January 24, 2014

ENVS Blog: Marine Ecology Study on Maziwe Island

Eva Ramey (ENVS minor) tells about her trip to the island of Maziwe to study marine ecology.

Eva Ramey (ENVS minor)


The small sand island of Maziwe lies just 10km off the coast of Tanzania, between  mainland Africa and the Zanzibar archipelago. It is one of the oldest marine reserves in Tanzania. Before the 1960’s the island was covered by a 5-hectare forest. However, over the short time span of just 6 years, the island was suddenly reduced to what it is today, an island of sand surrounded by beautiful reef. Maziwe is currently a marine reserve, but up until quite recently the island was almost always occupied by illegal fishermen. Maziwe is also an important nesting ground for sea turtles, which are currently endangered. The Friends of Maziwe Organization was formed in order to protect this tiny island and reef. The group runs daily patrols to the island to collect and move turtle eggs from nests that would otherwise be drowned at high tide. The group also has a patrol boat that visits Maziwe daily in order to enforce the no-fishing regulation on the reef.


I first discovered the island of Maziwe during my biology focused overseas program in East Africa with Lewis & Clark. We studied the difference between Maziwe, a protected reef, and a nearby unprotected reef. Since I am very interested in marine ecology, I found Maziwe to be a unique example of a recovering reef. My fascination with Maziwe, both above and under water, inspired me to stay on in Tanzania after the L&C overseas program ended. I conducted a research project, with funding from the Dinah Dodds organization, to find out more about the unique and complicated puzzle of conservation on Maziwe. The main questions I hoped to address were: how have the tropical marine ecosystems in East Africa changed over time and what factors have driven these changes? How does the implementation of marine conservation strategies affect both local and global communities that rely on marine resources? To answer these questions, I used a variety of methods. I first chose to expand on the data that had been collected by Lewis & Clark students over the years quantifying ecosystem health inside the marine protected area. I did this by running transects and surveying butterfly fish as an indicator species on the reef. Using the language skills I learned in Swahili during my overseas program, I also used participant observation and informal interviews with local stakeholders and a survey for tourists to help me answer my questions. Working beside Friends of Maziwe helped provide me with a unique insight to the strategies of conservation being employed in the area. Currently I am in the process of further analyzing my data.


This experience taught me a lot about myself and it gave me the confidence to feel comfortable traveling and doing field research abroad. It also provided me with skills that will be very useful for my future career. I greatly appreciate my Environmental Studies and Biology education for providing me with these kind of opportunities.