Dive Officer Blog: Mafia Archipelago - A Diver’s Paradise

Arguably the most beautiful archipelago in the Indian Ocean, the Mafia Islands are abundant with wildlife both above and below the surface. However, more than anything it’s azure waters and abundant marine life drew me to this place…it truly is a diver’s paradise. As a Scuba Instructor you could not hope to find a better office! Unspoiled reefs surround the islands, rich in soft and hard corals, sponges and anemones, attracting a stunning array of fish.

Cracking an egg in deep water!

One of my favourite dive sites within the archipelago has to be Dindini Wall. Located just outside the bay entrance, this stunning dive consists of a rock wall descending from 8 metres to 28 metres.  With calm waters and visibility varying from 15-30 metres this really is a magical site. When weather, tides and transport permit this is my number one site to undertake the Advanced Open Water Deep Dive. It is a safe environment with the 8-metre shelf abundant with marine life such as Redtooth Triggerfish, Surgeonfish and Moorish Idol and amazing invertebrates such as Crown of Thorns, large Sea Cucumbers and Sea Urchins. The rock wall makes a great visual reference for divers while descending to the deeper waters and we regularly encounter large fish such as Potato Grouper and Napoleon Wrasse. The seabed of this site is ideal for carrying out the skills and games required for the AOW Deep Dive and my students are always in great spirits on surfacing from this dive!

By Louise (The Barracuda) Howell, Dive Officer

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


Volunteer Blog: Ben Hinder

The way we collect data here on Mafia is really simple. We use a baseline survey protocol (BSP ) to collect rich data in the limited time we have underwater. We have team of five divers, each with a specific focus on the dive. One diver surveys the physical parameters of the dive site, so temperature, timing, number of boats etc. Another diver surveys the benthic cover of the reef, they look at coral morphology (shape) and what the sea bed is made up of other than coral. The other three divers survey the remaining organisms on the reef. One surveys invertebrates, one schooling fish and the other territorial fish. Our transects are 20m long and we do three on each dive, allowing 10m between each transect to get the maximum coverage of the reef.

We descend as close to the desired survey site as possible and weight down one end of the transect tape . Then the schooling fish and physical surveyors reel out the tape and do their data collection. The other divers wait five minutes to allow the animals of the reef to return, then work along the tape collecting their data and recording it on slates.

Once we've collected the data and finished the dive, we log all the data into a spreadsheet. Once the data set for the five year research is complete, we will compare the data from before the marine park opened to now, when it's been open for 19 years. We will also compare the different areas inside the marine park to see if the designations are having a positive affect.

Once we've finished collecting and analysing the data, Frontier hopes to either provide the Park's management with advice for improving the way the park is structured if the park isn't working, or potentially expanding the park to include more of Mafia's reefs. By showing that the park can be beneficial to both the locals and international community, Frontier could even help encourage other countries to open their own parks.

By Ben Hinger, Marine volunteer

Find out more about volunteering projects in Tanzania.


Volunteer Blog: Joe Griffin

The diving around Mafia island, more specifically around Chole bay is exceptional. Although I have not seen all of the fish I could see here, I have seen a huge amount within my relatively short stay of a month already. I have no doubt however that I will have seen all of the species I would like to have by the time I leave in 2 months time, for example, Frog fish and Honeycomb moray eel's.

I have compiled a list of my favourite under water creatures I have seen so far, starting in no particular order. The Giant Grouper, these are very large, the one I saw was approximately 2 meters long and its  body was as round as a beer keg although they are not found on every dive site I understand that they can be relatively easily found on a few dive sites around the bay area. Another amazing thing to see on any dive anywhere in the world, that can be found here is the turtle, the hawksbill that we saw was just relaxing at about 22 meters eating algae, there are also Turtle hatchings on Juani, one of the islands just off the coast from Utende depending on timing. Nepoleon Wrasse can be found just outside of the bay, these are also big fish with a distinguished hump on their heads. Sea horses can also be found in amongst the seagrass just off the shore, and from what I understand from speaking to locals they can also be found further out in the bay, but I find it more fun to duck dive and look for them while snorkeling.

Giant Moray Eel's are very impressive and as the name suggests they are large (up to about 2 M long) they can be found not only hiding within the coral, as I have found them previously but also free swiming. Giant Reef Rays are also found here whist diving, mainly around the edge of the bay. Nudibranch's (meaning naked lung's in latin) are always great to find for many divers, mainly because of their many different shapes, sizes and extravagant colourings, these sea slugs have their gills on thier backs, almost looking like a tree (hence the name) and can be found on almost all of the dive sites around the bay area. Orange striped Trigger fish although not very rare to see in the bay area, their bright colouring and smaller stature in comparrison with their close relatives the Moustache / Titan Trigger fish and the Yellow Margin Trigger fish, I find them very nice to look at on a dive.

Snowflake Moray Eel's are also common amongst sea grass, and can easily be seen just off the shore whilst snorkeling as well as diving. Stone fish are very hard to spot and camouflaged to look like stones and rubble on the sea floor. They are also very poisonous! If there was ever a reason to have good bouyancy these fish are one of them. Finaly Whale Sharks can be seen out of the bay if you go on a whale shark trip. The whale shark is the biggest fish in the ocean growing up to 14-15 M, the ones you can see here will range between 3-10 M. I think I can honestly say Whale Sharks are on a lot of peoples bucket list so having any opportunity to see one must be taken.

Find out more about volunteering projects in Tanzania.


ARO Blog: Kate Helliwell

Forest ARO Kate blogs about the survival stratergies of butterflies:


Some families of butterflies have evolved some very useful adaptions in order to survive in their natural habitats. One species recently identified for the first time on Mafia Island has one of these adaptions. The short barred sapphire (photo) has a tail on its hindwing accompanied by and eye like dot next to the tail. When this species lands on a leaf it will sometimes spin around and position itself with its tail upwards giving the impression that this is in fact the butterflies antenna. If a predator tries to strike the individual at its assumed head the predator will in fact only bite of a small area of the wing, giving the butterfly a chance to escape a little injured but still alive.

As you can see this species and others from the same family also have stripes on the underside of the wings which focus attention on the false head further enhancing this beautiful species survival strategies.

Symbiotic relationships with ants

Another adaption from the same family of butterflies at their caterpillar stage is  an association with certain ant species. The caterpillar will excrete a honey like fluid which attracts hungry ants which in return for a hearty meal will guard the caterpillar. Some caterpillars are also known to  live in the nest of ants where they are able to feed on the ants while receiving protection and in return the ants enjoy the honey like fluid.

Mimicking and Taste

Other families such as Acraea are known to release distasteful fluids from their thorax which deter predators that don’t enjoy the taste of this fluid. Another interesting occurrence is that of non-harmful species mimicking the colours and shapes of more distasteful butterflies in order to avoid predators but without wasting energy on synthesizing distasteful fluids. This mimicking strategy can be found throughout the animal kingdom and is common in snake species.

By Kate Helliwell, Forest ARO

Find out more about the Tanzania Wildlife Conservation Adventure.


ARO Blog: Jenn Freer

It’s been almost two weeks since I arrived on Mafia Island and already I’m feeling quite at home. Here are my favourite things about the marine research project so far:

1. Back to basics
The way of living here is basic, but it isn’t difficult – just completely different to the UK. Each morning we collect water from the village and each night we make bread on the open fire. Living on camp gives a true cultural experience to the project and I think that is so important to its success.

2. Being part of conservation efforts
Frontier’s legacy on Mafia Island is impressive - helping to set up the Mafia Island Marine Park in 1994 and continuing to investigate the impact it is having on the island, both biologically and ecologically. Already I have helped teach identification techniques and survey methods to the Research Assistants, sort through science materials and get equipment prepped for our first survey dive. I can’t wait to start collecting data and maybe even set up new projects that will assist the marine park further.

3. Mango juice in the village
As well as the rewarding teaching and science, there are little treats in the village that make our days that little bit sweeter. Fresh, ice cold mango juice is just soo good! Our boat driver also has tasty donuts and samosas for a post-dive snack – perfect!

4. Learning Swahili
I love languages and so learning Swahili is a real bonus for me. We have Swahili classes every few days and get plenty of practice with all the visitors to camp and trips to the village. A friendly “mambo!” never goes un-noticed.

By Jen Freer, Marine ARO

Find out more about the Tanzania Marine Conservation and Diving project.


Volunteer Blog: Shontay

On our most recent dive to Coral Gardens we were trying our hand at identifying some of the invertabrate species we had been learning about.  After staring at what I believed was a clam for several minutes, I had one of those brain re-arranging moments where I was able to see the picture behind the pattern . Can you see what animal is actually in this picture?

How about now?

Scorpionfish, named for the venom in their fin tips, are excellent when it comes to camouflauging into their surroundings. They use their skin flaps and tassles (which can be seen around the mouth) to help them change colors to match the rocks or corals that are sitting on, under, or next to.  During the day they sit motionless  on the sea floor waiting for lunch to come to them. Lucky for us no one put their hand down on this “rock”.

By Shontay, volunteer

Find out more about the Tanzania Marine Conservation and Diving project.

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