The Indian Ocean Island, and its chain of small islets lie approximately 120 km south of Dar es Salaam and 20km offshore from the eastern extent of the Rufiji is one of the largest delta systems in Africa.
Mafia is seen as particularly vulnerable to climate change, with some of its low-lying islands susceptible to rising seas.
“The land has been washed away over the two decades. So, we’ve started planting mangroves here to protect the soil from eroding,” says Omari Salehe, a retired primary school teacher.
Salehe who have been there for more than 20 years says that the decision to plant mangroves came after being informed that mangrove is adapted to handling the strong sea waves.
“We’re told that mangrove’s roots anchor the plant to the soil,” he says, lauding ActionAid Tanzania for training villagers on climate change adaptation measures.
“It is the only plant that can withstand the daily movement of the waves and adapts to coastal areas. That’s why they are so important. If they are not there, we should try at least to plant them,” says Salehe, a former Chemchem Primary School teacher.
According to him, there are some of the nearby small islands which have been sunk into the sea due to rising of sea level.
“This acts as a wake-up call to us and this is also a reason that pushed us to venture into mangrove tree planting,” he says, while briefing journalists who visited recently in the island.
He cites Tosamitungi and Mivinjeni as among the small islands which submerged due to climate change and sea levels rise.
Salehe also attested: “Right now Bwejuu Island has begun to sink underwater due to sea level rise as a result of climate change.”
According to Mafia District Executive Director, Eric Mapunda , Bwejuu which is one of the seven islands in the district has a total of 600 people.
Other islands include Juani, Jibondo, Chole, Mbalakuni, Shungimbili and Nyororo.
So far, 65,000 mangroves have planted on the coastline of Kitoni, Mlongo and Miburani villages to protect the coastline from erosion as well as conserving fish breeding sites.
To make the mangrove planting campaign sustainable, villagers have formed Mangrove Conservation Committees, and they have also formulated by-laws that prohibit anyone from cutting down mangroves.
“Through these by-laws it’s not allowed for anyone to get into the mangroves. And if it’s necessary members of the conservation committee in their respective village will meet and approve or disapprove someone’s request of cutting down mangrove trees. So, villagers are very strict on the matter,” says Mtemi Kasuga, Acting Mafia District Environmental Officer.
He says that Mafia District Council has been supporting the mangrove tree planting campaign almost across the district “because we’re aware of the dangers caused by climate change.”
Apart from ActionAid Tanzania, Kasuga says the council has been plant mangrove trees in collaboration with expert from the Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Dar es Salaam.
Samuel Mesiak, ActionAid Tanzania, Programme coordinator says the organization carried out a two-year training, under the project dubbed: ‘Strengthening Farmers Rural’ Cooperative Societies in Mafia’, which benefited more than 1,000 people in the area. The project was also geared towards improving governance, leadership, management and advocacy capacity of fishers' cooperatives and to promote improved fishing technologies among local fishers.
“As organization, we’ve been training villagers on climate change adaptation after discovering that some of the islands are submerging in the Indian Ocean due to climate change.”
“We also learnt that some fish species are disappearing, something which is a threat taking into account that majority of people depend on fish resources to earn a living and the district council also depend on fishing to get revenues.”