The Establishment of the Mafia Island Marine Park

Mafia Island and its small chain of islands lie 120 kilometers south of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Its waters contain coral reefs, sea grass beds, and mangroves which provide the local community with ecosystem services, especially through coral mining. Live and fossilized coral blocks are used for the production of lime for high quality construction, providing cash income. However, extensive mining creates a loss of reef habitat, decreases fish productivity and biodiversity, and can potentially erode beaches. The Mafia Island Marine Park (MIMP), situated on the south-east side of the island encompassing over 700 square kilometers, is well aware of these threats. Its general goal is to conserve biodiversity and the abundance and function of living marine resources, and to sustainably manage its coastal ecosystems. However it is faced with the challenge of conserving and sustaining natural resources without making it difficult for locals to survive and maintain their traditional lifestyle. More than 40 percent of Mafia’s population is living below the poverty line. For the villages within the park, live coral mining for commercial sale is prohibited. Communities with no alternative construction materials in their vicinity, and without the money to import them, depend heavily on natural resources. A sustainable extraction of resources would help reduce poverty and benefit locals’ livelihoods. It still remains to be seen if the park’s initiatives will be successful.

Contributed by Sophie Bernstein
Course: Global Environmental History
Instructor: Andrew Stuhl, Ph.D.
Bucknell University, Lewisburg, US

Further Readings: 
  • Dulvy, Nicholas K., Damon Stanwell-Smith, William RT Darwall, and Chris J. Horrill. "Coral Mining at Mafia Island, Tanzania: A Management Dilemma." Ambio (1995): 358–65.