FCO Blog: Happy Birthday!

13-20th June 2014

Once again this week camp numbers have grown as teaching volunteer Bethany joined the ranks here on Mafia – Karibu sana! In preparation for new volunteers arriving in July camp has made several improvements – this week a new shower has been built and our ‘sofa’ has been kitted out with cushions and a blanket and onions and courgettes have been added to our camp veggie patch! Although new volunteers are arriving steadily, camp is still fairly quiet with only 15 staff and volunteers but this doesn’t mean that we’re not hard at work – oh no!

View of the Mangroves on Mafia

Team marine continue to make progress with PADI courses as Dive officer Louise and Marine Volunteer Carmen work through the Emergency First Responder course. Celina was lucky enough to not only head out on the boat for her 50th dive but also was joined by a friendly turtle for it!  

Terrestrial staff and volunteers have gained two extra pairs of hands this week as Adventurers Anna and Joanna join the team, learn survey techniques and read up on the island’s bird species. Following a crash course in all things mangrove the team headed over to the west coast of Mafia to survey mangrove species in Kilindoni.

Sally, Joanna, Becca and Marieke ready for dinner at Kinasi Lodge

Teaching staff and volunteers have also been keeping busy filling their time with both adult and children’s lessons. Although the schools and nursery are currently on their summer holidays Frontier still spend two mornings a week running activities at Utende nursery, favourites include ‘duck, duck goose’ and Thursday volunteers Lucy and Bethany were given pictures of the children’s families and favourite animals as gifts.

Teaching Volunteer Bethany gets stuck in, helping take care of our veggies!

With this said, it is by no means all work and no play! This week has been a week of birthdays on camp and we have celebrated in style – on Tuesday volunteers headed to one of the local lodges for a three course meal for Anna’s birthday and tonight are venturing out to celebrate both Principle Investigator Catie’s and Dive Officer Louise’s birthdays!

Furaha ya siku ya kuzaliwa! Happy birthday!

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


FCO Blog: Busy teachers!

Over the last few weeks Frontier’s teaching team here on Mafia have started to work more closely with locally run charity on a project within Utende Village. Although our main role as teachers is to help the children and local people to learn English if they want, the majority of our work with the nursery consists of playing with the children to keep them occupied whilst parents are at work. This means lots of football, lots of singing and lots of chasing each other around the playground which is tiring but definitely no complaints from us!

However the bigger question for me is not what it is it that Frontier is doing alone but who are the people we are working with and what are their aims?

The charity has been aiming to “provide hope, lifesaving, health and education to a local African community” and has been operation on Mafia since 1997. In this time a number of small projects have been established both in Utende village (where Frontier is based) and Kiegeani village (which lies out towards Kilindoni). Here is a brief summary of some of their achievements projects:

Health Project:

  • A paediatric clinic and dispensary which is open and free to the local community.
  • A dentist surgery is also opened in the village which twice a week uses a transportable unit to travel to the north of Mafia.

Schools and Watoto Project:

  • In Swahili ‘Watoto’ means ‘Children’.
  • Helped to establish schools in both Kiegeani and Utende the latter of which Frontier teaches at on a weekly basis.
  • Funds and runs a nursery school in Utende which is where Frontier teaching volunteers and staff spend several mornings a week.

In each project the charity works hard to train and employ local staff in order to further support the community, it is for this reason that currently we are lending a helping hand as the nursery teacher is currently undertaking further study.

Paediatric clinic and dentist surgery

Nursery Building, Utende

By Becca Court, Field Communications Officer

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


Marine PI Blog: Fish are friends not food

When I’m underwater scuba diving alongside my fishy friends, food is the last thing on my mind. I don’t see the big golden trevallies that come zipping through the reef and think about what a tasty dish they would make, I’m in awe at their streamlined sparkling bodies and at their predatory skills. When I see a squid, I’m not thinking of calamari, but about its elegant method of flying in the water and how on earth it evolved to have skin that changed colour. However, I am aware that as a marine biologist and scuba diver I am in the minority of people who think of fish as friends and not food.

Even as someone who’s to dedicate to marine conservation and in love with the underwater critters that I spend my time diving with, I still eat fish. I know many marine biologists who don’t eat fish at all in the hopes that they are reducing the consumer demand for it and hence helping to do their bit for the oceans. Unfortunately, we all need protein in our diets and with a growing global population there are many sustainability issues which arise when we look at our protein consumption habits. A huge proportion of the western world gets the majority of their protein from a meat-rich diet consisting of beef, pork and chicken. I actually tend to favour fish consumption over meat consumption. Meat production in many ways doesn’t do our ocean critters many favours either. Agriculture is land extensive and often to create grazing pastures, we need to clear forested land which can often lead to siltation which can cause turbidity in local waters when there is rainfall. Turbidity, which coral reefs cannot survive with due to needing crystal clear waters to photosynthesize. Cows as we know are methane producing machines, adding to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Climate change is also a big problem to the reefs as rising water temperatures are causing oceans to become more acidic, which also inhibits coral growth. Plus meat isn’t the healthiest source of protein as it is often high in fats and as the recent UK meat-scandal highlighted, the methods of production are unclear and labeling of meat products is far from perfect.

There are many good points to eating fish, it has so many health benefits such as omega 3 and 6, which are great for your heart, your brain and who knows what other mighty health benefits that may be left uncovered as yet. They are also endotherms meaning they don’t use energy in maintaining their body temperature so protein production in fish is more efficient than in the mammals and birds that we usually eat. So, for me fish is staying on the menu. However, there are many fish that I have struck off the list due to unsustainable fishing techniques, high mercury levels and extinction risks. Unfortunately, a lot of the most common fish on our menus are those that are most at risk, due to being so loved by the fish consumers.

Four fish to keep as friends and not food:

•    All sharks – commonly eaten in china for the fins where over 90% of the meat is wasted often with the live shark being thrown back overboard minus its valuable fins. Sharks being high up the food chain are incredibly important ecologically helping to maintain balance in the environment and due to being a top predator are also high in mercury. They are also slow growing and take a long time to mature and make baby sharks. So do the sharks and yourselves a favor and pick another fish dish!

•    Tuna – fast moving, pelagic fish. A favourite in UK and USA. Again being top of the food chain mercury levels are high, mercury is a neurotoxin and can accumulate in your body over time, this is especially dangerous for pregnant women as it can cause fetal brain damage. Environmentally most tuna fisheries are highly unsustainable with high levels of bycatch including other pelagic predators such as turtles, sharks and dolphins. Not to mention that there has been a global decline; Atlantic Bluefin Tuna stocks have declined between 21 and 51% and they are listed as endangered (IUCN, 2011).

•    Salmon – again a big favourite in the western world. This is also a predatory fish which can eat squid and other fish so mercury levels are some what of a concern. They are facing many other threats apart from fishing such as habitat destruction and disease transmission from aquaculture. They have an incredibly complex life cycle returning to their natal river to spawn and their young then having to make the long journey downstream to the open ocean. Salmon are often caught in mixed fisheries and Atlantic Salmon have been in steady decline since 1990. Farming salmon has many negative points; to start with you need to feed about 4kg of wild caught fish to produce 1kg of farmed salmon. They create lots of waste and just like intensive agriculture there is a high disease transmission risk, so this needs to be minimized through use of chemicals and medicines. It’s not so tasty when you know all the facts, so for me it’s off the menu.

•    Prawns and Shrimp – OK so I know I said fish to avoid but this crustacean has a big market and there are some big concerns with sustainability for this one. This crustacean is a benthic animal, which means they live on the seafloor. Hence to catch them you need fishing gear which is going to trawl along the seabed and scoop them up. Lots of other fish and invertebrates also live on the seafloor, so bycatch levels are extremely high and of course, it is very damaging to the seafloor habitats to drag metal chains along it. Shrimp farming often takes places in mangrove habitats, so this involves removing the mangroves, which act as coastal protection, carbon stores and nurseries for juvenile fish. Again there needs to be high doses of chemicals to control diseases and these often leak into the surrounding waters. I can happily go without eating these little guys and there are plenty of sustainable crustacean options.

Fortunately, there are still many fish that have healthy stocks and you can choose sustainable fisheries by selecting those that are Marine Stewardship Council certified. You can also look on the Marine Conservation Society for fish to eat and fish to avoid. If you are really interested you might want to look at chef; Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s fish campaign – the fish fight for more information on fisheries in the UK and around the world.

By Catie Gutmann Roberts, Marine Principal Investigator

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


Volunteer blog: Holothuridae in the Mediterranean  

As part of Marine and Terrestrial projects this week all the staff and volunteers were given the opportunity to put together a short, five minute presentation about an animal which personally we each find interesting and would like to know more about. This meant a short time flicking through the research books on camp to find facts on some of the animals which can be found on Mafia Island, some of the problems facing them and any conservation efforts currently underway.  

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Here are some interesting facts which Marine volunteer Celina discovered about Sea Cucumbers:

  • There is a class of around 900 echinoderms known as Sea Cucumbers
  • Holothuridae are distinguished from other echinoderms in having the polar axis greatly lengthened, which results in the elongate cucumber shape.
  • Most sea cucumbers are black, brown or olive green, but other patterns are encountered
  • The smallest species are around 3 cm in length but some other species can grow up to 1 metre in length.
  • The mouth is always surrounded by between 10 and 30 tentacles which are moved to gather food.
  • The body of a sea cucumber is a culinary delicacy in the orient. Large species of Sea cucumber are boiled, which causes the body to contract and thicken and also brings about the evisceration of the internal organs. The body is then dried and sold as a therapy or beche-de-mer.
  • Sea cucumbers are depefit feeders. They will stretch out their branched tentacles and sweep them over the bottom or hold them out in the sea water to catch food.
  • A commercial relationship exists between the slender tropical pearl fish and sea cucumbers. The pearl fish makes its home in the trunk of the respiratory tree in certain sea cucumbers, entering and exiting through the sea cucumber’s anus when it needs to feed.

Celina Ramsey, Marine RA

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


Volunteer Blog: Celina Ramsay

Mambo! My name is Celina and I am in my 3rd weeks of the TZM project.

Recently, we have been doing many trips over to the island ‘Juani’ to watch both turtle hatchings and egg laying! Turtles lay a new load of eggs around every two weeks, and we have been lucky enough to see the same turtle called Friday twice now.

We also got to see a lot of turtle hatching which have been so sweet as they are only about the size of your hand! We ended the nights with a really delicious meal of Ainsley Harriot cous cous and Jamie Oliver red pepper pesto pasta… treating ourselves.

The dives have all been really great at the moment, though a little cold as the weather has been rainy on a few of them. Sammy and I saw an amazing crocodile fish and a few really cool Nudibranches (<3)!!

Camp life is ticking by and some really great loaves of bread have been cracked out by Kate… ‘What can I say it’s all in the cooking.’

Chipsi Mayai’s all around today as a cheeky treat. In Mafia, a chip omelette is the height of culinary delights!

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


Volunteer blog: Mr Msumi’s Retirement Party

Last Saturday night staff and volunteers were invited to attend a special occasion at Mafia Island Marine Park – the retirement party of Mr George Msumi. We had heard many good things about him and were more than happy to join in the celebration.

Paired as temporary husbands and wives for the night, we arrived at 5pm sharp. This not surprisingly meant quite a few hours of waiting around for everybody else to appear – time is much more flexible in Africa. In the meantime we admired the room; it was quite elaborately decorated with balloons around the door the colours of the Tanzanian flag draped behind the top table. Twinkling lights and a DJ provided the atmosphere.

By 7.30 the hall was full and the music started. Everybody stood up and clapped in the top table: Mr Msumi, his family, head warden of the Marine Park and chairmen of local villages. People from all over came forward one by one to retell stories of Mr Msumi’s career or say a few words of thanks. Even Frontier’s PI Catie gave a speech thanking Mr Msumi for his continued support and active encouragement in our research around Mafia Island.

I had never met George Msumi previously, but I learned a lot about him that night. He had studied marine biology then fisheries ecology at university before going on to work for Tanzania’s department of fisheries and agriculture. His later work was influential in the creation of Mafia’s marine park and he was one of the founding staff members back in 1994. 20 years on, it is clear he has worked tirelessly to ensure the Park’s success – most notably in collaborating with local communities and stakeholders. A passionate speech was given by the village Chairmen, praising Mr Msumi’s efforts in getting freshwater taps installed and setting up social facilities and grant schemes within Utende.

I am sure that Mr Msumi’s work has played a crucial role in the Marine Park’s success. It is the largest marine Protected Area in the Indian Ocean and has increased fish stocks as well as profit from fisheries and other sustainable sources of income such as tourism and craft making.

Once the speeches were over we were invited one by one to toast the top table. Our very own volunteer, Keith, opened the champagne bottle. Despite the cork landing on the Master of Ceremony’s head he did a great job! It was then time for food and we were in for a treat; soup, rice beans, chicken and beef, all washed down with an ice cold beer.

The last words of the night were left to Mr Msumi. Everybody in the room was silent and it was obvious he was held in great respect by his colleagues. Even though the majority was spoken in Swahili, I too found myself completely enthralled.

By Sammy Attoe, Marine volunteer

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