Mafia Island – History, Ecology, Transport and More

Mafia Island, also known as Kisiwa cha Mafia in a country of Tanzania, is an archipelago and province in Tanzania’s Pwani Region. Mafia Island is Tanzania’s third-largest in the ocean, but it is not legally part of the independent Zanzibar area that has been constitutionally separate since the 1890s. Mafia Island is the largest island in the Mafia District, one of the Pwani coastline region’s six administrative districts. “Chole shamba,” the hinterlands of the historic central town of Chole in Mafia Bay, is a Swahili name for the local area and the significant island.

There are more than 40,000 people on Mafia Island. Subsistence agriculture, Fishing, and Kilindoni’s market are the mainstays of the economy. Mafia Island is one of the best in terms of Tanzania birding tours, definitely loved by game anglers, scuba divers, and people looking for relaxation are among the visitors who go to Mafia Island.

Geography of Mafia Island

Mafia Island is a 394-square-kilometer (152-square-mile) island off Tanzania’s east coast, directly across from the Rufiji River‘s delta. The Mafia Channel is a 20-km (12-mile) piece of water that connects the delta with the island. Mafia Island constitutes part of a tiny minority archipelago that includes numerous smaller islands, with some of the islands habited. Kilindoni, on Mafia Island’s west coast, is the principal town. Chole Bay, Mafia’s sheltered deep-water harbor and original port, is located on the East coast. Beaches, sandbanks, and Islets dot the harbor, shielded from the east by cliffs and the island called Juani.

Ras Mkumbi, Mafia Island’s northernmost point, is a coral bluff ascending around 4.5 meters (15 feet) well above the sea; beyond the ridge, the ground gradually climbs to 24 meters (79 feet). At Ras Mkumbi, there’s also a lighthouse.


During the Glacial epoch, sections of the continental shelves rifted and uplifted, forming Mafia Island and the surrounding islands.

Map of Mafia Island
Map of Mafia Island

Mafia Island Ecology

Coastal forests, Mangrove grasslands, swamps, and scrublands form the Mafia Island’s principal ecosystems.


BirdLife International has designated a 115,000-hectare area incorporating Chole Bay, Mafia Island’s southern coastline, and other associated tiny islands, as well as the surrounding marine waters, as an Important Bird Area [IBA] because it continues to support populations of Terek sandpipers, crab plovers, and western reef grebes


Fruitbats, also known as flying foxes of the species Pteropus live on Mafia Island.

Mafia Island’s Climate

A tropical environment prevails in Mafia Island. The Köppen-Geiger climatic classification is an “Aw” classification.

Kilindoni averages 26.7 °C (80.1 degrees Fahrenheit ) in temperature. Rainfall is 1,705 mm on average every year. The average monthly temperature ranges from 24.8 to 28.3 degrees Celsius (76.6 to 82.9 degrees Fahrenheit). The primary rainy season is around March and May, with most rainfall falling during this time. From July to October, the weather is mainly dry.

Kilindoni climate data
Kilindoni climate data

History of Mafia Island

Mafia Island has been mentioned since at least the eighth century. The island was formerly a key crossroads for historical trade between East Africans and East Asians. It’s a common stopping point for Arab ships. A village previously stood on the little isle of Chole Mjini, close offshore in Chole Bay, that represented one of the most significant cities regulating trade from Eastern Zimbabwe’s silver mines, which arrived via the old ports of Michangani and Kilwa.

Sakalava cannibals arrived from Madagascar on eighty boats in the mid-1820s and invaded the settlement of Kua on Juani Isle, devouring many of the residents and enslaving the rest.

In 2018, the Zamani Major project constituted a 3D film on the “Kua Ruins” on Juani Isle.

Under a deal signed in 1890, the Germans acquired possession of the Mafia Island and built the structures still on Chole today. For the island and a portion of the mainland shoreline, the Germans paid Sultan Sayyid Ali bin Said al-Said of Zanzibar 4 million M. The British troops captured Mafia on January 12, 1915, and used it as a springboard for their sea and air attacks on the battlecruiser Königsberg.

The word “Mafia” comes from the Arabic word morfiyeh, which means “archipelago,” or “group,” or from Swahili word mahali pa afya, which means “a pleasant dwelling-place.”

Mafia Island received funding from the WWF in 1995 to build a natural marine wildlife center, which led to the creation of Tanzania’s first Marine Park. The Rufiji-Mafia-Kilwa [RUMAKI] seascape project continued to assist the Islands in promoting the residents’ socio-economic and healthy living through inclusive participation, fair usage, and conservation of their lands mineral wealth. Under the new European union-WWF aquarium Co-administration Project, the institution seeks to build efficient long-term fishing co-management. Which it in turns to do so by establishing ten Beach Management Units and continuing to support Village Community Banks (VICOBA) on the island to start generating optimum solutions, equitable livelihood advantages, sustainability, and serve as a source of learning-reference for other coastline regions.

The Mafia Island office has three central Technical Staffs

  • Paul Kugopya – Co-management Officer Mafia Fisheries.
  • Marko Gideon- European Union-WWF Awareness Officer and Production Communication Officer.
  • Renatus Rwamugira – Accountant for Mafia Projects.

Following management guidelines and data from the Organization for Environmental Exploration studies, Tanzania’s 1st multi-functional Mafia island marine park was established at Mafia Island in 1995. In August of 2016, a deep-sea diver from Seaunseen, Alan Sutton, was looking for the remnants of an old fort that had been washed away to sea when he instead came upon the remains of a wall that stretched nearly 4 kilometers offshore of Mafia Island. Sutton documented the discovery in a blog article, which included photos of the wall’s remnants.

Transport in Mafia Island


You can reach the island’s Mafia Island Airport by flying with Coastal Aviation and Auric Air from Dar es Salaam.

Port of Mafia Island

From Nyamisati village on the mainland, boats depart daily for Kilindoni on Mafia island. According to the 2019 schedule, Nyamisati’s departure time is at 5 a.m, following a roll call that runs from 3 a.m; to 4 a.m. The trip takes about 4.5 hours. At Nyamisati, one-way tickets are sold for 6000 shillings in advance.

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