© Kent Andreasen / WWF

Tanzania’s Mangrove Guardians

The close relationship between mangroves and the fishing community

“A large percentage of mangrove conservationist are the fishing community,” states Kaitira Benard Nyahuro when he shows us around the coastal area of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The aquatic scientist spends most of his time working with coastal communities, encouraging them to focus on conservation and sustainable use of aquatic resources. Speaking with the local communities and hearing their thoughts and worries he has a large experience of how conservation can be successful through community-based approaches. And how protecting coastal ecosystems like mangroves create ripple effects that benefit the whole community.

With its 1.424 km long coastline, Tanzania is home to the third largest extent of mangroves in the Western Indian Ocean region. They store 8% of the country´s total fossil fuel CO2 emissions and provide protection from tropical storms and coastal flooding. But as mangroves everywhere are decreasing, so have Tanzanian mangroves suffered from deforestation and over-exploitation.

“Human activities that affect mangroves includes cutting mangroves for timber and charcoal, building of hotels and luxurious houses near the beach and livestock keeping, since the cattle consume the mangrove seedlings. Rice pans and salt making is another factor that leads to the decline of mangroves.”

In the last five years of working in the field, Kaitira Benard, founder and Program Manager at Aqua- Farms Organization was able to restore 20.000 mangrove trees in the coastal areas of Tanzania. A leading example of where mangrove conservation was successful is the Kunduchi village. It started with Kaitira training local fisherman on mangrove nursery rearing and led to the establishment of a community-led mangrove nursery. The men have developed a cooperative approach in both fishing and mangrove conservation. Because it is the fishermen who are most aware of the close relationship between healthy mangroves and abundance of fish. Before and after they go out to fish, they stop by the nursery to check on the 1700 mangrove seedlings they have reared, fill up the soil on the plastic bags, clean the nursery by removing the weeds, and – during the low tides season – irrigate the nursery.

Mangroves are vital breeding grounds for over 3000 fish species. A destruction of these ecosystems leads to a direct reduction of fish – a catastrophic result for both marine biodiversity and food security. The State of the World´s Mangroves 2022 report estimates that mangroves support the production of nearly 600 billion young of shrimp and fish species, as well as 100 billion individuals of crabs and bivalves. 43.000 artisanal fishermen rely on Tanzanian mangroves. Without them, their livelihoods are in danger.

© Kent Andreasen / WWF

© Kent Andreasen / WWF

But fishing is not the only way coastal communities directly benefit from protecting and restoring mangroves. Honey collected from bees that pollinate mangroves is known to have a particular fine quality. Selling the seedlings cultivated in mangrove nurseries to conservationists provides valuable income. Since mangroves are excellent at storing carbon, selling carbon credits is another way communities can generate income from mangroves. And mangroves serve as an attraction for both tourists and scientists who are looking for opportunities to spend time exploring the wonderous trees.

“Mangroves have a great potential for creating jobs in the coastal communities if the communities themselves emphasize on conservation. We know that if mangroves are properly managed, we are looking forward to the next generation to benefit from the same fruits we are benefiting now.”

About Kaitira Benard Nyahuro

Kaitira Benard is an aquatic scientist with 5 years of experience in the field and founding member and Program Manager of Aqua- Farms Organization (AFO). He holds a bachelor’s degree in aquatic sciences and Fisheries from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and focused his final year research on socio-economic aspects of fishermen. Kaitira Benard is a member of the Western Indian Ocean Early Career Scientist Network (WIOESN), Tanzania Fisheries and Aquatic Environmental Organization (TAFAEO) and Nature Environment Wildlife and filmmakers (NEWF) fellow. In 2022 he secured the Russell E. Train Education for Nature Initiatives-WWF Reforestation grant to conduct a participatory restoration of degraded mangroves for sustainable ecosystem health at Kunduchi mangrove creek Dar es Salaam. He is also a certified open water diver.
Kaitira spends most of his time working with coastal communities by engaging them on conservation and sustainable utilization of aquatic resources and livelihoods improvement.  He has experience in conservation and management of coastal critical habitats (mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs) and until now he successfully restored 20,000 mangrove trees in a coastal area of Dar es Salaam at Mbweni and Kunduchi through community-based approaches. Kaitira Benard’s dream is to serve the world marine resources and lakes through protection, conservation, management, capacity building and promoting blue economy.