With such a wealth of data having been collected by Frontier over the years, a large part of the scientific work now carried out by the Research and Development team revolves around comparing temporal datasets in order to identify significant changes in the environment. This work is becoming increasingly needed in the current context of global climate change. Indeed coral bleaching, which is linked to increased sea temperatures, has already been observed on several coral reefs on Mafia Island.
The Tanzania Marine Park on Mafia Island was established in 1995 in collaboration with WWF, thanks to the research work carried out by Frontier since 1989. It has since been widely hailed as the world’s most successful multi-user marine park. After two years spent outside the marine park to survey remote reefs on the western coast of the island, the Tanzania Marine team have just got back within the marine park at a new camp near Utende. Much of their research will now be focusing on setting up permanent transects and assessing how the coral reef’s structure has changed over the 15 years since the marine park was created.
In addition, thanks to satellite imagery now being freely available on the Internet (which clearly wasn’t the case in 1989!), snapshots of the coral reefs will be taken and compared across years in order to visually quantify the extent of change to the reefs, and identify areas of particular concern which require further investigation, such as areas having suffered from coral bleaching.
The comparison of datasets between 1989 and today will provide a unique opportunity to study the evolution of fish and coral biodiversity and abundance in this protected area. Most importantly, it will allow the assessment of the long term effectiveness of marine protected areas in tropical waters. The results gathered from this evaluation should allow management strategies to be refined for an even better protection of the marine park.
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