The Mafia Island Marine Park



The Mafia Island region (see map) which includes the Rufiji River Delta and Mafia channel, forms one of the finest complexes of estuarine, mafia_island_marine_park_mapmangrove, coral reef, and marine ecosystems in the world, all lying in an area of around 1500km².  The coral reefs are particularly diverse for Eastern Africa.  Habitats in the area of the MIMP (821km²) include hard coral dominated reefs, soft coral and algal dominated reefs, sheltered back reef systems, inter-tidal flats with hard and soft substrate, mangrove forests, extensive seagrass beds, algal, sponge and soft coral sub-tidal beds.  The area includes critical habitat  for the dugong (Dugong dugon, vulnerable, IUCN, 1994) and sea turtles (Chelonia mydas, Eretmochelys imbricata, Lipidochelys livaceae, Dermochelys coriacea, all endangered and Caretta caretta, vulnerable, IUCN, 1994) and has been recognized as a critical site for biodiversity.


The first formal initiatives to create marine and coastal protected areas in Tanzania came in 1975 through regulations made by the then Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism under the Fisheries Act, 1970.  Seven small areas of reef were declared Marine Reserves for total protection; these included two areas of Mafia Island, Chole Bay and Tutia Reef.  Lack of personnel and funding resources have slowed implementation of these initiatives.  Suggestions from various quarters urged the creation of larger, multiple use areas combining conservation and sustainable use and development.

Continuing studies initiated in 1988 by the University of Dar es Salaam (through the IMA0, with some financial support from Shell Petroleum Development Tanzania Limited, and with the collaboration of other agencies including, Frontier – Tanzania project, have provide important baseline information on which to develop planning.  Along with resource data accumulated for the area the socio-economics of the area were also studied.  A total of ten village communities lie within the boundaries of the MIMP.  The villages are widely scattered with one adjacent to an area of coastal forest, which has been identified as important for conservation.  The other villages exist close to the coast or on the offshore islands.  All the inhabitants are highly dependent on the natural resources of the area for food, shelter and income.  In addition, there are several commercial concerns whose businesses also directly depend on the natural resources.  The local marine resource uses of the area include in decreasing order of importance; finfish fishing, octopus fishing, coral collection, shell collection, sea-cucumber and lobster collection.

In February 1991, a widely attended meeting was held in Dar es Salaam discussed the concept of a marine park on Mafia and resulted in the formation of a Steering Committee appointed by the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, Natural Resources and Environment, to further develop planning and propose the mechanism for creating and managing a marine park centered around Mafia.

The Steering committee collated existing information and made full use fo the co-operation extended by the Mafia District authorities and the Frontier-Tanzania project which was producing wide-ranging information on resource-use in addition to ecological studies (Horril and Ngoile, 1991).  The Frontier group and local counterparts had also spent time discussing the idea of a multi-user marine park with residents of the area.

The proposed strategy was to concentrate on developing MIMP as an efficiently managed and fully functional marine park.  Some support may also be provided for the BoT and MPRU as defined in the Marine Parks and Reserves Act 1994 so as the MIMP has a functional administrative umbrella.


The ecological and economic sustainability of Tanzania’s coastal and marine ecosystems is improved and maintained.

  • To assist the management of the Mafia Island Marine Park so that the ecosystem processes and biodiversity are maintained for the benefit of the people of Tanzania, and particularly the Mafia Island
  • To facilitate the development of economic activities to reduce pressures on the Park ecosystems, while ensuring all natural resources within the Park are used sustainably.

The management goals, which reflect the integration of development, environmental protection and sustainable resource use, were previously expressed in the General Management Plan of 1993 as:

  • To protect natural ecosystem processes and areas of high species and genetic diversity;
  • To stimulate the rational development of non-utilized natural resources including tourism;
  • To promote sustainability of existing resource use incorporating recovery strategies for over utilized resources.
  • To involve marine park users, especially Mafia community, in the planning, development and management of the Park, and to give priority of resource use and economic opportunity to Mafia community in pursuance of goals tow and three.

Mafia Island was chosen as an ideal site for the Marine Park because its unique shallow waters provide ideal habitats for over: 400 species of fish, 400 types of sponge, 200 algal types and other species, some yet to be identified. The unique Mafia island ecosystem provides a vmafia_island_marine_park_shallow_waterast array of larvae which are swept into The Indian Ocean, and carried northwards by the prevailing North East African Current ultimately adding to the rich diversity of marine life found as far north as The Red Sea.

The Park borders south-east Mafia Island and stretches over 700 square kilometers, encompassing six islands.  Stretching from the top of Forbes Bay to the north and Tutia Reef in the south.  Circulating the entire park an 800m wide buffer zone exists, protecting the park from any detrimental practices ie. Commercial fishing and coral mining.  The park is patrolled by wardens, maintaining a permit system. This enables these areas to be restricted, however, local fishermen and tourists alike, are permitted to enjoy the wonders on offer.

The General Management Plan (GMP) for Mafia Island Marine Park

The GMP document for Mafia Island Marine Park, signed by the Honourable Ms. Zakia H. Meghji, Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, is available to the Tanzania public, particularly MIMP stakeholders. The document framework reflects the participatory, collaborative process that was conducted over several years, accounting for the lengthy path that has finally led to publication.  The published version is in English, with the Kiswahili version expected within 2-3 months.

Ten surface marker buoys have been positioned to demarcate the specified-use zone within Chole Bay in Mafia, with assistance from local fishermen and support from WWF.  This is part of the multi-user zoning plan set out in the new MIMP General Management plan.  Other fishing is permitted in the Chole Bay Zone, but all forms of seine or pull nets are banned.  Fishing rights are reserved for fishers resident within the park, using “traditional Gear” such as hand-lines and fence or basket traps.  The zone is about 20 km²  in size and is rich in coral reefs an sea grass habitats.  Further demarcation buoys are shortly to be installed in the other priority user zones, especially Kututia Reef, Kinasi Pass and the main boundary between Ras Fikirini and Bwejuu.


The Community Unit of the Mafia Island Marine Park has started a pilot programme of promoting sustainable fishing gears.  This is part of a wider strategy to find alternatives to destructive fishing gears such as seine nets, which harm long-term fishing prospects by taking out large numbers of juvenile fish, whilst damaging corals and seagrasses.  WWF is supporting the programme.   The Marine Park has assisted the provision of gillnets and collapsible fishing traps to fishers at Juani and Chole villages inside the marine park.  Statistics on catches are being monitored to assess the effectiveness of the gears.


The Tanzania shoreline has an extensive system of diverse marine and coastal habitats, which support some of the richest concentrations of biodiversity in the East African Marine Ecoregion.  These vial ecosystems are currently under severe threat due to combined impact of population pressure, poverty, over-exploitation and other destructive human activities.

It has been increasingly recognized that an integrated and holistic approach is necessary for the sound and sustainmafia_island_marine_park_beachable management of these invaluable life support systems.  In this context environmental education and training assume a pivotal role.

The new Environmental Education Strategy and Action Plan (EESAP) for Mafia Island Marine Park has been recognized as an essential element in the sustainable development process by the marine park’s partners.  The launching of the EESAP by the Park, with support from WWF, signifies another positive step in guiding a marine park at Mafia Island to its ultimate goal of sustainability.

Some of the most pressing problems of Mafia district include depletion of both renewable and non-renewable resources; haphazard solid waste disposal; unsustainable agricultural practices; loss of biodiversity; poverty; population pressure and low standard of education.

The challenges to sustainable development are staggering in number, scale and complexity.  Mafia district needs to develop and to modernize in less wasteful ways than those prevalent elsewhere, without losing the sound social and cultural values and practices which underpin the traditional way of life.  Mafia district needs to find alternative paths to an alternative goal; a goal which ultimately is the true goal of development; an environmentally sound and sustainable quality of live, which is socially just and equitable.

The primary purpose of the EE Strategy & Action Plan is to present a framework by which to educate and train people to deal with major environmental problems such as degradation of ecosystems, depletion of natural resources, loss of biodiversity, soil, water and air pollution and haphazard urbanization and industrialization.  Also, it is aimed at sensitizing people on the need to eliminate the root causes of environmental degradation such as poverty, population pressure, overpopulation, wasteful production of marine products, human greed and underdevelopment.  Above all, it attempts to move forward from traditional conservation approach of excluding people, to an integrated approach that fully involves local communities and recognizes and respects their livelihood needs.

The Action Plan has been specially directed to resolving issues in four critical target areas; formal and non-formal education; planning and decision making; public awareness and participation; and information, networking and communication.  The implementation strategy has spelt out 13 priority actions for project formulation and implementation during the period 2000 to 2004.

The Strategy & Action Plan envisages a future where the community is mobilized to work hand in hand with the marine park to uphold the diverse riches of the marine environment whilst still allowing sustainable use of its resources for the benefit of the community.


Sustainable Development is a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, direction of investment, orientation of technological development and institutional changes are made consistent with present as well as future social and economic needs.  An effective educational system is the fundamental prerequisite for sustainable development.  The core themes of education for sustainability include lifelong learning, interdisciplinary education, multicultural education, partnerships and empowerment.


  • The collection of marine organisms whether dead or alive by visitors is prohibited.
  • Users of the marine parks & reserves should avoid all physical contact with reef organisms, such as corals and sponges. They can be easily damaged.
  • All forms of waste disposal are regulated within marine parks & reserves.
  • Fishing in marine parks is mainly reserved for registered local fishers.
  • Visiting fishers require a special permit issued by the Warden-in-Charge.
  • All extractive activities are prohibited in marine reserves and core zones.
  • It is illegal to pick up or possess any marine organisms from a marine protected area without a valid permit or license.