Undulating blue expanses meet the gaze as far as the eye can see, broken only by brown smudges of land in the distance. Life, in this landscape, occurs primarily beneath the surface, hidden from the casual gaze, and yet flourishing in greater numbers and variety than any place on land. Pods of sperm whales roll and call within the depths, as they farm the ocean for sustenance, and everywhere around them, life teams and swirls in the gentle rolling dance that marks the oceans tempo.
The proposed Western Indian Ocean Transfrontier Marine Park (TFMP) covers vast marine waters space that includes the SADC island states of Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles, together with the Indian Ocean island states of Comoros and Reunion, the latter being an oversees territory of France. It also includes marine areas around the coastline of Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania and others outside the SADC region such as Kenya and Somalia.
The Western Indian Ocean region stretches for 13,000 km along the coast from Somalia to South Africa. This island states jointly consist of more than 400 islets and islands. The proposed Western Indian Ocean TFMP is still within the conceptual phase of development, with no final decision being made on the area or countries encompassing the TFMP. To date, no MOU being signed to facilitate the establishment of this Transfrontier Marine Park.
The Western Indian Ocean is characterised by unique features arising from tectonic activity. The oceans are covered with remnants of sedimentary rock from the African highlands. Some of the Western Indian Ocean islands such as the Seychelles are made up of rocky outcrops with narrow strips of sandy beaches. This is different from Mauritius which is generally flat and also has large tracks of sugar cane farms, one of the environmental challenges of monoculture and associated agricultural practices.
As the name suggests, this proposed Transfrontier Marine Park is primarily composed of marine environments, and includes terrestrial areas bordering marine bodies and those completely surrounded by oceans. The oceanic waters within the TFMP range in depth and composition. Those with rocky floors contain large amounts of coral and high species diversity; deep oceans also occur within the marine park, as do a range of inter-tidal zones with diverse characteristics. Estuaries, algae, seaweed and wetland flora abound in areas where fresh and saltwater meet, boosting a high species diversity. Marine biomes are divided into coral reefs, estuaries and oceans ecosystems, all of which fall within the TFMP. It also extends to a range of terrestrial biomes, including eastern African coastal forest and scrub, moist woodland, and granitic Indian Ocean islands. Landscapes include dune forests, coastal forest, and marine to mountain thickets.
The Transfrontier Marine Park is encompasses the third largest coral reef on the planet, home to five of the seven marine turtle species. It is a highly biodiverse marine environment harbouring just under 400 coral species and over 2,000 fish species, which includes more than 30 species of ray and 27 species of shark. There are also many threatened marine mammals found in the oceanic waters, amongst them the dugong and sperm whale. Habitat destruction and overfishing are currently threatening populations of many of these species.
A diverse range of communities occur within the proposed Western Indian Ocean TFMP, all of which have diverse needs and challenges, depending on their country contexts and ecosystem environments. One of the foci for conservators within many of these communities is the development of education programmes and resources that teach the importance of the marine environment in relation to national economies and biodiversity conservation. A range of educational programmes for schools and communities, as well as information portals for tourists, already exist. In some areas, for example in Mauritius, work has begun to mobilise school children, teachers and women around coral health activities and other matters of importance.
International tourism is booming especially on the island states. The best way to see the diverse marine live is through diving and snorkelling, with many diving centres situated along the beaches and coastlines. Eco-conscious travellers should look out for diving operators that adhere to sustainable diving practices.
There is also a drive to promote cultural tourism for conservation purposes, ensuring that local communities begin to appreciate the wealth of natural resources this potential TFMP has to offer.
<p>Mauritius: Poojanraj Khurun Deputy Conservator of Forests, Forestry Service pkhurun[at]mail.gov[dot]mu Mozambique: Ivone Semente M&E Specialist in the TFCA Project isemente[at]tvcabo.co[dot]mz Seychelles: Jason Jacqueline Director of Forestry, National Parks Authority jason.jacqueline[at]scmrt-mpa[dot]sc United Republic of Tanzania: Alex Choya Choya Senior Wildlife Officer, Wildlife Division alex_choya[at]yahoo.com[dot]uk</p>