• 22 July 2020
  • Dr Mark Ziembicki

Quirimbas Archipelago Hope Spot

Celebrating the relaunch of Mission Blue’s Quirimbas Archipelago Hope Spot, Mozambique

Around the world, there are places that inspire hope, with inspirational people and communities dedicating their lives, resources and energies to protecting them.

Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue

In 2009, Dr Sylvia Earle, legendary marine scientist and explorer, won the TED prize: she was allowed one great wish, which would be supported by USD 100,000 and full access to the TED community’s depth of talent and expertise.

She wished for ‘Hope Spots large enough to save and restore the blue heart of the planet’. This was the start of Mission Blue , a global alliance of individuals and organisations dedicated to the protection and preservation of a worldwide network of marine protected areas known as Hope Spots.

At each site, a nominated Hope Spot champion (sometimes champions) is responsible to drive awareness of the individuals and organisations working to protect that area, sharing their stories, challenges, victories and learnings.

In the case of the relaunched Quirimbas Archipelago Hope Spot, the appointed champions are Oceans Without Borders’ Dr Tessa Hempson and Dr Mark Ziembicki.

At the heart of the programme is a core vision to achieve a goal of 30% official protection of our oceans by 2030.

What defines a Hope Spot?

The selection of a Hope Spot site essentially comes down to one or more specific scientific and conservation criteria such as having a notable abundance of diversity of species, or unusual or representative species, habitats or ecosystems. 

The site may be home to particular populations of rare, threatened, or endemic species; it may be a major migration corridor, or important spawning ground. In some instances, a Hope Spot may have notable potential for reversing damage from negative human impacts, or be of particular economic importance to local communities.

Hope in the Quirimbas Archipelago

The Quirimbas Archipelago Hope Spot, set for relaunch 22 July 2021, is a living laboratory, and the embodiment of what defines a place of hope in our oceans.

Extending across a string of 34 islands, the archipelago spans almost 300 km of coastline from the Tanzania-Mozambique border in the north, to Pemba Bay in the south and including the Lazarus Banks off the coast.

The site meets several Hope Spot criteria:

Diverse

The coral reefs of the northern Quirimbas are amongst the world’s most biologically diverse, having the highest recorded diversity of corals (over 180 species) outside the Coral Triangle, and more than 400 species of reef fish recorded to date.

Resilient

In addition to their exceptional diversity, these reefs are also highly resilient to the bleaching effects of warm water temperatures, thanks to the upwelling of cold water from the depths of the nearby Mozambique Channel and the deep submarine canyons that run between the islands.

Productive

Productivity is abundant within this ecosystem. Not only is this where the natural wonder of coral mass spawning takes place annually, but it is also where green and hawksbill turtles, whales, and many species of fish come and gather to breed.

Regenerative

Perfectly positioned at the centre of an ocean current network that flows both north towards Tanzania and Kenya, and south past Benguerra Island and Sodwana Bay in South Africa, multitudes of coral and fish larvae from these source reefs are carried away to replenish coral ecosystems along the entire coastline, many of which are degraded and heavily fished.

Supportive

The waters around Vamizi play a vital role in supporting many keystone marine species such as humpback whales, green and hawksbill turtles, manta rays, and a number of species of dolphin and sharks, many of which gather at certain times of the year as part of their breeding cycle.

Acute and growing challenges

The Quirimbas Archipelago Hope Spot is located in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province, a region with almost no infrastructure in one of the world’s poorest countries. Impoverished communities here rely on the sea for their livelihoods and food security.

The vulnerability of these communities has been compounded by both natural disasters, including Cyclone Kenneth that hurtled through the central Quirimbas region, and the effects of increasing political instability.

The results of this growing insurgency with an escalation of violence and conflict have included a humanitarian crisis, the withdrawal of certain project funding, together with several environmental and developmental organisations leaving the area.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated working in the region, with global lockdowns and the shutdown of travel making it extremely difficult to operate effectively.

Vision for the future

While the region faces this set of acute and growing challenges, there are significant counterpoints to facilitate its protection –

  • Other funding agencies have stepped up, and there are still environmental and developmental organisations in support
  • Formal protection in the region includes the Quirimbas National Park, established in 2002, which includes a marine component
  • In 2018, much of the area was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
  • The region was recently also recognised as a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA)
  • The Vamizi Island Community Sanctuary, albeit small, is one of Mozambique’s most effective Marine Conservation Areas, and a shining example of a successful community-led initiative  

Network of key partners

Ultimately the successful protection of the Quirimbas Archipelago Hope Spot with the simultaneous development of local communities, will be underpinned by the collaborative efforts of multiple partners from different sectors working together towards this common goal.

This coalition of key partners includes:

Universidade Lurio

Universidade Lurio’s Faculty of Natural Sciences, based in Pemba in Cabo Delgado, is instrumental to marine and terrestrial research and conservation work in the Quirimbas Archipelago. Through its Centre for Research and…

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Environmental Conservation (CICA), led by Dr Isabel da Silva, long-term ecological and socio-economic monitoring and research is conducted by academics and students from the university, as well as through collaborations with several national and international institutions.

Friends of Vamizi Trust

Responsible for the private concessions on Vamizi and Rongui Islands in the northern Quirimbas, the Friends of Vamizi Trust, facilitates much of the work done by CICA and Oceans Without Borders in the region through its support of infrastructure, logistics and operational assistance.

Conselho Comunitário de Pesca (CCP) Vamizi

The primary stakeholders and managers of the Vamizi Marine Sanctuary are the local community. Through its local ‘Community Fishers Councils’ or ‘CCP’ (Conselho Comunitário de Pesca), the sanctuary is patrolled, fisheries…

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regulations enforced and assistance provided to researchers and environmental monitoring programmes. The CCP is supported by Vamizi’s private concession holders, Friends of Vamizi Trust, the national Department of Fisheries, Universidad Lúrio and Oceans Without Borders.

OWB in collaboration with Africa Foundation and &Beyond

Oceans Without Borders, a project partnership between Africa Foundation, a not-for-profit community and conservation development organisation, and &Beyond, a conservation-driven luxury travel company

More on the horizon

While the Quirimbas may have been one of the first Hope Spots in the Western Indian Ocean, it certainly won’t be the last with recent additions in southern Mozambique and undoubtedly more to come.

In a world where negative environmental news stories abound, the power of the Hope Spot programme lies in its ability to inspire hope and mobilise action; to create a global wave of support for the passionate individuals and communities who have dedicated their lives to conserving these places of critical and transformational change.

TOGETHER WE'RE LEAVING OUR OCEANS A BETTER PLACE

Watch the documentary: Vamizi: Cradle of Coral

Explore the magical beauty and wonder of the coral reefs of Vamizi Island in the Quirimbas Archipelago of Mozambique in Vamizi: Cradle of Coral – a documentary by renowned National Geographic photographer Matthias Klum, and featuring our own Dr Tessa Hempson.

The waters around Vamizi host the highest coral diversity in Africa, and are vitally important breeding grounds for whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks and other iconic species. Its reefs are the only place in East Africa where “mass spawning” of corals has been observed, meaning the reefs here are healthy and are important source areas for replenishing reefs up and down the coast. This fragile realm however is under threat. Follow as a team of scientists from around the world race to learn more about this unique region and fight to stop the damage before it starts.