In the first blog post of the series we heard from a project working with a small community living on the island of Anjouan in Comoros and how through the combination of local and scientific knowledge they aim to preserve native tree species and protect local livelihoods. This post features a project that has found an unlikely relationship between the conservation of fish and foliage. The project led by RIPPLE Africa has found that through fisheries management and the protection of Chambo breeding grounds local plants have been able to thrive.
RIPPLE Africa’s Fish for Tomorrow project has been supported through Darwin Initiative funding since July 2018. Fish for Tomorrow is a community led fish conservation project in Lake Malawi, the 9th largest lake in the world which is home to over 850 different fish species many of which are endemic to the lake. This funding has enabled us to extend the project to cover more than 300km of the shoreline. One of the key species we are protecting is Oreochromis lidole, known locally as the Chambo, which was once the most commonly caught and prized species in the lake but now is classified by the IUCN as Critically Endangered.
The project empowers local communities to work in partnership with District Fisheries staff to confiscate illegal fishing gear, restrict numbers of fishers through a local permit system and to protect key fish breeding and nursery areas. One problem faced by fishing communities is that these nursery areas are in lagoons and river mouths close to populated areas and have been extensively targeted by local people using mosquito bed nets to catch huge numbers of juvenile Chambo. In order to make this process easier, local people have cut back all the surrounding vegetation to provide better access to the lagoon. The cleared land around the lagoons is then used for farming, preventing reed and grass regrowth and damaging the lagoon further through run off. Once caught, a thousand of these juvenile Chambo will often be used to make a meal for one family, whereas if these fish were given the chance to grow and return to deeper waters to breed each one will go on to produce over 300 young. Allowing this to happen is key to increasing stocks of this fish species, which would simultaneously improve biodiversity in the lake as well as increase livelihoods and nutrition in one of the world’s poorest countries.
We have already witnessed the fishing communities in our project area making huge efforts to protect these breeding areas with consequent benefits not only for fish, but also for flora. Our community fish conservation volunteers have now stopped the use of mosquito nets in most areas, and are also taking positive steps to encourage the growth of reeds and other plants around the lagoons providing protection to the young Chambo from predators.
Kaweya Fish Conservation Committee have asked farmers to stop the cultivation of maize within 100 metres of the edge of their local lagoon to encourage the growth of protective plant species and have also stopped all burning of vegetation near to the lagoon, a commonly used agricultural land clearance technique.
It is still early days for the regrowth of species of reeds and grasses in the area where work has just begun but where the project has been operating for several years, reeds and grasses have returned and are growing thickly along the edges and in shallow areas of the lagoon, enabling the baby fish to thrive and find shelter from high temperatures and predators. Species such as Phragmites mauritianus and Phragmitis australis (reeds), Typha domingensis (bulrush) and Cyperus papyrus are now increasingly being seen again in these nursery areas and the vegetation and larger numbers of fish is also attracting more bird life back to the areas. A win-win situation for all involved!
For more information on project 25-009 led by RIPPLE Africa in Malawi please click here. The full article from this project and others can be found in the latest edition of the Darwin Initiative Newsletter here.