My name is Steph Karras and I am from Melbourne, Australia. In 2014 I volunteered for African Impact on their Dolphin Research and Marine Conservation project in Zanzibar, Tanzania for what I now look back on as four of the most inspiring weeks of my life. Being a passionate wildlife warrior and environmentalist, this project was perfect for me. This venture gave me the opportunity to do my bit in contributing to Millennium Development Goal number 7, aiming to ensure environmental sustainability in the beautiful marine environment of Zanzibar.
The Marine project works out of Kizimkazi in southern Zanzibar, in the IUCN categorized Menai Bay Conservation Area. Established as a conservation area in 1997, Menai Bay is a very popular destination for dolphin and whale tourism, fishing, diving and snorkeling. However, no boat, fishing or tourist regulations are in place in the bay and unfortunately this means that dolphins and whales are often physically in harms way of tourists and the boats that flock out to their ocean playground in the early hours of the morning, being jumped on, deafened by loud engine revving, their travel paths cut off and pods split up. The project with African Impact and the Institute of Marine Science is trying to work towards a more sustainable way of encouraging tourism, and has started working towards this aim by collecting data on dolphin and whale-tourist interaction, distributing questionnaires amongst tourists, talking with boat drivers and attempting to teach the locals (through our English classes and marine conservation club) how they can continue their essential practices, but in a sustainable way that means they may continue to do so for the rest of their lives and their children’s lives.
A concern for us also revolves around the fishing practices in Kizimkazi. Fishing is obviously a huge and integral part to the survival of the village, but unfortunately, from the way we see it, if the practices continue at the unlimited rate they are currently at, the livelihoods of these people will be under serious threat! Recording the number and types of sea creatures being brought in every day from the ocean, it was clear to us that many species (such as gropers and honeycomb rays) were being heavily overfished. We are aiming that through teaching and hopefully the implementation of fishing regulations, the fishing at Kizimkazi can be done in a sustainable manner and in a way that is fully supported by the locals.
The marine project aims to reach targets A and B of Millennium Development Goal number 7 by working WITH the people of Zanzibar; stakeholders whose roles are critical to the future of Menai Bay and its risk of biodiversity loss. Our aspirations are to work with local government and the local community to develop sustainable policies
and protocols that protect and conserve the Menai Bay environment by continuing to build and strengthen our relations with these humble and hardworking locals and encourage them to understand that their actions must reflect a concern for their environment if they want not only to continue living in the island paradise that they have always known, but for tourism and the food economy to carry on and hopefully prosper.
I believe African Impact’s work in Zanzibar is an integral part to the islands future of environmental sustainability. Volunteering for the project I learned so much about the marine life of Zanzibar from the locals and I’m so grateful that I now have this knowledge that will help me in my university learning and in future volunteer work or jobs in the environmental field. Living amongst the locals and alongside the volunteers and staff of the English project, I also learned a lot about the Tanzanian culture and language. The more you immerse yourself in the culture the more these wonderful people see you as a part of their community… not a tourist, and you really begin to appreciate not being treated like one. The project has some amazing goals for the health of Menai Bay, the dolphins and whales who live in it, for reaching Millennium Development Goal number 7 and for the future of the locals of Kizimkazi.
I left this project knowing that I did my bit in helping to protect the incredible marine environment that lines Zanzibar. Everyday my eyes saw incredible natural sights; my nose was filled with the smells of the culture and tradition of Zanzibar and my heart was touched by the stories and kindness of the locals. Each day I spent in this paradise proved to me how incredible and diverse our world is. To be a volunteer and live amongst and help protect some of the world’s most beautiful people, animals and habitats is something I will always be grateful to African Impact for! This was an amazing experience that will stay with me forever and I cant wait to return to Zanzibar!