Over the last few months (early 2014) we have been receiving an increasing number of environment related complaints and are trying to to help raise awareness and share information with members about what is being done to tackle the issues raised.
Several hoteliers, dive schools, guests and residents are increasingly worried about the conservation of the island as well as the safety of swimmers, snorkelers, divers etc.
Coastal tourism is the backbone of the Zanzibar economy, with holidaymakers choosing Zanzibar as a place to spend time relaxing and exploring the beach and surrounding areas, however, failing to address these increasing reports of illegal activity may eventually cause a decline in the number of tourists as nothing is being done to conserve the environment or make it safe for people to enjoy.
There are increasing concerns that illegal activities that result in a detrimental effect to marine life, and ultimately the economy, are taking place and it appears that little is being done to stop illegal activities and prosecution of those breaking the law.
The following are some of the complaints that we have received over the last few months:
Mnebma Island Marine Conservation Area
All visitors to Mnemba Island pay a conservation fee however they are concerned about where the money is allocated as they do not see any improvements. What they do see is an increase in illegal activities such as dynamite fishing and net fishing on protected reefs that have a detrimental effect on the reef, along with its ecosystem and surrounding area.
Reports of dynamite fishing are on the increase. With coastal tourism as the greatest potential area for further economic growth there is much at stake if the marine environment is allowed to be destroyed. As well as the livelihoods of many legal fishermen using nets whose catch size and quality will be badly affected, tourists will not want to come to dangerous beaches where such practices are commonplace.
We have received reports of blasts near Mnemba and some other areas around the island, where divers are left in distress as the blasts have happened near to where they were diving. As a result, his has affected diving in specific areas.
The Government is yet to confirmed whether spearfishing (including for spearfishing for sport) is illegal or not – as we have conflicting information. There are regular reports of fishermen spearfishing and it is commonplace to see them on the beach with their catches, which sends out mixed messages about spearfishing.
ZATI would like to see regulations on the size of fish that are being caught, sold and eaten, not just in the tourism industry and not just in conservation areas, but on the island as a whole.
The problem is that there is increasing evidence of catch analysis pointing to the average size of many species dropping noticeably in recent years. We suggest that the correct adult size of all our species is agreed, and that a notice is produced to show that fish should not be caught below this size. Fishing techniques and net sizes should be adjusted to reflect this. This has been done in several other countries. A poster with photographs and measurements should be produced, laminated and distributed to fishermen, fish markets and hotel and restaurant kitchens to show that only fish which are at the age to have already produced eggs are eaten. Also shellfish carrying eggs should be banned from being caught and killed.
Furthermore, we would like to see a ban on the sale of seas shells. Shells being removed results in marine imbalances occurring which increases such dangers as Crown of Thorns starfish eating coral and destroys the reefs.
Sewage outfalls on water quality
There are concerns about the effect of sewage that runs directly into the sea, the affect it has on marine life as well as health and safety implications of those that swim in these areas.
Jet skiing and kite-surfing are two relatively new watersports that need to be looked at and carefully regulated as there are concerns over the impact that they could on marine life –as well as the safety implications of swimmers.
There is also concern over the practice of dolphin watching which often causes clear distress to the dolphins and which may eventually lead to them migrating away from their natural habitat. This means no more dolphins, no more dolphin tours and a loss of jobs and revenue. Many tourists complain about the experience and do not like to see so many boats chasing dolphins. There are also concerns about the safety of guests snorkeling when there are a lot of propellers nearby. There needs to be regulations, readily available to hotel and tour operators, about how many boats can surround a pod of dolphins, how fast you are allowed to sail, and how close you are allowed to get etc.
As you can see, there is a very real concern from our members about marine conservation. The potential loss of tourism income could amount to millions of dollars and many job losses if we do not work towards improving the situation. Holidaymakers come to Zanzibar come to enjoy its beautiful beaches but many are becoming disappointed with the lack of concern over its natural resources.
Tourists that come to Zanzibar will be increasingly disappointed if they do not find the pristine reefs for which Zanzibar is well known for in the snorkeling and diving tourism world.
If Zanzibar it to develop coastal tourism as part its economic growth strategy, it needs to protect its marine environment – as well as address the health and safety issues of those that use the sea to swim, snorkel, dive etc.
A zero-tolerance process should be put in place to stop the illegal practices and to deter those that are committing offences. Those that continue to offend should be punished in accordance with the law.