Tanzania Strives to Halt Dynamite Fishing on Reefs

By Muhingo Rweyemamu

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, May 7, 2003 (ENS) - Dynamite fishing, coral mining, and the use of seine nets have destroyed much of Tanzania's coastal reefs, but now the government is getting serious about protecting these unique and fragile reefs. Tanzanian environmental experts are assessing the condition of the country's coral reefs, which are being threatened by human activities both legal and illegal.

At the outset, the experts are scrutinizing activities along the Tanga Region coastal area, about 250 kilometers (156 miles) north of Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam.

Officials with the new Integrated Coastal Management Strategy (ICM) program are conducting a five day workshop in Tanga for selected swimmers who have become reef monitors where they will learn how to identify features of coral reefs and differentiate the damaged from the healthy ones. The workshop is run by a senior official with the program, Hassan Kakombo, who says the trainees will also examine the reefs for any signs of damage.

The greatest source of stress on coral reefs in Tanzania is related to destructive fishing practices, says Dr. Magnus Ngoile, director of the Tanzania Environment Management Council (NEMC).


A glimpse of Tanzania's fragile reefs (Photo courtesy Coastal Resources Center)
By far, the most destructive type fishing is the use of dynamite, a practice that has continued for over 40 years. Each blast of dynamite instantly kills all fish and most other living organisms within a 15 to 20 meter (49 to 65 foot) radius and completely destroys the reef habitat itself within a radius of several meters of the dynamite blast.

Coral reefs are natural barriers that restrain beach erosion by holding back cruising oceanic waves. However, human activities such as dynamite fishing, spear fishing, and the lime industry have negated that function.

The technical advisor for the Tanga Coastal Zone Development and Conservation Program, Eric Verly, says many of the existing reefs developed over the past 5,000 years in response to rising sea levels fed by melting glacial ice left from the last great Ice Age.

Ngoile observed that while illegal dynamite fishing is the major activity that destroys coral reefs in the northern part of Tanzania, coral mining is the most dangerous activity for reefs in the south.

“Previously, coral mining was not included in the list of human pressures on the coastal and marine resources," says Ngoile. "However, reports show that it may become the most disastrous imprint of man on the marine environment, since the local community seems not to be aware that coral mining is as unlawful as dynamite fishing and mangrove clearing."

Ngoile explains that with numerous blasts occurring daily on reefs all over the country, over a period of many years, the overall effect of dynamite fishing on coral reefs in Tanzania has been devastating. Damaged reefs, he says, can take many decades to recover and some may never recover.

Apart from dynamite fishing, Ngoile says the use of seine nets to capture fish on the bottom and around reefs is almost as destructive as the dynamite. He says these nets are used as beach seines on the reef flat or are pulled around coral reefs.

“Their use is destructive for three reasons," he says. "Firstly, when used around the reefs fishermen smash coral colonies in order to scare the fish out of hiding. Secondly, dragging them over the reef flat as beach seines unavoidably damages coral and other marine lives. And thirdly, the small mesh size of seine nets results in the capture of many juveniles."

In Tanzania, coral reefs are found along about one third of the coastline. Most of these are comprised of fringing and patch reefs, restricted to a narrow strip, usually one to three kilometers (up to two miles) wide along the coast. The islands of Unguja, Pemba and Mafia as well as numerous other small islands are surrounded by fringing reefs.


Fish market on the beach in Tanzania (Photo courtesy Coastal Resources Center)
Environmental experts say coral reefs have a number of ecological and economic values. Jeremiah Daffa, the team leader of the Integrated Coastal Management Strategy in Tanzania says the most obvious values are associated with extractive activities such as fishing, shell and other invertebrate collection, as well as tourism.

“These natural resources provide coastal people with a source of income. The provision of a barrier against wave action, and the potential as a source of medical compounds to fight diseases are important, but more difficult to quantify,” he says adding that other use of corals but which brings serious negative impacts on the reefs, is the mining of live corals to produce lime for building.

According to Ngoile, coral reefs support 70 percent of artisanal fish production in Tanzania. “They serve as breeding, nursery and feeding ground for many marine animals including over 500 species of commercially important fish. Other animals dependent on coral reefs include lobsters, octopuses, bivalves, gastropods and sea cucumbers, all of which are important in artisanal fisheries,” he says.

Implemented last month, the National Integrated Coastal Management Policy is the result of a participatory process that extended over two years. It reflects the collective views and interests of a broad range of stakeholders who live and work along the coast, and it is also built on a solid foundation of scientific and technical knowledge.

Today 28 of 42 coastal villages in the Tanga Region are involved in collaborative fishery management plans as part of the Integrated Coastal Management Policy. This includes all villages south of Tanga town and covers about 85 percent of the coastline north of Tanga town and south of the Kenyan border.