Category Archives: Sea Sense

Busy week at Sea Sense in Tanzania

We have had a busy week. One team travelled north to Tanga near the border with Kenya to hold introductory meetings with Regional and District government authorities in preparation for starting turtle (and other marine) conservation activities in the area. The other group headed south to complete the judging for the primary schools’ recycling and marine conservation competition.

Just south of Tanga there is an island called Maziwe which until about 30 years ago was vegetated and which was one of Tanzania’s most important turtle nesting grounds, particularly for the green and olive ridley turtles. However, all the trees were cut and it now remains as a sandbar which is completely covered by sea during the spring tides. Turtles continue to nest there but the eggs are inundated and do not survive. We expect to work with a local group, Friends of Maziwe, and other interested parties to start closely monitoring turtle nesting activity on the island and moving eggs to mainland beaches just a few kilometers away. There are a number of popular hotels along this stretch of coast and many have already shown an interest in supporting us and local communities to initiate a successful turtle tourism programme. We plan to hold a stakeholders meeting before the end of 2008 to look at the options and discuss relevant issues.

The primary schools; competition has been a great success. All the school entries, from both students and teachers, have been collected and the final ceremony will be held this weekend to announce the winners and hand out the prizes. There will be about 200 official guests and we hope that many hundreds of local residents will also come and watch the songs, drama and artwork.

Next week we hope to conduct an aerial dugong survey in the Rufiji Delta where several live sightings have recently been made. A microlight will be used as it can fly low and slow. Fingers crossed that we will see some and that the weather is calm and clear. More on the results of that at the end of next week.

Thanks, Catharine

Enormous sperm whale washed up on Mafia Island, Tanzania!

We had a rare occurrence a few weeks ago when an enormous sperm whale washed up dead on the west coast of Mafia Island. This incredible marine mammal measured 16 meters long and attracted huge crowds of people which gave us a great opportunity to raise awareness about sperm whales and about marine conservation in general to a captive audience. Sperm whales can grow up to 20.5 meters and weigh 41 tons!

It seems as if the whale swam through a gap in the reef and became stranded when the tide went out. The carcass is now being protected so that the bones of this enormous animal can be collected and hopefully reconstructed.

Sperm whale which washed up dead on Mafia Island © Sea Sense

Salum with the dead sperm whale © Sea Sense

Next week we continue with a marine conservation and recycling primary schools’ competition which we started last month. Kids from 10 schools are competing with each other to produce art / sculptures and teachers are competing to make teaching aids, all from flotsam and jetsam washed up on the beach. The competition also includes singing and drama and will culminate in a colourful ceremony on 22 November when the winners will be announced and prizes given out.

School visit © Sea Sense

School visit © Sea Sense

At the end of next week I will be travelling north to a coastal town called Tanga where we will soon be expanding our marine conservation activities. 

We always need more funds for our ongoing work with turtles and dugongs in Tanzania, please do think about donating and helping us to continue our work protecting marine life in Tanzania.

More on that and the competition next week!

Thanks, Catharine

Saadani National Park – where bush meets beach!

Last week we went to Saadani National Park, the only protected area in Tanzania which includes terrestrial and marine wildlife – where bush meets the beach! Our aim was to check the status of conservation activities as well as tourism issues. This area is situated north of Dar es Salaam and is sandwiched between the two historical towns of Bagamoyo and Pangani. The area has lots of wildlife including elephant, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and lion. It is also an important area for nesting green turtles. This year, we have recorded 16 nests on Madete beach, which is protected within the park boundaries. 

Trip to Saadani National Park, September 2008

During our trip, we visited Maziwe Island to check for turtle nests. This island was once vegetated and there were records of olive ridleys nesting. However, the island is now completely inundated during spring tides and many nests are washed away, due to removal of the vegetation.  While there, we saw the tracks of a large green turtle. However, we didn’t manage to find her eggs. We will now be monitoring the island every neap tide. If we find eggs, they will be moved to the mainland beach for protection.

We also received reports from local fishermen that 3 green turtles and 1 leatherback turtle were found washed up on the beach with injuries to their heads, presumably having been hit by local fishers as they struggled to recover their nets.

Turtles face threats of predation and litter among others

Last week we went to Mafia Island, just south of Zanzibar, to check the progress of conservation activities along with tourism affairs. We (me – John Mbugani, together with two field officers and two University students) stopped first on Juani Island (which means island of the sun in the local language), a satellite island that sits on the east side of Mafia. This is probably the most important turtle nesting site in the whole of Tanzania. On just a few small sandy coves, we have already protected a record 136 turtle nests this year, of which 85% have already hatched with thousands of babies making their spectacular way to the sea.

Mbugani in Juani, August 2008 © Sea Sense

One threat facing green and hawksbill turtles on Juani is predation by monitor lizards. We saw a nest that, moments before we arrived, had been predated by a monitor lizard. 25 hatchlings died as a result.

Another threat is beach litter which acts as a barrier to nesting turtles. We came across huge piles of litter brought by ocean currents far away from Mafia washed up on the eastern side of island. These have been blocking the beaches making it difficult for nesting females to access suitable sites for depositing their eggs and for babies to get to the sea. Many tourists have been put off by the rubbish discouraging them from donating to the project.

Litter on Juani beach © Sea Sense

While there, we also visited Juani Primary School which has received support from the Born Free Foundation for some years now. Funds have been used to repair classrooms and to construct a new water tank which is on-going. Now the kids and teachers are enjoying an inspiring studying environment and soon they will get fresh water.

More from Mafia soon!

We need to tag more turtles!

We got back from the field at the weekend having had a busy week conducting interviews with villagers about the use of turtle products, checking nests and liaising with hotels about issues relating to eco-tourism.

A University of Dar es Salaam student interviewing a local resident about the use of turtle products © Sea Sense Temeke Conservation Officers © Sea Sense

Preliminary results from the interviews show that many people along the coast still continue to eat turtle meat although they know it is illegal. These are mainly turtles caught in nets rather than nesting females. The meat is sold for about £0.50 per kg. Oil is also used for cooking and sometimes to cure ailments such as stomach ache. Several people have died from eating turtle meat (hawksbill) and local people believe that tagged turtles are poisonous so these ones are left alone. We need to tag more turtles!

Dynamite fishing continues. Fishers are now beginning to fish with dynamite at night (to avoid detection by the authorities) using hurricane lamps to attract the fish. This is such a destructive and indiscriminate practice and of course it is illegal. The blasts damage coral reefs, and all fish within a radius of 20-30 m die. It is also a very wasteful way to fish as only about 5-10% of fish are collected. The rest sink to the bottom or are moved away with the current. We are planning to hold a meeting with concerned fishers and local NGOs in the next few weeks to come up with a strategy to combat dynamite fishing once and for all.

Turtles continue to nest. This time last year the season had almost come to an end but this year the numbers of nesting females are greater and the season longer. This is a good sign. Many guests at the hotels have seen hatchlings emerging from nests and we have collected some donations, half of which will go to the local village “conservation fund”.

Catharine Muir and Mbugani at hotel nest hatching site © Sea Sense

The team is off to Mafia Island next week to see how the Conservation Officers are getting on and to hold meetings with village leaders to discuss marine matters.

Sinia nets need to be replaced by soni nets in Tanzania!

Hi! John Mbugani here, the Sea Sense Education Officer.

Last week I went with 4 University of Dar es Salaam students to a village called Kuruti in Mkuranga District, about 100km south of Dar es Salaam to conduct a questionnaire survey about the gillnet fishery. It is a beautiful area colored by a mosaic of mangrove trees which line the Kuruti river bank. Sea Sense has been raising awareness in this area since 2006. Before Sea Sense began activities, Kuruti was famous as a turtle butchery site where it was easy to buy meat, shells and oil. This is no longer the case and Sea Sense has changed village behavior. Turtles are no longer slaughtered deliberately and this year the first two turtle nests were recorded and hatched successfully! 

Most of the villagers are fishers using mainly gillnets with a mesh size of > 7” (locally called “sinia”). These nets target big fish such as rays, snappers, catfish and sharks but they are also responsible for the deaths of many turtles every year. During this survey, we talked to fishermen and they came up with the suggestion of exchanging their large mesh gillnets with smaller turtle-friendly mesh gillnets (locally called “soni”).

The soni nets are more expensive to make than sinia nets so this is a challenge to us: to find the funds necessary to make this a reality and to reduce the number of turtles that drown in nets each year.  

Can you help Sea Sense achieve this?  In the village, there are 12 gillnet boats of which 10 fish using sinia nets (>7 inch nets – which catch turtles) and 2 fish using soni (more turtle-friendly) nets. Each boat fishes using 7 pieces of net. Each piece costs about $220. Therefore, for a boat to change from a sinia to soni net it would cost them $1,540. And there are 10 boats, so therefore, the total would cost $15,400! A considerable amount I’m sure you’ll agree – if you can help us please consider donating.

Many thanks!

Illegal dynamite fishing continues

This week we are in the office in Dar updating our turtle nest and mortality databases and entering data from the gillnet bycatch survey into the computer for analysis. The end of the nesting season is coming up and only 3 new nests were recorded along the 65 km long stretch of beach south of Dar. In Mafia Island, the main nesting area in Tanzania, we are still recording about 30 nests a month which is great.

Despite a recent awareness campaign to stop illegal dynamite fishing, which destroys corals, fish stocks and poses a real danger to fishers, dynamiting continues. Only last week we saw 4 blasts just off an important turtle nesting beach. Limited enforcement is a major factor in its continued practice and a great disappointment to those of us trying to protect the marine environment. We set up a dynamite fishing monitoring network two years ago and are now looking at the number of blasts recorded over time to see whether the recent campaign has had any positive impact. I hope the results will be encouraging.

Next week we are spending a few days on a small protected turtle nesting island just off Dar es Salaam called Sinda to do some training with the rangers there as well as members of a local NGO group called Kigamboni Youth Group.

Thanks, Catharine

Protecting turtle nests from predators in Tanzania

Hi there, John here – 

On 15th July we trained 7 staff from 2 lodges on the coast south of Dar es Salaam. Both hotels share a small sandy beach where we get about 40 green turtle nests a year and where we have set up turtle tourism. During the training, we (me and Dot the Sea Sense Administrator) told them about the different turtle species and basic turtle biology and life history, what to do if a turtle nests on their beach, how to protect turtle nests and what to do when the nest hatches. We focused on guidelines on hatching viewing so as to avoid people stepping on and handling baby turtles as they make their way to the sea.

Nest protection in Temeke, July 2008 © Sea Sense

Following the training, we spent about 4 hours with the hotel staff, university students and local villagers digging a wire fence around the turtle nest area to stop predation by honey badgers and monitor lizards. About a third of nests are destroyed by these animals every year and we are trying a variety of different ways to try and stop them. Honey badgers are particularly bad because they have incredibly strong claws and can burrow their way through most things. I hope the wire works. I’m sure that this, together with extra vigilance provided by the hotels will reduce the number of nests lost each year.

Today we tried to have a meeting with the village (Amani Gomvu) to find out who slaughtered a nesting turtle a week ago. This is the first turtle that has been killed on the south coast since we started working there in 2004 and is a real blow to our efforts and our relationship with the local community. Unfortunately most of the village leaders were absent and those we did speak to said the people who killed the turtle were from another village! I hope we will succeed to get all the local communities in the area together next week.

We are also going to conduct some questionnaire interviews to find out more about the uses of turtle products (meat, oil, shells etc) and whether anyone who has eaten turtle meat has ever been ill. I think the results will be extremely interesting.

The Rufiji Delta – the last stronghold of the dugong

Hi, I’m John Mbugani, the Education Officer at Sea Sense.  Last week I got back from a 10 day trip to the Rufiji Delta, the last stronghold of the extremely rare and elusive dugong, or sea cow. The delta is amazing with small channels bordered by mangrove trees and so many birds! On the sea side, there are vast areas of seagrasses and long stretches of sandy beaches some of which are turtle nesting sites.

The reason we (me and a group of fishers and experts from other parts of Tanzania) were there was to try and make sure dugong protection and conservation is included in the management plans of recently initiated community “Beach Management Units”. These BMUs are basically groups of local fishers who want to start managing their own marine and coastal resources.

 Rufiji Delta © Sea Sense

We visited 8 villages to help them think about what issues they have in their village and to draft up a management plan. Some of the problems they face are illegal fishing (dynamiting in particular), use of their fishing grounds by non-resident fishermen and destruction of the seagrasses and fishing grounds by industrial prawn trawlers.

 Prawn trawler © Sea Sense

It was a very interesting process and I’m happy to say that conservation of both dugongs and turtles were raised by 6 out of 8 villages and have been included in their plans for resource management.

In a few weeks time we will return to help them start to implement their plans.

Soon I am off to the coast south of Dar es Salaam to conduct some training with hotel staff and do an interview survey. I will be accompanied by the Sea Sense Administrator, Dot Ndunguru and 4 students from the University of Dar es Salaam.

Sustainable turtle protection in Tanzania

I recently returned from a trip along the coast south of Tanzania’s capital Dar es Salaam. This stretch of coast is about 65km long and most is ideal turtle nesting habitat. We normally record about 100 green turtle here nests a year. Because it is so close to Dar es Salaam it is very disturbed and we are doing all that we can to minimize disturbance to nesting turtles and hatchlings from hotel development, fisher camps and illegal fishing activities, especially dynamiting. This is achieved mainly through education, public awareness and production of guidelines for tourism building (e.g. lights). While down there, we spent some time with the managers of two luxury hotels with whom we are promoting turtle tourism. We relocate some nests that are at risk from inundation to their beaches and in return we receive donations (modest unfortunately) from their guests. In this way, turtle protection in this area is becoming sustainable as these funds help pay for the community Conservation Officers as well as small nest incentives that are paid out when a turtle nest is reported.

Community Officers at Amani Beach © Sea Sense

Our main problem at the moment is nest predation by mongooses and red ants. The latter attack the young turtles as they come out of the eggs deep in the sand. We are minimizing the risk from mongooses by surrounding the nests with chicken wire and covering them with fishing net (this is removed a few days before hatching). For the red ants, we are trying a variety of things such as placing cold ash at the bottom and top of the nest.

Amani Beach nest sponsorship sign © Sea Sense

Next week we are back off to the south coast to do some training with hotel staff. We have 4 University of Dar es Salaam undergraduates with Sea Sense for the next 2 months and they will be helping us with the training and with protecting turtle nests.

More next week!