Lying off the coast of central Tanzania, Mafia is the largest island in an archipelago of the same name where fishing has long been the main source of income. The surrounding waters boast a remarkable biodiversity – one that Patroba Matiku would like to see maintained while still allowing local fishers to earn a living.
You grew up fascinated by the fishes in Lake Victoria in your home country, Tanzania. What is your relationship with the ocean like today?
My early fascination developed to take an academic path, and many years of work experience have provided a basis for what I do today. As a scientist in applied marine conservation research, I look at how we manage and maintain marine species and the ecosystem processes they support so that coastal communities that depend on the functioning of those processes can benefit. My particular focus is Mafia Island. I also organise conservation programmes to help implement my findings and make them applicable to the people they will ultimately affect.
How would you describe the relationship between local residents of Mafia Island and the ocean?
The economy of Mafia Island’s residents depends heavily on fisheries because other livelihoods are restricted. Agriculture, for instance, is limited by poor soil. The island is also separated from the Tanzanian mainland, which prevents its residents from conducting business-oriented enterprises. These challenges motivate the majority of households in the Mafia archipelago to turn to businesses linked to fisheries. For example, the women of the islands of Jibondo and Bwejuu are fully involved in an octopus fishery and in the processing of ray flesh. The income from these activities only just meets their daily needs. Conserving marine resources is still a great challenge. The local communities normally have no time for the sustainable utilisation of marine resources.
Mafia Island off the coast of Tanzania is a marine paradise, but an increasing human population is putting the creatures of the sea under pressure. Dried ray meat forms part of the local diet and Patroba will investigate the fishery’s impact on local livelihoods and environmental sustainability.