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Local responses to marine conservation in Zanzibar, Tanzania


While terrestrial parks and reserves have existed in Tanzania since colonial times, marine protected areas are a much newer endeavor in natural resource conservation. As the importance of marine conservation came to the international forefront in the 1990s, Tanzania experienced a rapid establishment and expansion of marine parks and protected areas. These efforts were indeed crucial to protecting the country’s marine resource base, but they also had significant implications for the lives and fishing patterns of local artisanal fishermen. Terrestrial protected areas in Tanzania have historically been riddled with conflict and local contestation, bringing about numerous debates on the best ways to involve rural residents in conservation planning efforts to establish new “community-based conservation” programs. However, because marine protected areas do not have the same history as terrestrial conservation in Tanzania, marine conservation programs present a new opportunity to pilot innovative techniques to involve local communities in protecting and managing their natural resources. The islands of Zanzibar are home to four community-oriented marine protected areas, each of which is sponsored by an external agency, and each of which involves some form of local community component. However, a number of issues arise when working at the community level, requiring nuanced attention to a variety of local factors. The Menai Bay program in southern Zanzibar provides an excellent example of the complexity of factors involved, which can result in dramatically different village-level responses to a single program. These factors include, but are not limited to, differences in geography and infrastructure, the potential for tourism development and alternative sources of income, pre-existing community structures within each village, and the relationship of conservation program managers to the Zanzibari government. While these factors are complex and difficult to predict, it is essential that conservation programs take them into account when trying to establish community-based marine conservation programs that will be sustainable in the long-term.

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