A True Friend of Maziwe
A True Friend of Maziwe
As Kerstin sees it, she never had a choice. Originally studying to become an economics and sports teacher, the minute she took her first breath underwater, she was hooked. “My plans changed and I instead became a dive instructor with the plan to travel and work around the world.” Doesn’t sound like a bad plan, right?
Kerstin worked as a dive instructor in Thailand and Mozambique before arriving in Pangani, Tanzania eventually settling in Ushongo to open a dive center of her own, Kasa Divers. That’s when she fell in love with Maziwe. “It was clear to us if nobody would take care of Maziwe, it would have most likely been destroyed today.”
Kerstin’s path quickly crossed with Dorobo Fund. “We got to know Mike, Daudi, and Thad who had founded Friends of Maziwe a year before. Since we were settling at Ushongo, we wanted to get involved in the protection and work with Friends of Maziwe. The ocean is my passion and it felt good to be a part of the protection. It was in many ways also very beneficial for our business. Guests specifically booked trips with us because we tried to teach them as much as possible about Maziwe and it's environment.”
Early on, one of Friends of Maziwe’s primary goals was to stop dynamite fishing within the protected area of Maziwe Marine Reserve. Dynamite fishing began in Tanzania in the 1960’s, eventually becoming illegal in 1970. However, it is still practiced along the coastline, largely unabated. One explosion from a typical bottle bomb will shatter all coral with a radius of 1-2 meters and most marine organisms within 10-30 meters (1). The explosion also sends a shock wave through the water causing the internal organs, especially the swim bladder, to rupture and the skeleton to sustain thousands of fractures. These coral reefs support an abundance of wildlife, including fish, crabs, turtles and other species while helping to control carbon dioxide levels in the ocean. Thanks to the hard work of the Friends of Maziwe team, fish stocks and the coral reefs are recovering. With every year that passes, the size and variation of fish increases, proving Maziwe to be a vital breeding ground for over 400 species of fish today. In addition to the fish, there are more turtles and dolphins spotted along the reef.
An exciting development in Friends of Maziwe’s work has been the involvement of the local community. A vital part of all Dorobo Fund activities stems from a strong and respectful relationship with the local community. In Ushongo, the local community is eager to support and partake in activities. Kerstin regularly receives calls from locals reporting a nest and requesting it be moved into the protected area, something that has come as a pleasant surprise. In the past, illegal hunting of turtles for meat was very common in the local villages. “Having started the turtle conservation project and much-needed turtle awareness we have been able to minimize the killing of nesting turtles and egg poaching. The local community enjoys watching the baby turtles run into the sea, especially the young children.”
Turtles lay nests all year round in Maziwe, with peak nesting season from March to August. Turtles will lay nests every 2-3 years, returning to the beach where they hatched. At one point, Maziwe was the most important nesting beach for four turtle species in all of East Africa. In the past Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback, and Olive Ridley turtles laid their eggs on Maziwe. Maziwe was also the only nesting site for Olive Ridley species in all of Tanzania. Today, many Green and Hawksbill turtles can be seen along the reef and Maziwe continues to be an important nesting ground for green turtles. While impacts on the nesting turtles won’t be seen for a few more years due to the fact that turtles won’t mature and begin laying eggs until they are 20-25 years old, we are hopeful that Maziwe has a bright future.
Of course, like any conservationist knows, it isn’t always smooth sailing. Protecting an area that is 10km offshore certainly presents its own challenges. Marine conservation must constantly face the threats of people who see marine life primarily as a food source. For anyone that has visited this area, they know that Maziwe’s reef rivals that of the Great Barrier Reef, and rightfully receives a lot of visitors each year. Kerstin spends a great deal of time educating visitors and local tour operators on how to protect the marine reserve. By helping visitors understand the ongoing conservation projects and teaching guides how to operate with as little of an impact as possible, Kerstin is helping promote responsible tourism in the reserve.
At the moment, Friends of Maziwe employs three conservation officers and a patrol team of four, all Tanzanian. Conservation officers are responsible for relocating and protecting turtle nests once relocated. The patrol team visits the reserve daily to enforce the no-fishing policy within the protected area. Kerstin and the team at Friends of Maziwe have successfully relocated over 400 turtle nests from The Marine Reserve, allowing over 70,000 turtles to hatch and return to the ocean. Dorobo Fund has been extremely lucky to work with Kerstin the past 11 years and we thank her for her hard work and dedication to Maziwe and it’s inhabitants, big and small.
If you’d like to find out more about supporting Friends of Maziwe or sponsoring a turtle nest please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Alcala, A.C. and E.D. Gomez, eds. Dynamiting coral reefs: a resource destructive fishing method. Human impacts on coral reefs: facts and recommendations ed. B. Salvat. 1987, Antenne Museum: French Polynesia. 51-60.