Rapid Reef Assessment of the P&S Archipelago
The stunning coral reefs that surround the Primeiras and Segundas islands are not simply beautiful to behold – they’re also an extremely important part of the local and regional ecosystem on which both the human and non-human populations depend. In fact, the P&S archipelago is home to the most abundant and diverse hard and soft coral communities in all of Mozambique, so their protection is especially important.
That’s why, for the second year in a row, the P&S Project has hosted a team of international experts from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to help us conduct a Rapid Reef Assessment of the Primeiras e Segundas archipelago.
The 10-day assessment, conducted in October, used a simple methodology designed to get an overall impression of the health of the reef and obtain information about coral and fish species diversity and abundance.
Overall, the assessment revealed that although the diversity of fish species was relatively high (300 species recorded), the numbers of fish were extremely low. Only two out the archipelago’s ten islands, Ilha do Fogo and Ilha da Caldeira, had reefs with good numbers of fish. Not coincidentally, these islands are also the only ones with tourist lodges, whose operators customarily (and illegally) deny local fishermen access to the reefs around the islands. All of the other island reef systems yielded poor results. One of the team’s experts remarked, “in all my years of experience assessing tropical reefs around the world, I have never seen such bare reefs.”
In contrast, the coral reefs themselves and the sea grass beds were found to be in relatively good condition. Last year’s rapid assessment indicated that many of the coral species exhibit resistant and resilient characteristics, a finding which the 2010 assessment reaffirmed. Just after a major bleaching event, new coral colonization was evident and the damage was random, indicating perhaps that cold water upwellings and local currents help diffuse the impact of increasing surface temperatures (which can cause coral bleaching).
Another concern is that the area between the offshore reefs and the inshore mangrove estuaries, informally known as the “blue highway,” is consistently overfished by the industrial and semi-industrial prawn fishery. Mosquito net fishing, practiced by many community members, undoubtedly contributes to the problem as well.
Mozambique’s National Fisheries Research Institute (IIP) is aware of the problem and recommends that fishing be reduced by 40 percent in the archipelago, but low fish abundance is already having a negative impact on the reefs. The absence of herbivores, for example, who control the growth of algae, has already resulted in significant algal spread in some areas. When the algae cover is too dense, the coral polyps, which compete for space with the algae, do not have anywhere to attach and the reef slowly turns to algae.
The takeaway message from the Rapid Reef Assessment is clear: with the application of a comprehensive and well resourced management regime sensitive to local livelihoods and based on good science, it is possible for the Primeiras e Segundas archipelago to recover and provide a sustainable source of income and food for many local stakeholders.
Following the assessment, the results were shared with the local and national officials of the Ministry of Fisheries in seminars and meetings. Particularly at a national level, the government was very receptive of the findings and eager to form tighter partnerships to protect the ecosystem. In fact, the Deputy National Director of the Fisheries Administration Commission noted that the CARE-WWF Alliance and TNC’s ecosystem approach should be integrated with the Ministry of Fisheries’ monitoring program to ensure a more complete understanding of fisheries and habitats in the future.
With clear support from the Government of Mozambique and joint initiatives already underway on the ground, the future of the P&S reefs looks positive if the momentum continues.