Tanzania African Wildlife Conservation AdventureIn 1995 the first multi-user marine park was created in Mafia Island based on Frontier data. Now, after having spent several years outside this area, Frontier finally returned to the park in January and staff and volunteers have already been conducting a variety of surveys of the marine park biodiversity to assess the effectiveness of the park on the coral reef health.
The primary producers of a coral reef framework are Scleractinian corals, or hard corals. These hard corals are often covered by soft coral species, Alcyonacea. Both species of coral are sensitive to a variety of threats including increasing sea temperatures and mechanical damage of the reef. Therefore, a reduction in their numbers is often an early indicator of trouble. In order to determine the evolution of the coral health since the marine park was created, the Frontier team started recording the abundance of both coral types within the park.
The first results indicate that all sites within the park contain high levels of soft corals, in fact up to 10 times higher within the park compared to the intensively fished areas outside the park. Scleractinian corals were also abundantly found at most sites, although often covered by soft corals! This is fantastic news and a sign that the coral systems within the marine park are more mature, and thus more stable.
Marine reserves constitute an essential management tool to help maintain or restore the biodiversity of an area. This appears to have had a very positive impact for Mafia Island, also dramatically increasing the biodiversity and abundance of fish species, not only within its boundaries but also in the vicinity of the marine park. However, a lot of data still need to be gathered, and in the next months, to the Frontier team is hoping to set up some long term monitoring of specific coral colonies and to start investigating ways to reintroduce coral species to areas previously damaged by dynamite fishing.
Emily Lewis and Elise Belle
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