Spotlight on Research in the Indian Ocean.

Posted on: February 6th, 2014 by Hannah Darrin




The Western Indo-Pacific stretches from Thailand to East Africa and the Red Sea, and has distinct fauna – with a quarter of its fish species thought to be different from the broader Indo-Pacific. The Western Indian Ocean is the largest biogeographic province in this region, but among the least studied of the world’s seas, posing a great challenge to effective conservation of its biodiversity.

The Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) is a regional non-profit organisation that promotes the educational, scientific and technological development of all aspects of marine sciences throughout the Western Indian Ocean – namely Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Comoros, Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Reunion Island (France), in order to sustain the use and conservation of its marine resources.

Made up of around 1000 members and 50 institutional members from within and outside the region, the associations membership includes marine scientists, coastal practitioners and institutions involved in the advancement of marine science research and development.

At the end of October WIOMSA and the University of Eduardo Mondlane opened the eighth Scientific Symposium in Maputo, which brought together around 400 scientists, marine practitioners, conservationists, civil society representatives, and members of the private sector from 15 countries. Eyes on the Horizon attended the five day symposium themed “Science and Society: Building partnerships for action.”

Spotlight on: Artisanal fisheries in Mozambique

Artisanal fisheries in Mozambique are described by fisheries law as sub-sector practised within three miles from shore with small vessels launched anywhere from the coast. In the 38 years since Mozambique’s independence this fishery has seen, in terms of the number of practitioners, an increase in fishing effort and the use of unregulated gear that has led to the overfishing of resources in some areas such as Maputo Bay.

In a talk entitled “The status of fisheries resources accessible to the artisanal sector of Mozambique” Atanasio Brito said that there is a resource potential of 354,000 tonnes, of which 213,000, or 60%, was landed in 2012. The number of artisanal fishers is estimated to be 351,700 and they are thought to have accounted for 90% of fish landing in 2012.

Due to the extensive distribution of fishing villages and landing sites, coupled with the limited coverage capacity to

Beach Seining

Beach Seining

monitor catches, the Fishery administration established CCP’s (Fishing Community Councils) to improve the fishery. All provinces in Mozambique have established CCP’s but the impact of these on resource management, compliance to fishing regulations and protection of endangered species is yet to be evaluated.

While there is indication of some success stories such as in the Quirimbas National Park, most of these imply external support from third parties, there the successfulness of CCPs under non-financed conditions is yet to be assessed, according to participants at the talk.

A. Guissamulo presented to WIOMSA delegates on the effectiveness of CCP’s in Mozambique and the conservation implications

Mr Guissamulo highlighted the following as the main issues within CCPs *:

  • An increase in less selective fishing equipment, such as mosquito nets.
  • A lack of investigation in to bycatch incidents.
  • The nomadic nature of some fishers increases complications for monitoring and also leads to sanitation problems in certain areas which can affect the immediate environment including bird resting areas and sea turtle nesting sites.
  • Shark fisheries in high tourist areas that collide with interests of other stakeholders.
  • The unregulated use of gill nets and their effect on species depletion and coral reef degradation.
  • Lack of monitoring of catch/stocks of invertebrates, could lead to a similar situation as with sea cucumbers in 1990’s.

It was generally agreed that CCPs should be empowered to protect endangered species, and that action must be taken when regulations are violated while fishing effort and illegal gear needs to be controlled.

So what are the missing elements for successful management? What limit to poverty is acceptable as these fishers aim to feed their families? The main problem seems to be that the CCPs focuse on social organisation, and there is a lack of information available at a local level. The government is targeting 18kg per person per year as an acceptable catch rate, and we are currently at around 11kg per person per year – a level of demand that is not sustainable. Could aquaculture be the solution? And if not, what is?

There is much food for thought on how resource conservation could be enhanced by CCPs, but during the session it was not clear if specific guidelines/targets had been outlined or met.

With the population along the eastern African coast expected to grow to 39 million people by 2014 and dependency on marine resources reaching up to 80% in some communities, management opportunities and conservation concerns are ever increasing. These management strategies include payment for ecosystem services approaches, MPA options and resilience-based fisheries co-management. Still, keynote speaker Christopher McQuaid highlighted that MPAs with multiple levels of authority and enforced with different degrees of effectiveness can complicate the situation, looking specifically at an example on the Indian Ocean Coast of South Africa.

Spotlight on: Endangered marine species.

Dugong foraging on seagrass

Copyright Julien Willem

The largest known population of dugongs in the Western Indian Ocean is found in the Bazaruto Archipelago. Dugongs being threatened with extinction and facing numerous anthropogenic threats in Mozambique, but this population is thought to have experienced a relatively slower decrease due to long-term formal protection since 1971 and active protection since 1989. This population has been deemed as the last possible viable population in WIO if zero mortality from humans is achieved.

During the talk “Dugongs in the Greater Bazaruto Archipelago: Will we fight the shark fin gill net fishery and empower the local communities to conserve dugongs?” delegates heard that while the fishers have a high awareness of the dugongs protected status the perceived opportunity of increased income from shark fin fisheries to trade in the global market could threaten their survival.

A study that used survey questionnaires found that the shark fishers highlighted tiger sharks, bull sharks, hammerhead sharks, and guitar sharks as target species with prices ranging from $66.7/kg for small fins to $150/kg for large fins. Of these shark fisheries 22% use gill nets and 78% use long lines, which could hamper efforts to conserve the elusive dugong given their indiscriminate nature.

The results highlighted the failure to implement multilateral communication mechanisms for conflict resolution between long-term resident stakeholders. Dugongs are perceived as a food source by local fishers and having live dugongs in the area is commonly thought to render little benefit. While the existing legal and socio-economic environment favours dugong conservation it requires further enforcement and engagement of communities.

Laser measuring whale shark Photo: Marlon Nunez

Laser measuring whale shark Photo: Marlon Nunez

Meanwhile, Dr Chris Rohner presented on residency and movements of whale sharks in Mozambique – a species which is protected by international conventions such as CMS and CITES but not by other Mozambican laws. A 79% decline in whale shark sightings over an 8-year study period (2003-2011) has been documented in Tofo and while broad–scale oceangraphic change is likely to be the primary influence, whale sharks are at risk from the increasing use of large-mesh gill nets along this coast which could in turn affect the marine tourism industry.

Several presentations on endangered marine species focused on marine turtles. Jerome Bourjea presented on the seasonal variability of migrating corridors and foraging areas of adult green turtles revealed by satellite tracking. His study deployed 105 satellite tags in the South Western Indian Ocean region on nesting green turtle females in Europa, Glorieuses, Tromelin, Moyotte and Moheli to elucidate the migratory pathways the turtles use between nesting and feeding grounds in the region.


Naughty Turtle

Turtle research is as important as ever

The results identified 5 main foraging hotspots including both north and south Mozambique. 35% of turtles forage in MPA’s, and four of the five hotspots are located in MPA’s. 7% of turtles tracked from three nesting sites foraged in the Quirimbas, and results showed that if the MPA were extended further north it would host 16% of the tracked turtles. Furthermore, there are several open sea corridors in the Mozambican channel and important coastal migratory corridors along the northern part of Mozambique – where one of the largest threats to sea turtles, prawn fisheries, are found – that form an important area for management.

The regional feeding hotspots are of high importance to implement targeted mitigating measures for artisanal and industrial fisheries and encourage conservation on key foraging ground.

Meanwhile, Ronel Nel presented on the “Ecological risk and assessment of the impacts of fisheries on sea turtles in the Indian Ocean”. A Productivity-Susceptibility Analysis was conducted to evaluate the vulnerability of 20 turtle populations across the Indian Ocean captured in longlining, gillnetting and purse seine fisheries, based on the biological characteristics of a species/population (including population trends, size and reproductive output) and the degree of interaction with fisheries (spatial overlap and rate at which turtles are caught).

Preliminary analysis suggested that purse seining catches up to 250 turtles per year, long lining takes up to 3,500 per year and gillnetting takes somewhere between 11,400 and 47,500 per year. The survival chance of caught turtles is lowest in gill nets and highest in purse seine fisheries. It is necessary for countries in the Western Indian Ocean to align their fishery management actions in order to prevent future declines in these populations. Still, it is important to note that it is difficult to get accurate fisheries data in this region and there could be many inconsistencies.

Keeping our Eyes on the Horizon

It was clear to all in attendance that the symposium is an important event to bring together a range of people from different areas in the WIO in order to exchange ideas and information. With more than 250 posters at the conference displaying a range of projects from the use of citizen science for marine turtle monitoring in Mozambique to the importance of seagrass ecosystems for Madagascar’s small-scale fisheries, participation was high and varied.

At Eyes on the Horizon we will continue our effort to aid the collection of fisheries data and push towards better conservation for our part of the Western Indian Ocean.

by Eyes on the Horizon staff


*Fisheries law has been re-written since this conference, please stay tuned for more information on the new regulations