For many years, WCS’s Global Marine Program has worked in the Mozambican Channel and the wider Western Indian Ocean (WIO). These areas help comprise a regional program that includes Madagascar and the coastal areas of Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, where communities depend on the health and productivity of reefs, mangrove, and seagrass ecosystems for fishing, agriculture, and tourism.
The region is a global hotspot of marine biodiversity. It has been identified as the largest collection of the most important coastal marine ecosystems in Africa. Though population growth, mining, oil and gas exploration, and climate change are significantly affecting the extension and quality of those ecosystems, species diversity remains high relative to other regions on the planet.
WCS established its Mozambique Program in 2012 to support the Management of Niassa National Reserve, as well as to strengthen the management of the National Network of Protected Areas and biodiversity in general, including through law enforcement efforts to counter wildlife trafficking.
In 2016 WCS extended its scope of activities by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Mozambique to help reconcile development with biodiversity conservation through the adequate implementation of impact mitigation strategies. This has been the purpose of the multi-country WCS led project Conservation, Impact Mitigation and Biodiversity Offsets in Africa (COMBO), which is being in Mozambique, Madagascar, Uganda and Guinea.
Since then, the approach implemented by the project has allowed WCS to increase its profile and activities in the country, creating new opportunities such as the recently started KBA identification and Red Listing project, and the beginning of the first marine conservation activities in Mozambique led by the local office.
Mozambique is located along the southern coast of East Africa. It has 2,470 kilometers of coastline and a diverse and productive continental shelf area of about 104,300 square kilometers. The coastline is characterized by a wide diversity of habitats, including sandy and rocky beaches, sand dunes, coral reefs, estuaries, bays, seagrass beds and mangrove forests, high biological diversity, a great number endangered species native to the area.
Mozambique’s coast encompasses several ecological areas of regional and global importance. Almost 900 species of reef-associated fish have been recorded, along with 122 species of sharks and rays, 400 species of mollusk, 27 species of marine mammals (including arguably the last viable population of dugongs in the WIO), five species of marine turtle, 270 species of hard and soft corals, 14 species of seagrass, and ten species of mangrove.
The network of marine protected areas (MPAs) consist of two national parks, one reserve, one total protection zone, and one environmental protection area. Currently, MPAs cover a total area of about 20,462 square kilometres, just over a third of which represents marine ecosystems. Protected Areas in general, and MPAs in particular, are understaffed and poorly equipped. Several ecosystems and species such as seagrass beds, mangroves, manta rays, and the whale sharks remain poorly represented.
Major threats to the coastal and marine ecosystems of Mozambique include overfishing, industrial and coastal development, natural resources exploitation, unregulated and damaging tourism practices, pollution, and weather extremes such and storms and cyclones.
This range of challenges is similar to others in the region and therefore, relevant for WCS to establish a marine program in Mozambique. In 2018, we worked with the government to identify conservation priorities and related potential priority marine conservation actions to be implemented in Mozambique over the next 5 years. WCS’s strategy for Mozambique aligns with its regional plan. Key elements include:
1. Supporting the Mozambican Government on reconciling development with marine and coastal biodiversity conservation;
2. Helping local artisanal fishing communities to establish, legalize, manage and monitor adequately funded conservation areas.
3. Protecting and managing coral reef ecosystems and important areas for sharks and rays.
4. Improving national technical capacity for studying and monitoring local populations of whales and coastal dolphins and mapping high-risk areas of shipping for these species.
The first activities of WCS’s Mozambican marine program on the ground began with a regional project on sharks and rays in which partnerships were established with the National Institute of Fisheries Research (IIP) and the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Lúrio (FCN-UniLúrio).
The information collected in coordination with those partnerships will be used to propose a list of shark and ray species to be protected in Mozambique. That list will help drive the creation of a National Plan of Action for these marine species and contribute to recommendations for management of sharks and rays by the Mozambican government.
On World Oceans Day, we celebrate this new initiative for the protection of marine species in coastal Mozambique and we look forward to working with our government partners to integrate this important work with ocean conservation efforts across the region in the years to come.