Dr. Brendan Fisher is a research scientist at the World Wildlife Fund. His research and fieldwork lie at the nexus of conservation, development, and natural resource economics. Brendan is the author of over 50 peer-reviewed articles on topics such as poverty, human welfare, ecosystem services and biological conservation, and the co-author of two books, Valuing Ecosystem Services (Earthscan, London, 2008) and A Field Guide to Economics for Conservationists (Forthcoming, Roberts and Company).
He is a Fellow of the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont and a Fellow at the Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE) at the University of East Anglia. He was recently a Rockefeller Bellagio Fellow working on relationships between the ecological conditions of coastal regions, gender inequality and childhood health. When he’s not working he spends most of his time hiking, skiing, and enjoying the Vermont outdoors with his wife and three children.
I work for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). As such, I’m supposed to stick up for animals, and I do. But, last September I was more than ready to throw a few (fourteen to be exact) bottlenose dolphins under the proverbial bus and blame them for ruining our work in Mozambique.
Let me explain.
Three years ago in northern coastal Mozambique WWF, CARE, the Mozambican Ministry of Fisheries and two local communities, came together to set up a number of community-managed fish sanctuaries in the Moma Estuary.
The idea behind this was to protect habitats for juvenile fish, so that stocks could grow and later be caught on the coastal reefs, where they spend much of their adult life.
Last September, we returned to carry out some follow up surveys with local community guards and fishers, in the sanctuaries. When we arrived, our nagging question was whether local compliance with no-fishing rules had remained high. The response from local guards was fairly tongue in cheek. They said: “The only ones not obeying the rules are the dolphins.”
You see, a pod of 14 bottlenose dolphins were back plying this stretch of the estuary for the first time in over a decade, and while that’s a nice thing… my reaction was “They better not be eating our results.”
But guess what? The dolphins are off the hook.
Our preliminary results show a 3-4 fold increase in the number of species inside the sanctuaries compared to the baseline study in 2010. The sanctuaries also showed on average a 65% increase in the diversity of species living there, compared to zones outside the sanctuaries.
Our biological hunch was backed up by the results; the sanctuaries were nurseries for commercial fish stocks, on the reefs of Njovo, Mafamede and Puga, Puga Islands.
But problems in the newly gazetted Primerias e Segundas Environmental Management Area were much bigger than the fate of declining fish stocks.
You see, Mozambique is the third poorest country in the world. In the particular area we were focusing on, food insecurity plagues one third of all households, and a staggering two thirds of female-headed households. Close to 50 per cent of the children in the region are stunted. That means almost every other child in the area will experience lifelong physical and/or cognitive impairment. The tale of Ismael Said below, tells of the typical struggles of life on this coast, a coast that serves as a critical nesting habitat for hawksbill, olive ridley sea turtle and green turtles, and is flanked by intact mangrove forests and humpback migration routes.
Ismael and many of his compatriots’ struggles are tied to both land and sea. Due to drought, pests, and low productivity soils, a collaboration between WWF, CARE, the Ministry of Agriculture and local communities has helped establish farming schools. Here the teams work with local farmers on developing agriculture techniques, with the aim to improve farm yields and soil quality.
With no dolphins to blame in this particular instance, I held my breath while collecting the data on the impacts of the farming schools. But these results also showed promise. The conservation agricultural farming plots showed 30-40 per cent increases in soil stability and water retention, when compared with traditional farming systems.
We are still awaiting the lab results on soil organics and this season’s yield results, but so far our results point to improved soil health and structure.
Even more exciting are the results showing that the conservation agriculture techniques on home farms are having a strong and significant impact on dietary diversity.
Like Ron Burgundy, this is a big deal. Why? Well, because dietary diversity is a strong indicator for important health outcomes, including balanced nutrition and micronutrient intake. Both, of which, have been linked with reductions to childhood stunting rates.
There is a long way to go, but we’ve learned a lot. We learned that even in a challenging and incredibly impoverished setting, community management and no-take zones can improve fish diversity. We learned that conservation agriculture techniques are having measurable impacts after only two seasons. And on a personal level, I’ve learned not to judge dolphins too quickly.
For more on the work of the CARE-WWF Alliance in Mozambique see Primeiras & Segundas Program of the CARE-WWF Alliance