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Mafia Island Marine Park noticeboardMafia is a large island lying off the southern coast of Tanzania, near to the Rufiji Delta. It is 30 miles from north to south, and up to ten miles in width. It is thus about half the size of Unguja (Zanzibar) Island to the north, and, like Zanzibar, is a raised portion of the continental shelf, not a coral island. The soil of Mafia is mostly sandy and the terrain very flat. There is a ridge forming a backbone to the northern end but at its highest point it does not exceed 200 feet above sea level. Along this ridge there is firm and fertile clay soil and cultivation of annual crops is possible. On the eastern shores there is some coral rock, making cultivation impossible.

Mafia Island is the site of Tanzania's first Marine Park which was gazetted in 1995. The Park covers the southern half of the island and part of the north-east (see map

Wilfried Zugar has kindly made available the following short underwater video shot in the Marine Park. View the video [wmv]

The area included within the boundaries of MIMP is one of the most important marine habitats in the world. It has mangroves, sea-grass beds, coral reefs, inter-tidal reef flats, lagoons and coastal forest. However, while its importance has increasingly been recognised, so too have its problems, particularly over-fishing (including many outside fishers coming into Mafia waters), and destructive and unsustainable fishing methods (including dynamite fishing).

The first research work in this area was carried out by the Frontier organisation, which published a number of reports on the ecology of Mafia Island. Frontier has recently returned to Mafia to carry out some new projects - see There are also a number of foreign universities which send students to Mafia as part of their courseds on coastal ecology e.g.

The decision to set up a Marine Park was taken by the Government of Tanzania, and MIMP now falls under its Marine Parks and Reserves Unit. MIMP is supported by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and further information can be found on the WWF website (The latter site includes a useful article by Jason Rubens, one of the technical staff of the Park). Large-scale funding has also been received from the Department for International Development of the UK ( and from the Norwegian Aid Agency NORAD ( and small amounts from private companies (e.g.

Ferry furling its sails at sunsetFurther information on the Park can be found on a site which considers Mafia's marine park as a demonstration case: and on a UNESCO site:

A number of other academics have carried out research on the setting-up and functioning of the Marine Park on Mafia. The work of the anthropologist Christine Walley is particularly important and information about her recent book Rough Waters: Nature and Development in an East African Marine Park can be found on her publisher's website:

A critical account of the effects of the Marine Park can be found in an article by Greg Andrews 'Mafia Island Marine Park, Tanzania; Implications of Applying a Marine Park Paradigm in a Developing Country':

Arielle Levine's article on 'Global Partnerships in Tanzania's Marine Resource Management: NGOs, the private sector, and local communities' considers MIMP as one of a number of ways of tackling marine resource conservation:

Additional useful links re Marine Park

References and further reading

  • Board of Trustees, Maine Parks and Reserves, Tanzania, 2000. Mafia Island Marine Park General Management Plan. Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, United Republic of Tanzania (a Swahili version of this is also available)

  • Horrill, Jc and MAK Ngoile, 1992. Mafia Island Project Report number 2 (vol. 1 text, vol. 2 appendices) The Society for Environmental Exploration and the University of Dar es Salaam.

  • Mayers, C.J., MAK Ngoile, J.C. Horrill, P. Nnyiti, C.K. Runisha, T.R. Young, 1992. The Proposed Mafia Island Marine Park: Discussion Paper, Tanzania Ministry of Tourism, Natural Resources and Environment.

  • Walley, Christine, 2004. Rough Waters: Nature and Development in an African Marine Park. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.