Project Goal 

Understanding and quantifying the importance of coastal forests on Mafia Island through biodiversity studies, socioeconomic investigations and the assessment of human interactions with local habitats and species.

Project location 

Mlola and Juani Forests, Mafia Island, off the coast of Tanzania (approximately 120km southeast of Dar es Salaam)


Mist netting for birds to catalogue the species living in these forests;
 Assessing local perceptions on bats through questionnaires in order to see whether bats have a role in seed dispersal and pollination, and to see if these animals are commercially important to local communities;
 To investigate the state of coastal forests by comparing canopy cover and species richness between disturbed and undisturbed sites;
 Compiling a species database of invertebrate species living in coastal forests in order;


The coastal forests of Eastern Africa, in particular those found in Tanzania, are recognized as important hotspots for biodiversity. Tanzanian coastal forests are fragmented, small and surrounded by poor communities that heavily depend on these areas for land and forest resources. These coastal forests are of a significant cultural and traditional value for local communities, but they are not being adequately managed by the relevant government authorities and international conservation institutions.

Forest in Tanzania cover an approximate area of about 42 million ha, which is about half the total land area of the country, with the other half being occupied by rough grazing lands. The  forested areas  consist  mostly  of  natural  miombo  woodlands,  which  are  sparsely  areas dominated by the  genera  Brachestegia  and  Julbernedia and also populated  with  a variety  of  species. The main threats to habitats in this region is the expansion of agricultural land, timber extraction and charcoal production, all of these factors being coupled with a weak governmental management and community input
In the 1930, there reportedly were extensive coastal forests on Mafia Island, with the last being destroyed in the late 1980s in order to make room for coconut plantations. By the early 1990, a coastal thicket of some small patches of forest occurred along a 40 km by 1 km strip of coral rag along the eastern side of the island. The thicket previously described has persisted as one main forest (Mrora) at the southeast side of the island, this being characterised by localized brushes such as Mkamba thicket on the western side of the island and remaining vegetation consists of swamps and mangrove forest, many small forest/thicket pockets and coconut plantations.

Natural vegetation on Mafia ranges from tidal mangrove thickets and scrubby coastal moorlands to palm-wooden grassland and lowland rainforest. Patches of coastal forest remain in localities all over Mafia Island, but the largest of these is the Chunguruma Forest, which is notable for its dense tree canopy of palms, lianes and epiphytes and dense underbrush of ferns. Coastal forests are also important habitats for serval faunal species. Closed canopy coastal forests retain provided a suitable ecosystem for numerous endemic plant and animal species.

With the closure of the Frontier Tanzania Savannah (TZS) project in the Kilombero Valley at the end of phase 123, the equipment from TZS was transported to Mafia with the aim of setting up a terrestrial research programme to run alongside TZM.

Although there is coastal forest present on the Mafia archipelago (predominantly along the eastern coast of the islands of Mafia and Juani), access to this forest is limited given the lack of transport available. Most work during this phase was instead focussed on teaching terrestrial survey methods to RAs, as well as reviewing literature and liaising with local individuals and bodies to determine the feasibility of gaining access to the forest and conducting research there.


Past projects and achievements

Development of a management strategy for Mafia Island Marine Park, in collaboration with the Tanzania     National Parks Authority (1989 - 1995)    This was SEE’s first project, based in the south of Mafia Island before the marine park was     established. The island’s marine life was severely threatened by indiscriminate use of destructive fishing     techniques, including dynamite fishing. With the aid of the information gathered by SEE a participatory management plan was developed for Mafia and Tanzania’s first marine park was established.
Reef surveys and resource use assessments around the Songo Songo Archipelago (1995-1996) 
   (supported by the Royal Norweigan Embassy)
Resource surveys, fisheries analysis, benthic mapping and stakeholder training in Mnazi bay, Mtwara 
   District, including an assessment of recovery rates of coral after a bleaching event caused by El Nino    
Environmental education and training and assessment of marine resources, Misali Island, 
   Pemba (2001-2004) 
   This project included training local stakeholders in reef survey techniques and SCUBA diving, 
   an environmental education programme and a survey of local octopus fisheries 
Environmental awareness raising among Mafia’s local communities, funded by PADI Aware (2007)
Comparative biophysical assessments of different reserve areas, in collaboration with Mafia Island 
   Marine Park (2009)

Project partners & staff 

SEE’s partners in Tanzania include:
The University of Dar es Salaam (with whom SEE has been in partnership since 1989)
The Mafia Island Marine Park authority
The District Council

SEE’s field team is comprised of a Project Coordinator, a Principal Investigator and several Assistant
Research Officers