THE VOICES OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES & LOCAL COMMUNITIES
WCS Conservation Hero: Sulemani Mohamed/Tanzania
December 5, 2022
Sulemani Mohamed loves sharks. While most people fear the apex predators, they are a “keystone species” — an animal that helps define and maintain entire marine ecosystems. Perhaps that’s why Sulemani feels such a connection to these aquatic animals, as he too works hard to keep a healthy reef in his native state of Zanzibar, Tanzania.
In 2020, after attaining a bachelor’s degree in aquaculture science, Sulemani began volunteering in Zanzibar for the WCS Tanzania Marine Program. He went above and beyond in fieldwork and was recognized for his dedication.
In 2020, after attaining a bachelor’s degree in aquaculture science, Sulemani began volunteering in Zanzibar for the WCS Tanzania Marine Program.
Only one year later, he was taken on as a marine field research assistant. “They liked what I was doing, and I started working on the shark and rays project,” he says.
Sulemani currently oversees the work of other data collectors on the marine team in addition to collecting shark and ray data himself. These efforts are contributing to the development of an ambitious roadmap to protect Tanzania’s sharks and rays, called a national plan of action — an urgent initiative as the majority of the shark and ray species caught in the southwest Indian Ocean are threatened.
Being in the field and working closely with the fishers of Zanzibar has been wonderfully enlightening for Sulemani: “One thing that I was not aware of [is] that the place where they go to fish, the fishing grounds, they know them by specific names.”
Sulemani was blown away by local fishers’ traditional ecological knowledge and how it has been passed down through generations of fishing families.
He was blown away by this traditional ecological knowledge and how it has been passed down through generations of fishing families. “We were able to draw maps showing all the fishing grounds they use to conduct their fishing activities; that’s very interesting,” he adds.
To Sulemani, the relationship between the fishing communities of northern Zanzibar and the marine ecosystem that hugs their home is astonishing. He knows many of the local fishers and often stays with them for periods of time. “They said clearly that ‘The ocean is our mother. It’s where we get everything.”
But among the amazement is a concern. “Most small fishers conduct their activities in coral reef areas, so these areas have felt much pressure.”
Sulemani worries that fishers unknowingly catch endangered species. But as education initiatives in the communities continue, recognition for endangered marine species is growing.
Sulemani is particularly worried about shark biodiversity, and the fact that fishers unknowingly catch endangered species: “In my community, it’s normal to catch sharks of all species without regard [for the] critically endangered, [and] eat them…Although WCS has done great work in shark conservation, including conducting shark and rays research, education is still needed for local fishers to help conserve these species.”
As education initiatives in the communities continue, recognition for endangered marine species is growing.
Sulemani is hopeful that he can help shift the fishing culture of Zanzibar. By sharing knowledge about threats to sharks, working with communities to create sustainable fisheries, and helping to diversify local incomes to take pressure off of existing fisheries, he believes it is possible.
“My dream is to make aquaculture a major alternative income for coastal communities to produce seafood in a sustainable way.”
“My dream is to make aquaculture a major alternative income for coastal communities to produce seafood in a sustainable way, and to initiate conservation of marine resources. Thus I call myself an aqua-dreamer.”
All photos courtesy of Sulemani Mohamed.