I had just qualified as a diving instructor in Mexico before coming to Tanzania and the course teaches you all sorts of things about being a professional scuba diver but nothing can prepare you for the extra pressure that comes with it.
I put a lot of that on myself by expecting to be an almost perfect scuba diver and knowing almost everything about the subject. It was a bit of a shock to find out how much I still had to learn but in life there is always more to learn. It was a stern reminder to never take myself for granted. I am never 100% satisfied with my performance in pretty much any situation. I always feel like I can do better and that will probably never change but working here in Tanzania has made me better about taking positives about what I’m doing but that doesn’t mean I don’t learn from my mistakes any more, I just take a different approach in how I think about them.
Working here in Tanzania has also been a real test of problem solving. Being in Africa presents inherent difficulties such as lack of infrastructure but here on Mafia Island, diving is dictated by the tides which is a new experience for me (Mexico virtually had no tides). Learning how the currents work and how they are influenced by the tide has been a real challenge for me. Also, you have to really know your dive sites so you can find your way back to the boat or be prepared for a long swim.
Learning about the local culture has been interesting at times. Navigating your way around local mannerisms and people randomly saying “hello” and “how are you?” completely out of the blue can be a challenge at times especially for a socially awkward Brit.
The Marine Park (MIMP) raises a lot of issues to do with conservation management. Tourists are charged $20 per day to be here. The local businesses complain that discourages tourists from coming here but then you could argue that having a limiting factor on tourist numbers is a good thing because it limits damage to the reefs through bad diving and anchor damage. MIMP also operates a zoning policy whereby fishing and diving (and land use in the case of their terrestrial zones) is strictly controlled in certain places. This should be an effective system provided it is properly enforced.
Most of all this project has given me hope about the future of Mafia Island’s ecosystems. Even though relations between the Marine Park and the local community are not brilliant but most local people understand the value of conservation and living and working sustainably. Whale Sharks are still being caught in nets but the fishermen are getting better at monitoring their nets and dealing with such situations. The reefs are in a good state compared to other places I have seen. Dynamite fishing does not happen too often and fishing appears to be sustainable. There is still room for improvement but Mafia Island is in a good place right now and long may it continue.
By Jonathon Cains - Assistant Research Officer
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