Tell people in the UK that you’re going to the Comoros and you’re generally met with a guess well wide of the mark: “Is that near Coventry?”; “somewhere in South America?”; “no idea but it’s always a Pointless answer”.
Draw a line from the the northern tip of Madagascar to the border of Mozambique and Tanzania and you’ll find them at the half way point. The three islands of Grande Comore (Ngazidja), Moheli (Mwali) and Anjouan (Nzwani) will pander perfectly to your clichéd castaway fantasies. Coconut palms sway gently in a warm, thickly scented breeze. The sea is a deep blue; the volcanic peaks a verdant green. And with just a handful of visitors a year, you’ll have the outrageously beautiful beaches all to yourself.
Beautiful and unblemished by mass tourism it may be, but the Comoros is also among the poorest nations on earth. Around half the population lives on less than US$1.25 per day, and farming and fishing for subsistence is widespread. With strong indications from fishers that stocks are in decline, there’s an urgent need to improve management to ensure an ample supply of fish for the future.
On the Bimbini peninsula, the long finger of land that unfolds from the west of Anjouan as if beckoning the other islands, we‘re working with the community association UMAMA and the Comorian NGO Dahari to build capacity for community management of marine and coastal resources. As a vital first step, myself, Blue Ventures’ ahem…intrepid…outreach manager and Charlie, our monitoring and evaluation guru, have come to Bimbini to establish a pilot programme of community-based fisheries monitoring.
We spent the first few days of our visit meeting fishers, government officials, seafood buyers and community members, learning what species of fish were caught, where, when and how, as well as which were eaten and which were sold. We also trained several members of UMAMA in fisheries monitoring methods.
Today, it’s finally time for the new catch monitors to cast off their classroom chrysalises and try monitoring for real. We perch awkwardly on the beach that fronts the village, awaiting the return of the tide. As the shadows start to lengthen and the water starts to rise, we spot a boat on the horizon. And then another. And then another. The slumbering community suddenly awakens. Villagers rush to a clutch of white tables shaded by a large tree and wait for the first boats.
This new project is already reaping benefits, but there‘s still more to be done, of course. Bimbini‘s fishers are far from alone in the challenges they face. Developing nations are home to at least 97% of the world’s fishers, whose catches are often a lifeline for families and economies. We‘re always looking for new partners to join us on our journey to make marine management work for – rather than against – fishing communities.