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Uzi Sea Turtle Conservation
Eretmochelys imbricata
Mangrove Area
Beach with 40 species of birds
Hawksbill Turtle
Unsere Pools im Korallenfels
Mangrove area
Aliy Abdurahim Aliy

Uzi Sea Turtle and Environmental Conservation

On the small island of Uzi in the south of Zanzibar’s main island Unguja, we started our sea turtle conservation project in February 2011.

The initial idea was to modify a lagoon in Uzi to raise Hawksbill turtles, with the aim of releasing them into the ocean when they are grown-up. If more of these critically endangered marine turtles were able to reach the age of reproduction, our project would contribute to the conservation of the species. Our plan was to finance the project completely by eco tourism and cultural tourism on Uzi Island.

The works on the lagoon have now been completed. On a 2500 sqms terrain, there are now several natural pools formed by coral rock which are interconnected and filled by sea water during high tide. A lock system that we built makes it possible to regulate water levels during low tide, and to keep marine turtles of different sizes in the lagoon.
As a result of our survey of the inhabitants of Uzi Island, we however had to expand the scope of our project. The survey showed that the Uzians are basically killing every grown-up turtle they might find. The reasons given were a) to eat them; b) to prevent that turtles eat fish that is meant for human consumption, or to prevent that sea turtles destroy fishing nets; c) to use the turtle shell as home decoration; or d) “for fun”. As it is impossible for us (and it should not be our goal) to keep ALL sea turtles of the Menai Bay area in captivity, for long-term sustainable conservation, an overall change of behaviour of the local population is needed.

In general, most locals are treating their environment, the Menai Bay, in a rather destructive way. The bay is an important ecosystem of mangrove forests, sea grass beds, islands with fresh water forest, coral reefs and a large diversity of plants, land and water animals, including dolphins, African Sea Eagles, and sea turtles. For centuries, the bay was one of Zanzibar’s most important fishing grounds. Humans took what they needed for life without significant damage, however, due to the increase of population sizes since the 1960s, previously sustainable behavioural patterns had been discarded. Poverty is now driving the coastal population to destroy their environment, for instance by making use of destructive techniques such as dynamite fishing, the use of fine-meshed fishing nets and nets that drag over coral reefs, over-fishing, collection of reef organisms for the curio trade, mangrove cutting, coral mining as a substitute for cement, pollution (increase in waste/ sewage), and poor agriculture in coastal lands. Since Menai Bay was declared a conservation area in 1997 by WWG, these destructive practices have become illegal, however they are still being carried out, as the people don’t see any other option than taking from nature whatever they can get.

For this reason, our focus is now on two aspects – first, environmental education, which has the aim to make people understand about the necessity of environmental conservation, second, the creation of alternative, non-destructive ways of income generation for the locals.

Concerning environmental education, our new sea turtle lagoon will be used as an educational platform. Besides tourists whose money funds the project, local school classes and the general local population should be approached to the topic; they should learn something about the various coastal habitats and the need of conservation (relation between human and nature). We are currently starting to establish an “environmental club” at Uzi School, and our volunteers at the Uzi kindergarten and school are working on the creation of teaching materials about relevant topics.

Volunteers and interns are preparing educational materials and communicate these at our sanctuary and at the school/kindergarten.

The creation of alternative, non-destructive ways of generating income and nutrition for the local population is of uttermost importance for sustainable environmental conservation. Our research has shown that only a minority of the locals is specifically keen on eating marine turtles as a delicacy; instead, they just eat whatever they can get. If they just had more money and alternative food options, they would not necessarily consume sea turtles, and they would also be less destructive to their environment.

The two fields we want to target to tackle alternative income options are eco/cultural tourism, and agriculture/manufacturing.

In eco/cultural tourism we are trying to get more participants for day trips to Uzi which include riding on an oxcart through the island, including a visit to the kindergarten, dispensary, and a typical house where lunch is taken, a visit to a seaweed plantation, and our sea turtle sanctuary. This small-scale eco/cultural tourism is anyway offering employment to 12-15 Uzians. Furthermore, a defined percentage of the profits will be used directly for community development to make all Uzians benefit from tourism. The plan is that by February of every year, the Sheha (village elder) should communicate to us which project in the village the community whishes to be sponsored, e.g. the primary school, village well, dispensary etc.. We would then decide upon a certain project for that particular year with the sponsoring foreign tour operators on the ITB Tourism Trade Show in March every year.

See sketch of the lagoon with thematic areas (PDF, 512 kb). 

Read more about tourism development on Uzi Island.

To make sure that the Uzi sea turtle sanctuary is a strong attraction and main reason for tourists to come to Uzi, besides raising turtles, we are planning to build a bird observation platform and a mangrove and beach educational area. At the beach next to our sea turtle sanctuary, more than 40 species of birds can be observed. This might also attract the operators of sailing tours in the Menai Bay to include a stop at our sea turtle sanctuary into their trip.

As soon as our agriculture/manufacturing income-generating projects (see below) will be running, it will also be an exciting option to make a visit to these projects part of the Uzi day trip, and tourists should be given to possibility to actively participate in all of these activities.
It is crucial that tourism in Uzi is developed in a very sensitive and well-planned way. The Uzians are conservative Muslims and if they feel that tourists visiting their island don’t respect their values and cultural norms, this might easily result in a general negative attitude and refusal of any kind of tourism.

Concerning agriculture/manufacturing, we are currently looking into the possibility of running a fish farm. This will not only create employment, but the availability of more fish might stop some Uzians from eating marine turtles and employing destructive fishing methods.

We are further planning to expand our Kilimanjaro pellets project to Uzi. The cultivation of Jatropha is not feasible in Zanzibar, but pellets can be made in Uzi from other biomass for sales in Zanzibar Town.

Seaweed is at the moment the most important agricultural good grown in Uzi. Seaweed is generally sold to companies outside of Tanzania as a dry, raw material. However, there is a lot of potential to further process seaweed in Uzi for the use as cosmetics; construction material, fertilizer etc. and we are cooperating with the Uzi Seaweed Farmer Association to explore further uses.

Concerning farming, in Zanzibar there is generally the problem that all farmers are producing the same produce, strongly determined by the seasons, and therefore only have small margins. There is unused potential in the preservation of produce, and in the cultivation of niche produce. For instance, the tourism catering industry has demand for agricultural goods which don’t correspond to the nutritional habits of the locals and therefore aren’t produced in sufficient quantities, e.g. tomatoes, mushrooms, seafood, poultry. Even for export, there are opportunities such as natural sponges. Uzi is a fertile island with a lot of potential for agriculture.

Background information Marine Turtles

The Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is critically endangered and is internationally protected as part of the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Research by the Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG) shows that the total population of these turtles has decreased by 80% between 1986 and 1996. Since this species has been classified as “critically endangered” in 1996 (which is one step before “extinct in the wild”) and many countries banned the trade of the turtles and turtle products, the number didn’t considerably further decrease, but also didn’t recover to previous levels.

Also the two other species of marine turtles to be found in Zanzibar, the Green Turtle and the Loggerhead Turtle are endangered species and are included in our conservation issues. Due to the turtle’s long life which implies a slow growth and long time to reach sexual maturity, it proves difficult to increase the total number of turtles. Many animals don’t reach the age of reproduction.  

Project manager and partners

The project is being directed by Aliy Abdurahim Aliy, a biologist who is from Uzi, and by Tim from England, who is a environmental manager and geographer.

Aliy has directed many conservation projects in Zanzibar, such as projects for ReCoMaP (Regional Coastal Management Plan), for the Zanzibar Ministry of Forestry, for Zanzibar Zoological Society (ZAZOSO) and for the Society for Natural Resources Conservation and Development (SONARECOD).

Tim holds a BA (Hons) degree in Environmental Management and Geography and is currently finishing his MSc in Conservation and Protected Area Management. He was working for the London Borough Council for 5 years in environmental education.

World Unite is financing big parts of these projects. However, we are particularly thankful to Chamäleon Reisen of Berlin/Germany and the hotel Pembalodge for sponsoring this project.

To continue our endeavour we are however still looking for further sponsors.

Recent photos of the modification works at the lagoon can be found on our Facebook Page

The project was shown on ARD (first German television) in the travel magazine “ARD Ratgeber Reisen” on the 28th of August, 2011. You can see it here (in German language):

ARD Ratgeber Reise - Sansibar, nachhaltiger Tourismus vor der Küste Ostafrikas 

It was extensively covered in the documentary "Sansibar - Gewürze, Geister und Genossen" on German TV 3sat on the 1st of January, 2012.

BA dissertation written by our participant Timo in Uzi about “Climate change and its perception in rural Zanzibar” (PDF, 2 MB, German language)


Info box:

Location: Zanzibar, Tanzania

Duration: Minimum 1 months

Special qualification required: See above 

Costs: free of charge. Trouble-free package is optional

Accommodation: Not included

Meals: Not included

Included: Placement in the project; if you opt for the trouble-free package the whole range of services which is part of the trouble-free package is included

Not included: Travel, health insurance, visa, work permit

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