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Help us continue our work developing marine protected areas in partnership with local communities, training ocean rangers and educators, and supporting sustainable development in one of the world's poorest countries.

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Protecting manta rays and whale sharks in Mozambique

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Starts: 09 March 18
Ends: 23 March 18
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Project Summary

The plankton rich waters along the 700km coastline of the Inhambane Province in Mozambique are a critical habitat for ocean giants. It’s one of the few places in the world where both manta ray species are found together as well as whale sharks and humpback whales. Although manta ray tourism is worth $34 million annually in the region, there has been a 98% decline in manta ray sightings respectively, mainly due to unsustainable fishing practices.  MMF has been successfully working in Tofo a Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) has been established and is working to establish a second in early 2018. It has also been working with a number of local dive centres to ensure divers are aware of the importance of these magnificent creatures.  The project will support current work in Tofo and expand activities into nearby Barra. This project will establish and manage rotational or ideally permanent no-take areas in both LMMAs with the local community; reduce the use of destructive fishing techniques to protect fish stocks; recruit 22 Ocean Ambassadors who will raise awareness of the issues; train 10 fishermen to become Ocean Rangers to protect and enforce regulations; develop a sustainable fish consumer guide, establish new livelihoods for fishermen and recruit restaurants to support and promote sustainable fish.


Empowering Mozambicans

Project Description

What are the main threats to the Tofo Marine habitat and its species?
Thanks to unique local conditions, the plankton rich waters off the Inhambane Province in Mozambique, are a critical habitat for ocean giants. Mozambique is one of the few places in the world where both manta ray species are found together and where they, as well as whale sharks, are present all year round. It is an important breading ground for humpback whales who come to the Mozambican coast in large numbers every year and Tofo is also the only place in the world where the rare semi-pelagic sting ray, the small-eye stingray, is seen with any regularity. This precious habitat is under severe threat from destructive fishing practices used by communities whose food security and livelihood depend upon the ocean. Since 2012, fishers have been reporting vast declines in the size of their catch while demands for fish have been increasing due to tourism in Tofo; driving them to fish using increasingly unsustainable methods. These vulnerable species are pelagic and travel long distances up and down the coast of Mozambique. The shallow continental shelf and unique currents bring plentiful plankton, so ocean giants cruise along the shore line, directly into the zones where large gill nets are placed by artisanal fishers. MMF has witnessed firsthand the devastating impact of such nets– not just on these gentle giants, but also on other marine animals. Our studies estimate 20-50 reef mantas are taken by subsistence fishermen annually along a ~100km length of coastline – unsustainable numbers for this vulnerable species. Both manta rays and whale sharks are keystone species, listed as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red list, their presence is an indicator of broader ecosystem health. There has been a shocking and rapid decline in whale shark and manta ray sightings in Mozambique since 2005. We need to act, before it is too late, to change fishing practices and behaviours of communities and tourist businesses that rely so heavily on the presence of these charismatic creatures. If this does not happen, we risk a catastrophic collapse of the environmental, social and economic future of the lower Mozambican coastline, putting thousands at risk of losing their livelihoods, and the oceans at risk of losing these animals forever. We need to take action to protect this unique ecosystem and ensure these species can continue to be enjoyed in this special wilderness.

What will the EOCA funding be focused on?
Our vision is to develop Mozambique’s first Locally Managed Marine Area, with controlled responsible and sustainable fishing activity, along the most biodiverse coastline areas through which these threatened keystone species migrate.

Project activities will:

  • Reduce unsustainable pressure on fish stocks by introducing effective management plans and promoting responsible catch methods;
    Transition fishers away from destructive and indiscriminate fishing practices to reduce by-catch of vulnerable species;
  • Train and employ fishermen as ocean rangers to monitor and enforce reef closures;
  • Educate and empower Ocean Ambassadors to inspire transformational change within their communities;
  • Sensitise tourists and tourism business to the risks facing these species and actions that they can take.

How will MMF assess whether the project is successful?
MMF team will focus on three main objectives which comprise of having two communities managing Locally Marine Areas within 12 months, establishment of a network of passionate and persuasive Ocean ambassadors who sensitize Mozambicans for improved protection of their marine resources and the delicate ecosytem and a reduction in destructive, indiscriminate fishing methods and over-fishing by Artisanal fishers to reduce both unsustainable pressure on fish stocks and targeted or accidental megafauna catch. For this our activities will be focused on delivering the following goals

  • Part of the ocean (approximately 7km2) is always closed to fishing (whether rotational or permanent) with locally managed monitoring and enforcement mechanisms in place
    Evidence: Photos of closed areas and records of violations
  • Increased knowledge among the local community members who take part in sensitisation activities of the importance of conserving the marine resources and protecting megafauna and other endangered species.
    Evidence: Baseline versus midline and endline assessment of perception and knowledge, minutes from meetings, photos of events
  • Increased reporting of indiscriminate fishing, with 80% response rate to penalize such activities by March 2019
  • 85% reduction in time spent gillnet fishing by 50% of the gill net fishers (7 days to 2 days a week) by March 2019
    Evidence: Baseline and endline survey and analysis of violation report information

Has MMF done similar work in conservation in the area?
MMF’s scientific research work has been used to support the management of iconic marine protected areas including the Galapagos Islands, Raja Ampat in Indonesia, Komodo and other biodiversity hotspots.
We have, through our research and findings, supported global protection for manta rays and whale sharks via CMS and global trade regulations for mobulas, including manta rays, through CITES.  This has included country specific protection in a number of countries, including Ecuador, Peru and Indonesia and work is ongoing, thanks to MMF scientists identifying a second and third species of manta ray, to support greater protection in other countries, including Mozambique.

We lead the global conservation assessments for manta rays, whale sharks and a number of other shark and ray species, with both co-founders representative members of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, the global expert group for shark and ray conservation strategies.

What differentiates MMF's project Manta Ray and Whale Shark protection?
The innovation within this project lies in our inter-sectoral approach, combing research, education and conservation to create durable locally managed marine areas. The project brings together different stakeholders, including communities, businesses, visitors and government authorities, facilitating collaboration and participation in local marine conservation. The focus is on citizen responsibility, empowering communities to take a lead role in monitoring the health of their sea. This is critical to the success of this project.
Here is a link to our Mozambique activities overview video.

How is MMF empowering the Mozambican community?
Since 2017, in the primary focus area of Tofo, we have maintained the enthusiasm and commitment of the local community to take responsibility for their marine resources. We have also facilitated multi stakeholder relationships that are often sensitive, for example between fishermen and dive centres.  Fishermen have expressed concerns in the past, that divers are scaring away their fish, so extensive collaboration has taken place to ensure smooth relations between all stakeholders, moving forwards.

This project will support the local fishing council (CCP), Coastal Police, fishing and community leaders, to plan and prepare for the next temporary reef closure area, which will take place early in 2018 in Tofo. The management plan the community is making with MMF’s support means that Tofo will become an established Local Managed Marine Area with enforced, community protection that includes prevention of fishing and diving within the rotational reef closure zones. We now need to urgently replicate this in neighbouring Barra community. Under this project, we will train local fishermen to become ocean rangers to protect their ocean and enforce regulations and we will also involve local Ocean Ambassadors in fish catch monitoring to take greater responsibility in monitoring and managing their marine resources.

Our conservation officers meet on a weekly basis with fishermen, the fishing council (CCP) and local leaders, and will organise regular workshops and events with all stakeholders including government, dive shops, hotels and restaurants to promote sustainable fishing and marine resource management.

Government engagement is critical to our success, and local authorities approve all our activity.  Strong and warm working relationships are therefore essential, and this is something MMF has been incredibly effective in, helped in no small part by our fantastic local team, who are from the region, speak local dialects, and believe passionately about protecting their communities’ future. We will engage all relevant government representatives in our plans and update them on progress, inviting them to key stakeholder events and encouraging participation in management planning.

MMF works across the communities to ensure all members, from locals to international expatriates and visitors, are aware of the project and the progress Inhambane is making towards the protection of its local biodiversity, highlighting the urgency and community-driven will to establish a sustainable marine ecosystem.

Working with and inspiring the next generation of the local communities is also a key part of our project, and critical to the long-term success of this intervention.

We ensure that this project has direct engagement with the fishers themselves so we can fully understand their perceptions and concerns related to marine conservation. Under this project, we will use simple surveys and participatory assessments to identify the attitude and behaviours of the fishing community, assisting the ongoing development of our sensitisation and alternative livelihood activities. In 2017, a pilot survey in Barra revealed that some fishermen believed that if they accidentally catch a Hammerhead Shark in their net, they will of course sell it for meat at the market, to earn income but if they throw the head back into the ocean, the body will re-grow. Surveys are critical to understanding the cultural beliefs and informing opportunities to carefully influence those behaviours for the benefit of marine life.

I am an outdoor enthusiast. What will this be benefiting me?
Inhambane Province has an extraordinary 700 km coastline, with beautiful white sand beaches mangrove forests, and the famous Bazaruto Archipelago. The unique biodiversity is the primary attraction for tourists and out-door enthusiasts. Our work has the potential to protect Mozambique’s precious diversity, enabling future generations to experience this unique wilderness. 18 dive centres operate across the province, 4 of which are based in Tofo, with each operating multiple daily dives and ocean safaris. MMF advises local dive centres to ensure responsible encounters with manta rays and whale sharks, conducting annual code of conduct training with boat and dive staff. MMF runs three weekly talks for tourists on these threatened species and provides pre-dive briefings at one dive center in Tofo. Our presence on these dives sensitizes customers to the importance of research in achieving conservation goals, and explains the important role they can play through citizen science. This project will allow us to expand these activities to Barra and to develop a sustainable fish consumer guide so that outdoor enthusiasts visiting Inhambane can ensure that they are contributing to the solution.

How will this project be sustainable?
Community leadership ensures ultimate sustainability, empowering locally-led attitudinal and behavioural change. The project takes a community-led approach to conservation and is working to build the capacity and passion of local community leaders and Mozambican professionals. The objective is to make the project self-sustaining, through the development of community-owned, locally-managed marine areas and to create a small source of revenue from tourist contributions to fund ongoing monitoring and enforcement. We aim to develop sustainable alternative or supplementary livelihoods which increase the income of the poorest fishing families and ultimately, end the use of destructive fishing techniques and reduce the pressure on the ocean resources. There is also potential in Tofo and Barra to engage with tourist businesses to invest in the conservation of the ocean through tourist levys. The project will also promote responsible community-driven tourism initiatives as a way to help fishing communities benefit from and thus value the tourism that ocean giants generate.

The economic benefits of marine conservation, the tourism revenue and establishing viable alternatives to fishing will be the economic driver of change; and widespread understanding of the impact of it’s potential collapse, if nothing is done.

Our ambition is to establish a successful and sustainable model in Tofo that can be replicated in other communities, firstly in Barra, then south of Tofo,  inclusive of the whale shark and manta ray corridor, so we can extend the development of the LMMA from Vilankulos to Zavora.


Thank you for taking the time and caring about our cause.
If you have any further questions, feel free to contact us.