Marine protection in Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago

Geographical location:

Africa/Madagascar > Southern Africa > Mozambique

Sunset, Bazaruto archipelago, Mozambique.
© WWF-Canon / Tanya PETERSEN


Bazaruto Archipelago, comprised of five islands off the southern coast of Mozambique, is a protected conservation area. The warm shallow waters between the archipelago and the mainland support the most important population of dugongs in the Western Indian Ocean. Dolphins and whales are found in deeper waters and several marine turtles breed on the islands pristine beaches.

In an effort to reduce threats to Bazaruto’s fragile ecosystem, WWF is working with community-based organizations, including fishermen associations, to actively participate in the protection, management and sustainable use of the area’s natural resources.


The primary, direct and intended beneficiaries of the project are:
4 of the 5 islands in the archipelago are inhabited by approximately 3,500 people living in 7 communities. Most of them belong to the ethnic group of Tsonga and speak a distinct dialect of the local language Xitsonga. A majority also speaks the mainland language, Xitsua. Few local inhabitants speak Portuguese or English. Artisanal fishing is the primary livelihood and the main source of income for more than 70% of the local population. Boat building and providing transportation with the dhow boats between the islands and the mainland are also common occupations. Women predominantly do small-scale agriculture. Lack of fertile soil and adequate areas for agriculture disqualify large-scale farming. Maize, sweet potatoes, millet, sorghum and cassava provide for subsistence rather than a cash income. Government structures include 4 primary schools, 2 clinics, 3 police stations and a local administrative office.

Geographic location: the Bazaruto archipelago consists of 5 Indian Ocean islands (Bazaruto, Santa Carolina, Benguerua, Magaruque and Bangue) with a combined land area of 156 km2, lying between latitudes of 21°30'-22°10'S and longitudes of 35°22'-35°30'E, between the towns of Vilanculo and Inhassoro in the province of Inhambane. The islands are oriented approximately North-South between 30-35 km offshore from the Mozambican coastline, and are probably sections of a former sandy peninsula connected to the mainland.

The islands of Benguerua, Magaruque and Bangue, together with a contiguous sea area extending 5 kilometres to the West and to the 100m line of bathymetry to the East, were declared as the Bazaruto national park in 1971, and Santa Carolina and Bazaruto were proclaimed as surveillance zones. In November 2001 the council of ministers of Mozambique declared all 5 islands the Bazaruto archipelago national park (BANP). With the extension of the boundaries of the national park, its area increased from 600 km2 to about 1,430 km2. Together with the Inhaca and Portuguese Islands (10 km2) and Quirimbas national park (1,500 km2), these islands constitute Mozambique's total marine protected area of slightly less than 3000 km2.

The biology of the islands reflects their terrestrial origin, and their flora and fauna are closely related to the nearby mainland. However, relative isolation and geophysical factors have endowed the islands with a high conservation value. Within a relatively small area the islands support seagrass meadows, coral reefs, extensive tidal flats, mangrove communities and salinas, sandy beaches, sand dunes, coastal thicket, swamp forests, climax evergreen forest, savanna grassland, and freshwater lakes. Relict mainland faunas remain, including samango monkey (Cercopithecus mitis), Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) in the freshwater lakes on Bazaruto and Benguerua, and antelope species such as the red duiker (Cephalophus natalensis). The islands support 6 endemic species of gastropod (including Conus pennaceus bazarutensis, Epitonium pteroen and E. repandior), 2 endemic species (Scelotes duttoni and Lygosoma lanceolatum) and 3 endemic sub-species of lizard on Magaruque and Benguerua.

The islands are included in the proposed inventory of important bird areas (IBAs) for Mozambique, due to regionally and internationally significant aggregations of wintering Palearctic shorebirds. The extensive seagrass beds in the warm shallow waters between the archipelago and the mainland support the most important population of dugongs (Dugong dugon) in the Western Indian Ocean. Cetaceans such as Spinner, Bottlenose, Common and Humpback dolphins, and Right and Minke whales occur. Of the 5 marine turtle species (Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill and Ridley) occurring around the islands, 4 are confirmed breeding on them. Very rich hard and soft coral formations occur on beach rock sandstones on the seaward sides of the islands, supporting diverse and important populations of reef fish and other organisms. Pelagic fish are abundant in the clear waters. Over 2,000 fish species have been recorded.

Project rationale: although the conservation of the Bazaruto archipelago was first proposed in 1970, the National Directorate of Forests and Wildlife (Direcção Nacional de Florestas e Fauna Bravia, DNFFB) within the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries did not have an effective presence in the area until 1989, when the first warden was appointed. A master plan for the Bazaruto archipelago developed in 1990 was intended to "assist the government of Mozambique in deriving maximum benefits from this unique coastal area through sustainable development and long-term environmental strategies", and recommended a 5-year action plan for the development of the Bazaruto archipelago. This plan was used in subsequent years as a guide and management tool for the archipelago.

Since 1990 several community projects have been initiated, including the appointment of community guards (guardas or mugonsizes). Working in collaboration with DNFFB, guards are appointed from the island communities and function more as community educators than law enforcers. Their roles have included the promotion of sustainable traditional resource use, patrolling, litter collection, and monitoring and application of restrictions applied in protected areas. Other focal areas have included ecological and socio-economic research, training, preliminary development of a management plan and legislation, and greater community involvement and participation. WWF, together with the National Directorate for Conservation Areas (DNAC), is currently supporting management of the park with a revised set of priorities whilst a subsequent period of funding is secured. This transitional phase has allowed for the maintenance of a minimum level of support in order to finalise the management plan and to maintain the continuity of core activities.

Empowerment of local communities is central to achieving the goal of the project. Although communities in the Bazaruto archipelago are dispersed and isolated, contact with them has been underway for sometime, with discussions on issues such as zoning, management planning and benefits from park revenues. Subsistence lifestyles, such as slash and burn agriculture impact on the natural environment and this creates the need to explore alternative approaches to agriculture through crop diversification and conservation farming. Communities will need both financial and technical assistance to implement enterprise projects, establish credit systems, manage funds, and participate in meaningful decision-making processes.

There has been clear acceptance from the park administration that sustainable technical and financial management of the park can only be achieved through more effective participation of stakeholders. So far, liaison with the tourism industry, a major stakeholder, has been sporadic and lacking in any consistent participation strategy. Thus there is an urgent need to develop mechanisms whereby stakeholders (communities, private and public sectors, and NGOs) can discuss management issues relating to the archipelago on a more regular basis, and to understand and jointly share the responsibility for solving conflicts of resource use and benefit within it. A strategy designed to formalise both links and partnerships with the private sector (including NGOs) needs to be developed and implemented for this purpose.


- Local communities benefit from and contribute to the conservation of coastal and marine biodiversity in the Bazaruto archipelago national park.

- Community-based organisations are actively participating in the protection, management and sustainable use of the Bazaruto archipelago national park and its natural resources together with the management authority and private sector partners.


- Local community institutions established and operational in accordance with the BANP management plan.

- Enabling environmental mechanisms promoted and created for local community income generation activities.

- Communities capable of monitoring, evaluating and making decisions regarding sustainable use of natural resources.

- Appropriate and effective mechanisms for revenue sharing developed and functioning.

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