The creation of a fish reserve in northern Mozambique has brought tremendous benefits to both marine life and the local community

Marine reserves managed by communities are respected and could increase the size and quantity of fish, thereby improving livelihoods of residents in fishing communities, according to a study in Mozambique.

Researchers from Mozambique, Portugal and the UK conducted the study to monitor the Vamizi Island marine sanctuary.

According to a statement released on 25 May by the University of St Andrews, which was involved in the study, Vamizi Island marine sanctuary, located in the north of Mozambique, has more than 180 different species of coral and about 400 species of reef fish.

But the statement adds that until 2006, when the sanctuary was established by the local fisheries council, neighbouring Tanzanian fishing companies and fishermen from Nampula in Mozambique threatened the existence of the Vamizi ecosystem and the livelihoods of the local people.

In the study published on 30 April in PLOS ONE, researchers conducted underwater visual censuses of reef fish at three different times – in 2003, at the time of establishment (2006) and in 2012.

“Six years after its establishment fish are more abundant inside the reserve than outside.”

“Six years after its establishment, both herbivorous and piscivorous [fish-eating] fish are more abundant inside the reserve than outside, where no difference existed before,” the researchers note in the journal.

Isabel da Silva, a co-author of the study and a marine biologist at Universidade Lúrio in Mozambique, said that having community reserves could preserve fish populations in East Africa. She therefore urges governments and communities to embrace the model in Vamizi Island.

Da Silva says such an approach would generate foreign income to further grow the resource, on which most of the people in this region depend.

“When scientists scratch their heads to try to find solutions to existing or rather specific problems, they face insurmountable resistance from the local people who often view them as strangers to their usual pattern of life,” da Silva explains.

The research shows that Vamizi Island investors and ecologists have joined forces with a local community longing for development and together they won. Without the community it was simply impossible to create a reserve.

“The findings provide evidence to help support a long-term future for this collaborative development, which has already allowed tourists access to an almost untouched environment, villagers access to more jobs, medicines, better schools, a new health centre, easier access and communications,” she says.

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Dale Kenmuir, Zimbabwean-born ichthyologist, who researches fish farming in Southern Africa, says while the study shows productive community involvement in large-scale projects such as the Vamizi marine sanctuary, it is imperative to introduce a marine university in the region to bridge the skills development gap in the fishing sector.

“A skills-based development university in the area will add value to the fishing industry and expose fishermen and the local people to other pursuits of economic value. There is no institution of higher learning in that part of the region or surrounding areas that specialises in fishing from the first to last level of production,” Kenmuir notes.

First published by SciDev

Photo title: View of Vamizi Island, Mozambique from a boat

Photo credit: © Wicker Paradise