Entries in #marinelife (5)


Crown Of Thorns  Cull

When most people think of conservation it usually inspires thoughts of researchers studying animal behaviour, patrolling some vast wilderness, designating an area as a national park/reserve or freeing a trapped animal from a net. So it may seem odd to some that killing animals for conservation purposes is practised.

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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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A story of strategic adaptive management at Mafia Island

At the beginning of July 2015 Frontier, Tanzania were invited by the Mafia Island Marine Park to play a role in their adoption of a Strategic Adaptive Management Plan. Principle Investigator, Lasse Ørsted Jensen explains why such an adoption is so important.

To most of us they are known as corals and they can form reefs stretching for thousands of kilometres and provide habitat for a tremendous number of marine organisms, functioning as nursery grounds for even more pelagic species. These colonies of hydrozoans, in symbiosis with a dinoflagellate, form massive three dimensional structures in tropical regions and are of immense cultural, economic and aesthetic importance to humans.

Even though these species provide the foundation for entire ecosystems, appreciation for them has been low and were it not for an ecological disaster we may never have understood just how essential they are.  Intensive fishing in the Caribbean region in the early 1980’s meant that the resilience of the coral reef ecosystem was severely degraded and following a hurricane and a sea urchin pathogen, large parts of the system experienced a phase shift. From being dominated by coral, providing three-dimensional heterogeneity, large parts of the Caribbean are now mostly occupied by algae. The ecosystem phase shift was largely a result of inadequate understanding and poor management of the system and in order to avoid this happening elsewhere, proper management is required.

The Mafia Island Marine Park is located in Tanzania and governs an area of 822km2. The coral reefs in the area are still in pristine condition, which is why it is considered one of the best dive locations in the world. A rapidly growing population on Mafia Island and Tanzania in general poses a serious threat to the ecosystem. So far, the relatively small population of the island have been using artisanal fishing methods and the ecosystem shows little affect from anthropogenic influences.In order for this to continue there needs to be a clear channel of communication between managers and scientists.

 A park manager’s time is precious and reading a 50 page technical report about the environment is not always feasible. This is why the strategic adaptive management system for marine protected areas currently being adopted by the Mafia Island Marine Park will be a tremendous help in the management of the park. Not only does it provide a clear method for the marine park to create objectives and evaluate them, it also employs the most recent knowledge of marine ecosystems, providing clear and measurable indicators of reef health.

The bridge between the scientific community and managers is essential in avoiding the phase shift experienced in the Caribbean. With meaningful relationships formed between the scientific community, the Marine Park and the local community the health of the reef can be maintained to the benefit of all stakeholders. Frontier Tanzania has a key role to play in this relationship and our science team are certainly looking forward to being a part of the continuing positive story that is Mafia Island Marine Park.

By Lasse Ørsted Jensen - Principle Investigator  

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

Check out what volunteers in Tanzania are up to right now!


Phase Highlights 

The past few weeks have been a particularly busy time for our science team here in Tanzania. The end of June represents the end of the second three month phase of the year and the due date for a variety of different scientific reports. Frontier’s Mafia Island project carries out both terrestrial and marine research, and both teams have been hard at work to ensure the past three months of survey data are developed into reports that further research on Mafia Island and beyond.

Although the past phase has been relatively quiet compared to the summer months we have achieved a great deal and there have been highlights for all our staff and volunteers. The terrestrial team have racked up an impressive 150 hours of surveys while the Marine team have surveyed a whopping 1,200 m2 of the sea bed as part of a new report into anchor damage. The phase has also been notable for sightings of previously unrecorded bird species. Research Officers, Chris Porter and Sian Green were particularly proud to spot a Black Throated Wottle Eye while surveying a new forest transect, potentially the first sighting of the species on Mafia Island.

It’s been an impressive phase for sightings in general and it’s always exciting for volunteers to get outside camp whether it be on a mangrove snorkel, a bird survey or a deep sea dive. Assistant Research Officer, Dan Gill was recently out snorkelling close to camp and turned around to be faced with a two metre long barracuda. A scary and magical experience all at once! One of our Wildlife Conservation Interns, Louisa Mamalis cites the sight of her first elephant shrew as her phase highlight. Some volunteers, meanwhile have had all the luck such as Research Assistant Maariyah Najeeb who on her very first open water dive had the opportunity to swim with a green turtle.

The science reports themselves are a key part of what Frontier does and the data that we collect on all our projects has been used by organisations around the world to advance the cause of conservation and environmental exploration. This phase Assistant Research Officer Lasse Ørsted Jensen has been assisting the team with advanced statistical analysis and both the terrestrial and marine teams have benefited greatly as a result. Writing scientific reports can be challenging but it is also hugely rewarding for our staff to see all the survey data in the form of graphs and written analysis. None of this would be possible, however, were it not for our committed volunteers who assist our talented research team with our surveys. All of us here on Mafia are looking forward to a busy next phase with even more science than the last!

By Richard Grubb - Project Manager

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

Check out what volunteers in Tanzania are up to right now!


Happy New Year From Tanzania

As we look to the new year I find myself reflecting on all that has happened this year on the Tanzania project. We have welcomed 85 volunteers and 15 staff members. We have completed around 200 underwater baseline surveys looking at the health of the reefs, we have identified hundreds of species in the Seagrass beds and set up a comprehensive mangrove project. We have seen turtle hatching, whale sharks and the elusive Mafia Hippos. We've adventured North to the lighthouse, East to Mlola coastal Forest, West to Ras Mbisi and South to Mange Reef. Celebrations have been scattered throughout the year with formal events such as the retirement of the Warden in Charge of the Marine Park, opening of research facilities, Eid the celebration marking the end of Ramadan, Christmas and the christening of Baby Mika, the second born of camp cook Rozi.  

The marine park boasts excellent diversity and we've been able to see humpback dolphins, whitespotted guitarfish, giant reef rays, giant trevally and seahorses. We've been engulfed in huge shoals of paddletail snapper, golden trevally, fusiliers and humpnose unicornfish.

Its not just the large marine life that captures our enthusiasm but the tiny too, such as, colourful nudibranchs, flatworms, shrimp and cryptic cuttlefish. Recording new species helps us recognise the biodiversity of Mafia Island but it's also the interactions between species that captures the fascination of divers. Interactions such as, the large parasites you can find on a jewel damsels forehead, the bluestreak cleaner wrasses wriggling into the gills of a slingjaw grasses, the battling of two parrotfish as they display their fused teeth and the golden trevally juvenile that follows the group of snorkelers. We've been in awe at the size and complexity of corals with mountains of columns of corals,bright coloured soft corals pulsating in the current, fire coral creating branching formations and big rock swim throughs. The characters from finding nemo have featured heavily around Mafia Island with many anemonefish, pallete blue surgeonfish, morish idol and turtles.

A day out with the forest team will leave you thirsty for a spiced chai and early bedtime after navigating your way through dense mangrove stands, rhizophores and pneumatophores. Look closely at the pneumatophores to see the swirling patterns, minute molluscs, colourful fiddled crabs and the treacherous hooded comb oysters. We might venture out to the rice paddies looking for the lilac breasted rollers, egrets and the secretive genet . Cameras always at the ready to catch a passing chameleon, monitor lizard or an elephant shrew. Before embarking on a Hippo adventure you will be tested in your tree climbing ability which will have us all rolling with laughter.

On our teaching project we have experienced he joys and challenges of teaching a foreign language. Whether this be through singing songs with nursery school children, drawing parts of the body with primary school children and translating magazine articles with the adult class. Enjoy the luxury of the lodge whilst helping to teach items on the menu and translating greetings into English. We've experienced the excitedness of many children coming to Environmental days to paint finger fish on the wall, to put happy fish in the sea free of rubbish and to complete the puzzle of the turtle shell. We have collected many bags of rubbish from local beaches and held a workshop creating children's toys out of a myriad of disposed plastic items.

Our turtle and whalesharks project has had many breathtaking encounters seeing hundreds of green turtle hatchingling breaking out of their shells and making their way down the sandy slopes into thrashing waves. One group slept overnight on Juani Island and saw a large female turtle slithering up the beach, digging a hole and laying her eggs. The following day she was tagged by another conservation organisation to monitor her journey around the Indian Ocean. We've photographed the gigantic whalesharks which can be identified by their spot pattern which acts like a fingerprint in that it is unique to each individual.  

So many highlights to share with you but there's a reason why we are based on Mafia Island carrying out conservation an education projects. We have seen large piles of unicornfish piled on the beach ready to be sorted and sold at market, stingrays being sold for less than 50 pence, huge Triton shells emptied of their contents. The impressive whalesharks have been seen cruising dangerously close for fishing gear, illegal fishing has happened inside the core protected areas, mangrove stands have been cleared and a small boy once approached us with a moray eel, alive, in a plastic bottle. The currents bring with them nutrients that sustain so much marine life but drifting in from the Indian Ocean are also tonnes of plastic, metal and glass that won't degrade and that end up on turtle nesting beaches.

Looking to 2015 with a great feeling of accomplishment but still a long way to go to have sustainable fishing and an effective marine park. We will continue to monitor the biodiversity and interactions in the terrestrial and marine environments. We will continue to inspire, engage and educate others about the needs to conserve resources for the future. All the best for the new year!


Catie Gutmann Roberts, Field Staff.