Menai Bay Conservation Area – History, Legislation, Practices and More

Menai Bay Conservation Area Zanzibar – History, Legislation, Practices and More

Zanzibar‘s largest marine protected area is the Menai Bay Conservation Area (MBCA), which is visibly located at Menai Bay in Tanzania at 470 sq kilometers(180 sq mi), established as a conservation area officially in August 1997 in the traditional fishing village of Unguja island occupied by the tropical marine environment, which is home to excessive tropical fish, seagrasses, coral reefs, and mangrove forests. In addition to putting illegal fishing under raps, Menai Bay Conservation Area’s alternative ideas have included mangrove replanting, beekeeping, tourism, and tree nursing. The bay’s local villages and Fisheries Departments are in charge of managing the Menai Bay Conservation Area. It is associated with the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] as Class VI Managed Resource Protected Area.

Dolphin jumping out of the Indian Ocean water, along the Zanzibar coast
Dolphin jumping out of the Indian Ocean water, along the Zanzibar coast

The conservation project for the Menai Bay Conservation Area kicked into effect one year after it was formally created. The project was enacted by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF] and has been fully backed with Finances from the British Government, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Switzerland. It is a joint effort of 19 villages to pursue the conservation of life stock, and for this, they created a Conservation committee. To restrain illegal fishing using blasting techniques and circular nets. Noteworthy of all the villages involved in the Conservation Project is the Kizimkazi people, who have had great success in their conservation efforts primarily due to financial support from WWF and their incredible network of tarred express roads. The outcome of these efforts has been the attraction of 200 bottlenose and humpback dolphins to the village shores. About 20,000 enthusiastic tourists have visited the area since 1998 due to its interests and the proper guidance from villager guide who used to kill these delicate creatures for food but now see the economic benefits it possesses.


In 1975, Marine Reserves were assigned but were never legalized. However, as the Reserves Act and Marine Parks of 1994 became official, so to was the creation of two marine parks and five Marine Reserves Centers. And the newly created Marine Protected area of 1997 was called the Marine Bay Conservation Area, with its location on the South coast of Zanzibar. It is controlled together with the island of Unguja, a.k.a Zanzibar island, and the Pemba island, with responsibilities of managing and operating decreed as a joint effort between the village community and the government.

Geography of the Menai Bay Conservation Area

The Menai Bay Conservation Area is situated in the Zanzibar Archipelago on the southwest of Unguja Island, with six islets, a coastline of about 61km long, and an average water depth of 10 meters deep during high tide makes the bay favorable for fishing. It stands as the most significant Conservation Area in Zanzibar.

Originally the Menai Bay Conservation Area covered 17 villages with about 16,000 inhabitants, with fishing as the main occupation. Other sources of livelihood included livestock, carpentry, agriculture, and trading. Below is a list of 17 villages involved initially in the conservation project.

Mangroves forests in Pemba
Mangroves forests in Pemba
1 Fumba
2 Dimani,
3 Kombeni
4 Bweleo
5 Mkunguni
6 Muyuni A, B,C
7 Mtende
8 Kizimkazi
9 Muungoni
10 Unguja Ukuu,
11 Kaepwani
12 Dimbani
13 Bungi
14 Unguja Ukuu Kaebona
15 Kikungwi
16 Uzi
17 Ng’amb’wa

By 2003, there was a total of 19 participating Villages.

Overall, the Menai Bay is a diverse home to coral rag land, seagrasses, mangrove forest, and a marine ecosystem with a rich supply of different plant, bird, and sea life species. Mangrove forests flourish on Nyamanzi, Uzi, Nga’mbwa shorelines, just like the other islets around. For generations, the communities around Menai Bay have directly or indirectly benefited from the resources provided by Mangrove. Either by extracting and burning it for fuel like most women do or using it for construction materials to build boats and make charcoal for commercial purposes from its ten different species that form a natural protection from the open seas.

Coral reefs that are fringe coral are found all along the Zanzibar coastline, including Menai Bay Conservation Area. They are composed of layers of calcium carbonate created by millions of tiny sea animals (150 species have been reported on the entire coast so far), which provide shelter and food for crabs, clams, lobsters, and fish.

The open sea in the Menai Bay Conservation Area is rich in millions of tiny plants and billions of little sea creatures, which acts as a safe harbor for marine mammals such as dugongs, whales, dolphins, and sea turtles. At the same time, the local fishermen benefit from it for commercial purposes, and the Sardines use it as their feeding ground.

Aldabra giant tortoise (Geochelone gigantea)
Aldabra giant tortoise (Geochelone gigantea)

History of the Zanzibar Menai Bay

The Mangrove project area in the Menai Bay Conservation Area is protected by the Forest Reserve Decree of 1950. 1978 saw the creation of the sub-community of fisheries, followed by seaweed farming in one of the villages under the protection of the forest reserve degree, but this had no positive effect as of the 1980s, the area began deteriorating.

The 1980s and 1990s saw an adverse impact on fishing operations due to the increasing number of anglers (mainly outsiders). They were using unacceptable practices such as dynamite, Kigumi fishing, and beach seines and intentionally breaking corals to force fish out into the surrounding net. Also, the Local poison called “Utupa” that kills fish didn’t help matters. Adding salt to injury is the transformation of the traditional “dago” temporal fishing camps enacted during the fishing season into permanent settlements, which seriously damaged the Coral reefs at the bay.

A proactive approach was taken by the Commission of Natural Resources to support patrols in fishing zones, such as those in the Fumbal peninsula, to control these activities. However, these operations were ineffective due to inadequate knowledge of such procedures, which eventually led to the creation of Menai Bay Conservation Area.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the severe area deterioration had reached its apex and was confirmed by the Institute of Marine Life and WWF, both of whom had created their office in Zanzibar that same year. A fund for self-reliance was established the following year. And by 1994, a Conservation Program was put into place by WWF to address the issue of over-fishing, which led to the Menai Bay Conservation Area Program in August of 1997.

Practices at the Menai Bay Zanzibar

There was a long history of cultivation of Eucheuma seaweed in the Menai Bay Conservation Area, in addition to the use of Ulva and Enteromorpha species as fish baits and the collection of green algae for medicinal purposes. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) encouraged pilot projects in three of its affiliated islands where seaweed grew immensely, giving strong protection from waves. The sub-race of Eucheuma, namely Eucheuma striatum and Eucheuma Spinosum, was approved to adopt fixed bottom cultivation procedures. Furthermore, the development of demonstration farms enhances the quality of dry seaweed by providing training and extensive services to the local fishermen. While Eucheuma spinosum was a main crop in the area, Eucheuma cottonii was also considered but proved unprofitable because of the local climate.

Private companies started investing in the commercial collection of seaweed in the Menai Bay Conservation Area, which led to a whopping 20% increase in the island’s earnings and employment. The majority of the employees are women, with some still engaged in coconut-husk weaving and seaweed farming. Also, “Monopsony farming,” where individual buyers purchase produce at predetermined rates if they supply the initial planting materials to the producers, such as lines and seaweed seedlings, is becoming increasingly popular.

In 1998, the Stockholm University and the Marine Science Institute of Zanzibar reportedly placed 160 resident Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins and 69 Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins under a dolphin photo-ID project in the Menai Bay Conservation Area. Due to the control of bad fish-catching practices such as [kigumi fishing] by the WWF and Co, by 2001, there was an improvement in fish catching as per evaluation carried out. Other significant enhancements include:

  • Establishing a radio station network.
  • Assisting locals with court matters against unlawful activities.
  • Providing valuable environmental awareness to the villagers.

Kizimkazi was elected as the Headquarters of Menai Bay Conservation Area, and it saw an increase in the number of tourists. In June 2002, the first phase of the project was attained, with more Projects being coordinated out under the eyes of the World Bank with one of its projects called the “Marine and Coastal Environment Management Project” (MACEMP) inclusive was the Menai Bay Conservation Area area and other areas, followed by a multimillion-dollar funding program. Again in 2003, help came from the McKnight Foundation, which encourages bivalve farming [suspension Feeders] in the Fumba Peninsula to improve the intertidal zone’s ocean environment and encourage stocking of isognomon, mussels, oysters, and clams. This action proved effective as in 2002, an approximation of 12,000 tourists visited the Menai Bay Conservation Area.

As of now, Menai Bay Conservation Area supports 2000 anglers as well, as it is also a tourist attraction. A fishing permit is needed for non-residents to fish in the area. The revenue generated is used for management and community development.

And aside from conservation, the area is also popular because of its accommodation options – the Menai Bay beach bungalows Zanzibar.

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