Mafia Island Guide - Zanzibar Information - Pure Zanzibar

Mafia Island Guide

Mafia is a large island lying off the southern coast of Tanzania, near to the Rufiji Delta. It is 30 miles from north to south, and up to ten miles in width. It is thus about half the size of Unguja (Zanzibar) Island to the north, and, like Zanzibar, is a raised portion of the continental shelf, not a coral island. The soil of Mafia is mostly sandy and the terrain very flat. There is a ridge forming a backbone to the northern end but at its highest point it does not exceed 200 feet above sea level. Along this ridge there is firm and fertile clay soil and cultivation of annual crops is possible. On the eastern shores there is some coral rock, making cultivation impossible.

Mafia Island and its chain of small islets lie approximately 120 km south of Dar es Salaam and 20 km offshore from the eastern extent of the Rufiji is one of the largest delta systems in Africa. To the east of Mafia Island is the Indian Ocean. Several smaller islands and islets are scattered to the west and south.

Mafia Island is the site of Tanzania's first Marine Park which was gazetted in 1995. The Park covers the southern half of the island and part of the north-east.

The Mafia Island region, which includes the Rufiji River Delta and Mafia channel, forms one of the finest complexes of estuarine, mangrove, coral reef, and marine ecosystems in the world, all lying in an area of around 1500km². The coral reefs are particularly diverse for Eastern Africa. Habitats in the area of the MIMP (821km²) include hard coral dominated reefs, soft coral and algal dominated reefs, sheltered back reef systems, inter-tidal flats with hard and soft substrate, mangrove forests, extensive sea grass beds, algal, sponge and soft coral sub-tidal beds. Mafia Island Marine park covers an area of 822 km2 and is located between S 07 45'07" and E 39 54'01" and S 08 09' 40" and E 39 30'00. The park covers the Southern part of Mafia Island and includes the inhabited islands of Chole, Juani Jibondo and Bwejuu and several uninhabited islets and the associated waters.

The area includes critical habitat for the dugong (Dugong dugon, vulnerable, IUCN, 1994) and sea turtles (Chelonia mydas, Eretmochelys imbricata, Lipidochelys livaceae, Dermochelys coriacea, all endangered and Caretta caretta, vulnerable, IUCN, 1994) and has been recognized as a critical site for biodiversity.

The first formal initiatives to create marine and coastal protected areas in Tanzania came in 1975 through regulations made by the then Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism under the Fisheries Act, 1970. Seven small areas of reef were declared Marine Reserves for total protection; these included two areas of Mafia Island, Chole Bay and Tutia Reef. Lack of personnel and funding resources has slowed implementation of these initiatives. Suggestions from various quarters urged the creation of larger, multiple use areas combining conservation and sustainable use and development.

The first research work in this area was carried out by the Frontier organization, which published a number of reports on the ecology of Mafia Island (Horrill etc.). Although Frontier no longer works on Mafia, there are a number of foreign universities which send students to Mafia as part of their courses on coastal ecology.

The decision to set up a Marine Park was taken by the Government of Tanzania, and MIMP now falls under its Marine Parks and Reserves Unit. MIMP is supported by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Large-scale funding has also been received from the Department for International Development of the UK and from the Norwegian Aid Agency NORAD and small amounts from private companies. Mafia Island lies in a 20 minute flight south of Dar es Salaam. Its marine park is one of the most exciting diving and fishing areas in the world and is home to some four hundred species of fish and five species of turtles. The small size of these areas and the lack of financial and human resources for enforcement meant that the marine reserves were essentially paper parks; Dynamite fishing and other destructive and unsustainable resource utilization continued unabated.

The inadequacy of management of these small areas led to the realization that the creation of a larger marine protected area would make it possible to combine conservation of reefs and other key coastal and marine areas with; management or resources to ensure sustainable long term local economic development. The waters around Mafia Island host an outstanding mosaic of tropical marine habitats with coral reefs, sea grass beds, mangroves, and inter-tidal flats. In addition, a remnant block of threatened lowland coastal forest survives along the eastern seaboard of the island. The area has been recognized internationally as a critical site for biodiversity. It has national importance as one of the few remaining reef complexes within Tanzania's coastal waters, relatively intact and the productive fisheries and other marine resources provide food and income for the local community.

Sport fishermen flock here for the superb catches, many of them great fighters, such as the barracuda, marlin, sailfish and tuna. The main season is from September to March although fishing is possible all year round within the reef and channel.

The area has been recognized internationally as an important biodiversity site. The Park has national importance as one of the few remaining reef complexes within Tanzania's coastal waters, relatively intact and the productive fisheries and other marine resources provide food and income for the local community.

More than half of the marine area of the park is less than 20 meters depth below mean; tide levels, including much of Chole Bay, the extensive area South of Chole Bay enclosed by Mafia island, Juani Island and Jibondo Island and several ref areas south of Bwejuu, extensive inter tidal flats stretch along the southern part of Mafia Island, around Juni and Chole Islands, and between Jibondo Island and Kitutia Reef.

A deeper channel of 20-30 meters carried tidal water through Kinasi pass and Chole Bay as far as Chole channel. The waters on the South western side of the marine park, especially west of Kitutia are also deep reaching down to 40m.

The main oceanic current affecting Mafia Island is the permanent north flowing current known as the East African Coastal Current (EACC). This reaches a maximum 3 speed to some extent during the contrary north- east Monsoon during Dec- Jan. The flow of the main current into and through the marine park area is interrupted by islets and reefs, and is also strongly influenced by diurnal tidal currents generated by a tidal range of up to 4m range. This results in a complex and multidirectional current system. The tidal range in the marine park is consistently large throughout the year. The mean springtide range is 3.3 meters with a maximum of 4.0 meters.

Mafia Island is of recent origin and was formed during the Pleistocene period when basal limestone rock was laid down while the islands were raised above the seal level through riffing of the continental shelf. The entire island consists of coral rag overlain by sandy loam soil; with a maximum altitude of 20 m. soils are mainly alkaline with mean pH of 7.5.

Mafia receives an average annual rainfall of 2,000mm (80 inches). The island experiences two main rainy seasons: the short rains in November / December and long rains from March to May. Over 80 per cent of the rain occurs during the second phase.

The temperature on the island is firmly stable rarely dropping below 20C or rising above 33C. June to September is the coolest period. In common with coastal Tanzania, two monsoons influence the climate. (Kaskazi) that blows from November to March and the more vigorous southeast monsoon (Kusi) from April to August. An intermediate easterly monsoon (matlai) occurs in September and October.

The largest land-based agricultural activity is the five coconut estates at Ng'ombeni, Dundani, Chunguruma, Ras Mbizi and Minaki. These cover a total area of 2,186 hectares with some 200,000 palms. Coconut palms have been exported from Mafia Island since the 19th Century. Ownership of coconut trees is still seen as a sign of wealth and they represent a source of income and nutrition in comparison to the more hazardous pursuit of fishing. There are few large industries on the island that has three tourist lodges and one on Chole Island with a combined tourist bed-capacity of 140.

In 1971 the government opened the 80-bed Mafia Island Lodge. This lodge, after a period in the doldrums, is earmarked for privatization. Since 1995, three private lodges have opened at Utende and Chole Island. These are Kinasi Lodge, Pole Pole Bungalow Resort and Chole Mjini.

But although Mafia coral reefs offer some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities in East Africa, visitor numbers are very low despite the high place tourism in Tanzania's overall economy.

Most of the lodges and hotels in the South of Mafia are located within a marine park, and a fee of US$ 20 per person per day is charged by the Mafia Island Marine Park.


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