Mohéli, Comoros

Aerial view of Mohéli Island
Bleached corals in the Mohéli marine park
A green turtle laying eggs on the Itsamia beach, Mohéli

Comoros has a small surface area with a total population of almost 800,000 inhabitants, making it one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. The island of
Mohéli is the smallest of the three main islands, with a total population of 38,000 (according to the most recent census in 2006) of which the majority lives in the capital Fomboni.

As with most of the communities in Comoros, people in Mohéli are highly dependent on the natural resources for food, shelter and cooking. Fishing and small scale subsistence farming has a long tradition among the local communities. Like elsewhere in the Indian Ocean coral bleaching has caused coral die-offs of varying magnitudes.

The creation of the Mohéli Marine Park was the culmination of a unique process by which the local communities in the ten villages around the park boundaries negotiated a collaborative arrangement with the government for the establishment and management of the Park. It is the first and only Marine Park in the Comoros, officially gazetted the 19th of April 2001. The Park covers 404 square km, extending from the coast to a depth of 100 meters and it protects important marine habitats such as coral reefs, seagrass and mangroves. The Marine Park of Mohéli is well-known for being one of the key nesting sites for green turtles and one of the few remaining refugia for dugongs in the Western Indian Ocean. From mid-July until the end of October, the Park is also a major breeding ground for Humpback Whales.

Poaching of nesting turtles and eggs is a problem in the area. The marine park management has been trying hard to collaborate with the communities to find a sustainable solution to this problem. The marine park is co-managed with the local communities and has 10 locally employed park rangers working full time. It is however not easy to stop people from catching “free meat” on the beaches when the entire population is suffering from grave poverty. It is hoped that the work with the demonstration site communities will help provide alternative livelihoods options to improve the lives of people and to reduce this destructive activity.