hotel development, such as building at certain distances from the beach and only using low lighting that will not disturb or stress nesting female turtles. Educating tourists and involving them in turtle conservation will increase awareness and provide alternative income generating activities that will benefit both turtles and local communities.



Gill nets are commonly used around Tanzania and Mafia to catch certain species of fish. In 2002, a study found out that around 1000-2000 turtles/year are caught in gill nets around Tanzania. Seine nets are also responsible for catching turtles.

SOLUTION: Certain fishing gears are banned within MIMP including seine nets. Turtle Excluder Devices (TED’s) are an effective way of allowing any trapped turtles to escape from within nets. However, few artisanal fishermen can afford such devices and it is not yet compulsory for nets to be fitted with them.


Vast amounts of rubbish can accumulate on beaches.  For example, on Juani Island, the tide brings in rubbish and debris from as far as Madagascar. On small tropical islands such as Mafia and Juani, waste disposal plans are lacking only serving to increase the amount of rubbish on beaches and villages.

SOLUTION: Volunteers of Frontier and SeaSense, a local conservation group based on Juani, organise and take part in beach clean ups most months throughout the year. We also hold environmental awareness days, stressing the damage that plastics can do to marine life. SeaSense often recycle rubbish in to useful objects the locals can use.

Although these turtles will face challenges at sea, when nesting and when hatching, we can help them by actively encouraging and teaching people to make small changes that will ultimately lead to large differences in our seas.

By Jen Freer, Marine Assitant Research Officer

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Tanzania.