Mangroves are an assemblage of woody plants that grow in the inter-tidal areas of estuaries, deltas, backwater areas and lagoons almost exclusively within 30˚ of the equator. They serve many important ecosystem functions, which include acting as a nursery area to many species of fish, providing a primary habitat for many invertebrate and vertebrate species, and acting as a buffer against wave erosion. In the last twenty years they have been suffering from an unprecedented level of destruction in many regions.
Recent analysis of mangrove surveys undertaken by the Frontier team on Mafia Island, Tanzania, has provided some interesting results. Surveys of mangroves along 32 transects in an inter-tidal region to the south of Utende were carried out late last year. The team found that, in general, the mangroves in the area displayed low levels of human disturbance, but that there were several areas where mangroves had been cleared. These were often in close proximity to tourist resorts along Utende beach.
Tourism on Mafia Island has been increasing steadily in the last 15 years, with domestic visitors being outstripped in numbers by non-domestic visitors in the last decade. Most of the tourism industry on the Island is aimed towards marine ecotourism, and it is an island that is most certainly surrounded by incredibly beautiful and highly biodiverse marine areas. It is a discouraging sign that areas of mangrove have been cleared to provide visitors to certain beach resorts with open access to the ocean, but it is a two sided situation, as an influx of visitors desiring to see pristine natural habitats can often lead to greater environmental protection. This is partly due to the fact that it will economically benefit some of the local population to keep the environment that way.
The Frontier team also found that more recently built developments along the beach were more conscientious of the area of mangrove cleared along the beach for the visitors. Such places would clear a narrow channel to the ocean for visitors to use instead of a wide area of beach. This is a positive development, and hopefully any future developments in the area will follow this lead, or ideally, will not undertake the destruction of mangroves at all.
Find out more about the Tanzania Marine project.