Vilanculos is located on the Mozambique coast approximately 500 km north of Maputo. It lies across a large bay from the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park, a series of beautiful islands surrounded by reefs. The archipelago has been inscribed as a World Heritage Site for its outstanding natural qualities. The archipelago is home to the only viable dugong population in the Western Indian Ocean region. A study conducted by the Dugongs team, (www.dugongs.org) suggested a rapid population decline. Recent surveys however, suggest about 300 individuals live in the Bazaruto Archipelago. In spite of the growing tourism industry local communities are poor and largely excluded from the industry.
Communities mainly engage in fishing activities which is the main form of livelihood in Vilanculos town, although some people do practice subsistence agriculture. Most boats are wind-powered, without any cold storage or ice making facilities. The artisanal fishery uses fine-mesh pull-nets which is highly destructive to the ecosystem. Another problem contributing to unsustainable fishing is the use of mosquito nets for fishing of juvenile prawns and fish. This means fewer individuals survive to become adults. Improved community education and better law enforcement may help to alleviate this problem. Coastal erosion, caused by a combination of climate change and human activity on the beach, is severe.
Of the approximately 2000 fishers in Vilanculos, only 300 are formally employed in other sectors. The other 1700 fishers depend completely on fishing. The population growth rate is estimated at 8.3%, with the majority of the people not engaged in the formal economy. The high dependency on natural resources, the rapidly increasing population and constantly growing tourism industry increases the pressure on coastal and marine resources. The effects are clear to everyone, yet the solutions are missing and have become a point of debate among all sectors of the population.
In order to reduce the impacts of bad fishing practices, some fishers propose that drag netting be stopped for at least eight months in order to let the ecosystem recover and that deep sea fishing boats be provided to the community, as this will reduce fishing near the shore. Also more sustainable methods for crab fishing using cages have been suggested by some stakeholders to make the industry more sustainable in the area.
Vilanculos is a town with much potential, yet poverty is endemic. How can livelihoods be diversified? For instance can the entrepreneurial spirit of the local population be applied to the rising tourism industry? How can the local community benefit from new strategic frameworks such as the District Tourism Master Plan? How can their needs be incorporated in the forthcoming provincial Integrated Development Planning process? What will the communities come up with in terms of their input into the management of natural resources?