Using Science to Empower Communities and Improve Marine Protected Areas in East Africa

Stakeholders who have worked on MPA beaches for over 15 years see the reefs for the first time. They don't swim so are taken in the water in life rings. Photo ©Jennifer O'Leary.

By Jennifer O’Leary and Arthur Tuda

When you think about East Africa, probably the first images that emerge are of large terrestrial animals like elephants and lions. Many people don’t know that East Africa has vibrant marine fishing communities and hundreds of miles of coral reefs. In a typical morning, you watch the sun rise over the Western Indian Ocean, sip spicy tea, hear morning calls to prayer from the mosque, and see fishers heading out to the sea. These fishers work from small canoes, or even broken surfboards, to support families. But, increasing human populations and lack of effective management can turn once pristine and productive reefs into barrens.

Since the 1960s, East Africa has been ahead of many nations in establishing marine protected areas (MPAs). Similar to land-based national parks, MPAs protect reefs from human disturbances and often establish no-fishing zones. This allows reefs to recover, regaining lost corals and fish to become harbors of biodiversity. Entering an MPA is like going back in time and seeing what reefs were like before humans. Establishment of MPAs has been increasing, but only about three percent of the ocean is covered. Further, MPAs are often not managed after establishment, reducing or eliminating —> Read More Here


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