Coral for the Climate! Coral Reef Ecosystem Expansion, Zanzibar

Africa Foundation aims to nurture, restore and protect wild landscapes and seascapes by empowering the communities that are the custodians of these systems.

The reefs adjacent to Mnemba and northern Unguja islands annually contribute an estimated $1 million to the local economy via ecotourism, yet pressure on the 12 ha Mnemba House Reef (MHR), has led to its rapid degradation with coral cover down to 5%. This reduces habitat for marine species, protection against the effects of climate change, threatens the value of the area for tourism and risks food security for coastal communities. The project will work with two coastal communities to protect and restore the MHR and construct an additional community-owned artificial reef structure. This will diversify the destinations for fishers, divers and snorkelers, and the development of a web platform to log marine fauna sightings will encourage use of the new reef. Educational workshops for community fishers, boat tour guides and school children will create local custodians, reduce destructive fishing practices, and support sustainable fishing and ecotourism practices. The new reef site will reduce pressure on the degraded reefs, allowing them to recover and increasing biodiversity, supporting reef fisheries.

The Update

Following the establishment of coral nursery tables near Mnemba House Reef, the first coral transplants were carried out in June 2022. These transplants are coral fragments that have broken off the reef, collected by Community & Conservation (C&C) rangers, divided into individual pieces, these are then glued onto a concrete disc to be attached to the underwater nursery tables. The coral fragments are nurtured and cleaned – to remove algae and predators – for up to 40 weeks, giving the damaged and dying corals ample opportunity to grow and recover, ready to be transplanted back to flourish on degraded sections of the reef.

42 underwater tables are now in place (over double the initial target due to additional funding). These tables have a capacity of 5,040 pieces of coral to be nurtured in the nursery. An average of 533 fragments per month have been planted into the nursery and, since the commencement of the EOCA grant, an average of 297 flourishing coral colonies have been planted out to degraded reef each month.

The establishment and promotion of a community-owned artificial reef as an alternative site for outdoor enthusiasts is also well underway with the site of the Kijamba Barasa Reef being approved by all parties in November 2022, and officially formalised as a tourism site by the Ministry of Blue Economy and Fisheries.

Two designs of welded steel rebar have been created for the artificial reef structures, one in the shape of a starfish and the other a turtle, and each approximately 5m2. Three of each design were constructed on Mnemba Island, using the skills of a local welder.

Once in position, the structures were filled with old coral rock and C&C Rangers then started planting coral fragments onto them. To date, a total of 1,523 coral colonies have been transplanted onto the structures. Observations indicate that the reef structures are already attracting a variety of marine life; a formal biodiversity monitoring system will be established and implemented in the next stages of the project.

EOCA funding has supported the ongoing implementation and expansion of the Mnemba Echo Project (Africa Foundation’s environmental education programme), allowing it to reach more schools, and engage additional communities. The programme expanded from 9 to 14 schools (exceeding the target of 12 schools). These are located within 8 coastal communities in Northern Unguja. Over the period July 2022 to June 2023, 424 ECHO lessons were delivered to children from Grade 1 to 12 in these schools, reaching over 4,900 students.

The C&C Ranger team serve as an interface between the Oceans Without Borders conservation and community engagement activities, playing a critical role in bridging the gap between the ‘protected area’ and community members. C&C rangers conduct educational workshops with community stakeholders who make their livelihood from the coral reefs, in particular local tour guides, boat captains and fishers. Interactions have focused on the need for the Mnemba coral restoration project, the importance of reducing pressure on the reef to ensure its sustainability, and that – in doing so – they will protect their livelihoods. In July 2022, workshops were attended by 122 fishermen, boat captains and tour guides. Further workshops took place in April 2023 in advance of the installation of the artificial reef, and again in June 2023 over 3 days, reaching 115 participants. These workshops are essential for improving the level of community understanding around the project and responding to concerns related to the restricted use zones.

Watch an inspirational video on the project here.


Image: Surveying the damaged reef