The first inhabitants may have never actually ventured into the sea, but simply collected shells and fish from the shore at low tide, or cut mangrove poles for building. With the advent of sea trade, mainly by merchants visiting from Arabia about 2,000 years ago, coastal settlements began to develop and expand.
These were centred on sites with safe anchorage for ships, such as Mombasa, Zanzibar, Kilwa, and Ilha de Mozambique. Some of the trade items included turtles, seashells and mangrove poles, as well as ivory, minerals and slaves.
Supporting 22 million people
The coastal people of the eastern African marine ecoregion presently number around 22 million, comprising between 9-38% of the population of the countries along this stretch of coast. These coastal people are the main dependants of the region, though others such as foreign businesses (e.g. hotels, fishing companies) are also important especially for creating job opportunities.
Important ports for the cities
All depend on the coastal environment for their livelihoods. Most of the coastal population live in the cities and towns in the region, notably Chisimayu, Mombasa, Tanga, Bagamoyo, Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam, Mtwara, Nacala, Beira and Maputo. The ports of these cities connect the region with traders from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and beyond, handling cargoes of oil, timber, minerals and fish.
High population growth rates
Today the growth of the coastal population is faster than any inland area, largely because the coastal cities and towns attract rural migrants. The average population growth rate for the region is about 3% per year, whilst the growth rate of coastal populations, is estimated at 5-6% per year.
This rapid increase in the number of coastal dwellers in the region has a major influence on marine biodiversity, on the resources of the coastal seas and on the quality of the coastal environment.
Overexploitation of marine resources
The marine biodiversity of eastern Africa, with its many species of plants and animals, constitutes a vital resource for the well being of coastal and inland inhabitants. In most rural areas along the 5,000 km coastline, people are involved in a diverse range of activities that exploit this biodiversity. Over the last 50 years increasing demands for these marine resources have resulted in significant ecological changes in many parts of the ecoregion.