African fishermen find way of conservation in the Koran
An experiment in Tanzania is emerging as an Islamic model for spreading environmental ideals.
(Page 2 of 2)
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature's Tanzania office, the biggest threats to the region's marine ecosystem are illegal fishing with destructive gear such as dragnets, small mesh nets, and poles used to break coral; catching of endangered species like sea turtles; deforestation of mangroves; and overfishing of species such as chango and kingfish.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The creation in 1998 of the Misali Island Conservation Area, a reserve of 22.4 square kilometers encompassing the island and its surrounding waters, was the first policy to preserve the reef ecosystem. The conservation area allowed for sustainable use of fish stocks except in a one-kilometer core zone around the island and was run by a management committee made up mostly of fishermen as well as government representatives. In 2005, the conservation area expanded to include all of Pemba's west coast and is now called the Pemba Channel Conservation Area.
After the formation of the conservation area, Ali Abdullah Mbarouk, a project manager for CARE International, saw that traditional conservation messages were not having the desired effect on the Pemba fishermen.
"But if people are told to do something from their religious leader, they are likely to obey," Mr. Mbarouk says.
In addition to facilitating the communication of the Islamic environmental ethic, CARE has worked to help the fishermen find alternatives to fishing. The program encourages the fishermen and their families through a credit and savings program to grow and sell produce, tend beehives, and make handicrafts. Haji, the fisherman, now grows pineapple as a cash crop and raises bees with help from his three wives and 17 children.
Many fishermen have also switched to more sustainable fishing gear.
Hamza Sleiman, chairman of the conservation committee for Wesha village, says village men have switched from dragnets, which collect unwanted fish, in addition to commercial species, to ring nets that allow better selectivity.
Though no study to assess the project has been done in recent years, a baseline study by CARE in 2000 showed that only 34 percent of fishermen thought that Islam related to their use of the sea and its resources. In 2003, another study showed the number had risen to 66 percent. It also found that the lessons learned through the project had actually spread beyond the villages directly concerned.
Yet despite the program's successes, challenges remain.
According to Mbarouk, some less pious community members have not taken the message to heart and still use dragnets and poles to poke at the coral.
Ali Thani, now with WWF and helping other Tanzanian coastal communities to apply the model, says that some religious leaders lack the education to communicate conservation issues.
"The religious leaders have to relate complex ethical issues to conservation practices and that can be hard work," says Mr. Thani. "Not all of them are up to the challenge."
But Khalid of IFEES is optimistic that the lessons of Misali can be applied to Muslim communities wrangling with the same issues.
IFEES recently began working with communities in Indonesia to rehabilitate mangrove swamps in Aceh, and manage a forest reserve on Sumatra.
"We will start small, like Misali, and empower the villages through the local Muslim teachers," says Khalid. "They are the best people to tell them it's their responsibility to manage their resources sustainably."