Monday
Apr112016

Fish Are Friends Not Food

When you see fish do you think food? Here we delve into fish farming techniques and discover which ones are best to avoid if we want to protect our oceans and fish stocks

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Monday
Apr042016

'Mambo, Jambo' - Learning the Language in Tanzania 

With many overseas adventures, learning the language of the country you are visiting can be frustrating and often you may find, like I've done on many occasions, that instead of persisting with feeble attempts at a new language, you rely on miming actions or words as a means to communicate.

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Thursday
Mar312016

The Locals Of Tanzania 

Morfiyeh. Derived from the Arabic language, 'morfiyeh' translates to 'group' or 'archipelago'. In the local language, Mafia was apparently the amalgamation of the Kiswahili "Mahali pa afya", meaning a 'healthy dwelling place'.

Given the white sand beaches with turquoise, tropical waters full of diverse fish life, not to mention the swaying palms laden with juicy coconuts, I'd like to believe that the latter is indeed true. Five stunning islands make up the idyllic archipelago - Mafia, Jibondo, Juani, Chole and Bwejuu. Relatively untouched, unlike the well known tourist hot spot of Zanzibar, Mafia Island, from my observations, has retained a quiet and traditional charm from it's early days as a prominent trading hub between East Asia and East Africa.

For example, many arabian dhows, the generic term for the numerous trading or fishing vessels still used today, often visited a prominent settlement on the small Island of Chole Mjini, that controlled numerous trade from the silver mines of Eastern Zimbabwe. Not all visitors, however, have come with peace and prosperity in mind. Records show that in the mid 1820's, the town of Kua on Juani Island (a few kilometres a south east off Mafia Island) was set upon by Sakalava cannibals in a fleet of 80 canoes from Madagascar. The gruesome events ended with many of the locals of Juani being eaten, and the remaining taken into slavery.

At present, there is still a constant stream of locals from Mafia Island that travel to Chole Island and vice versa selling fresh produce, handicrafts or freshly caught fish of the day. Visitors will see the ferry, full of locals, with men and women sometimes segregated. The men with serious faces, and the women, very shy, peek out beneath the head scarves that adorn their braided hair. I wish I could take a photograph of the colourful scene, but due to the superstitions of many here, it is believed if a photograph is taken of you, a piece of your soul is also taken and lost.

Although shy when it comes to photographs, the local community of Mafia Island are ever enthusiastic to stop and say hello to any mzunguu's (foreigner) and are more than happy to exchange pleasantries and get to know you. Although the language bridge is still yet to fully be crossed, one thing I know is certain, is that a friendly smile swapped between mzunguu and mafian locals can go a long way in meeting new friends here on this incredible Island, Morfiyeh.

By Von Sebastian - Assistant Research Officer

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Monday
Mar142016

Life on Mafia Island - First Impressions

Part 1: First impressions, feeling blue...

I had already been in transit about 24 hours, from Amsterdam to Dar es Salaam. Although I love travelling, flying and seeing new places, after two stopovers, broken sleep whilst waiting for connecting flights and mediocre plane food, by this time, I was tired, hungry, and completely over the monotonous process of “check in luggage, empty pockets, walk through scanner, find boarding gate, wait, wait more and then wait even more...”So as I arrived in Julius Nyerere International Airport, Dar es Salaam, standing outside the airport in the sticky, humid air I thought to myself “just one more, one more flight to go” before I could rest my weary body and catch up on 40, no wait 80, actually make that 120 winks of sleep. I felt completely drained.

Trying hard not to nod off (but failing miserably!) in the Domestic terminal, my flight was finally called and I made my way along the hot tarmac, to a surprisingly small plane. Only 7 passengers, hmm, VERY small plane. Oh well, it was only 45 minutes, so I made myself comfortable. The engines started “put, put, put, put, splutter...” then died. Oh dear, let's try again shall we? “put, put, put, splutter, put, put VROOM!” OK! We were good to go!


I love the feeling of take off when flying, detaching yourself from the solid ground to float defyingly in the air (how Physics is a wonderful thing!). Now, I watched the sprawling city of Dar es Salaam fall away, the blue and white squares of the sprawling suburbs, getting smaller and smaller – 'fare thee well to the mainland' I whispered to myself.


As the plane entered the cloudsphere, up in the air I felt my fatigue begin to wane and as the thick cumulus clouds parted to reveal a deep blue expanse of ocean before me, smooth as glass, my tired bones were now tingling with excitement. Long stretches of sandy beach, tiny islands framed by aqua seas and caressed by hypnotic waves cresting then breaking on the surrounding rocky reefs...Wow.

The clouds once again obscured our view of idyllic islands, but soon I was to get my first glimpse of my new island home. The plane, very slowly began its descent and there it was – Mafia Island. When I say that my first impressions of the island made me feel blue, what I mean is that I just can't describe enough, the amazement I felt upon seeing the shimmering waters around Mafia Island. Bright Sky blue, rich Kingfisher blue, deep Prussian blue – my mind was taken back to my prized tin of Derwent coloured pencils I had in primary school – so many shades of blue!


Dotting the picturesque sea scene, were white triangular sails, moving gracefully in the water, my first look at one of the many variations of the African fishing or trading vessels. These, I was later told were called Dhows, a generic term derived from the Arabic language. Dhows come in many forms and with many names, depending on what goods they are carrying or how far they are travelling. Seeing them gliding through Chole Bay, it was like being transported back to the early historic trading days, as of these were the very same vessels of merchant traders (or pirates!) from generations ago, selling spices and cloth and forging a new life in a new place, on a new island.


My reverie was broken as the plane completed the landing (with only a few bumps along the tarmac). Here I was, from the cold and cobbled streets of Amsterdam, now to the coconut lined streets of Mafia Island, my new home.

By Von Sebastian - Assistant Research Officer

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

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Monday
Feb292016

Turtle Hatching On Juani Island

Juani Island is the biggest Island next to Mafia Island. It's was quite the adventure getting,  taking a boat which took about 45min from Utende. We landed on the west-side of the Island which still faces the the bay so we had to march on foot to the other side of Juani to get to the side which faces the Indian Ocean.

After half an hour of trekking through the dense forest of Juani Island, we reached the beach and the side where the turtles hatched. During our first experience of hatching turtles we saw the shortcut species of Hawksbill turtles. After a short introduction about the turtle population on Mafia-Island, our tour guide and his colleagues started to dig the hatched turtles out of the nest. After orientating they started crawling down the beach which definitely took its time because Hawksbill turtles are rather weak and slow when they hatch.

After about 20 minutes the first ones finally reached the water. Although there was very little swell (if any at all), it was pretty hard for them to reach deeper water because they often got thrown back on the beach by the smallest of ripples. After reaching a depth of half a metre they were able to swim into the ocean. Now we were able to take pictures of them and swim around them. On this day we might have seen around 10 turtles which managed to get into the ocean. Unfortunately the guides dug around 10 more dead eggs out of the nest which did not survive.

On our second trip to Juani Island we landed on a different spot which was quicker to reach with our boat. After a longer walk over Juani we came to a different beach on the east-side were the guides located a nest, this time Green turtles! These were way stronger and quicker than the Hawksbills and this made watching them more interesting as they sped towards the beach. Even though the distance to the ocean might have been the same, the Green turtle hatchlings reached the water in less than 5 minutes.

At first we were afraid that the strong waves hitting the beach might be a big problem for the turtles. Fortunately it wasn’t. The turtles were strong and fast enough to reach deeper water in seconds. Moreover they were really strong and fast swimmers which made it hard to follow them without fins. In about 20 minutes we’ve seen around 30-40 green turtles running down the beach and reaching the sea. All in all it was very interesting to see the difference between the two species. Both trips were very cool but personally I definitely preferred the second one with the Green turtles over the Hawksbills because it was quite fun to watch these tiny little Green turtles running over the beach.

By Vincent Struppler - Research Assistant

Photo's by Von Sebastian - Assistant Research Officer

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

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Monday
Feb152016

Mdola Forest Adventure

Mdola forest is one of the last remaining coral forests, stretching the East coast of Mafia for around 30km. Protected to an extent by the Mafia Marine Park, the forest is kept relatively undisturbed, and, as we as the terrestrial research team were about to discover, almost impenetrable. When we were told about the forest and the many wonders it contained: a sparkling blue lagoon with endemic fish species, large troops of Sykes monkeys in the trees, bat caves and a mysterious giant frog hidden in the depths… we were determined to see it for ourselves!

Attempt 1 : Admittedly a little naive, and armed with vague directions, snorkels, and little else, we set off on the dirt roads north on piki pikis (motorbikes) to find the forest, imagining such luxuries as signs, paths, and maybe even a visitor centre full of cakes and ice cream…needless to say, we were sadly mistaken. The hilariously disastrous day included us being directed to what can only be described as a prison-village full of friendly convicts and their families, walking miles to find the village chief who would take us into the forest, and eventually finding what everyone told us was the sparking lagoon but was in fact a shallow muddy lake where the farmers watered their cows. And then the heavens opened. Cue the most difficult, muddy, and wet 3 or 4 hours of our lives as we struggled home on our motorbikes.

Some would be put off by this series of small disasters, but not the Frontier Terrestrial team! Home and dry, we planned our next visit with some significant changes – the main ones being a Landrover, better directions, and a sunny day!

Attempt 2: We had a vehicle, supplies, and a friendly Swahili speaker at the wheel. We were ready. And we made it! It might have taken getting lost a few times, asking one person for directions, who hopped in and took us to another person, who hopped in and took us to the village, where 3 more people hopped in (seeing a pattern?) and finally took us to the guide…. But we made it!

All of our new friends came into the beautiful, dense forest with us as we hiked to the lagoon, which was just as sparkling and paradise-like as promised! After a much needed snorkel in the cool waters, we went to find the bat cave – seemingly empty, until we rounded a corner into a confined space between a couple of boulders.

A rustling and some fast moving shadows alerted us to their presence, out came the cameras. The flash sowed us hundreds of eyes in the recesses of the cave, although it seemed like thousands when we realized we were standing right in their flight path, blocking the only exit. Time to go! There followed a quick and unsuccessful search for the elusive giant frog (yet to be found), and a monkey sighting or two before we returned home, successful at last!        

By Cori Bailey - Terrestrial Research Officer

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

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