Protecting Africa’s marine Serengeti

Overfished and undermanaged, a critical section of East Africa’s once bountiful coastline is under threat. A team of marine biologists and conservationists, including the Marine Megafauna Foundation’s Andrea Marshall, is working to redress that balance and bring abundance back. The future of Africa’s marine Serengeti depends on it.

Words and photographs by Andrea Marshall

Have you ever stopped to wonder what the planet would look like if someone had not had the foresight to protect some of our most iconic and wild spaces? What if there was no Yellowstone or Serengeti? What if Yosemite was full of tract housing or the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador had been levelled to extract its subsurface oil? Ever pause to consider how these areas were spared? Who we owe a debt of gratitude to for this tremendous insight? Or how many more wild spaces have we lost because no one stepped up to fight for their protection?

I have. I think about it all the time. As a conservation biologist I think one of the single greatest tasks of our time is to critically identify the remaining areas of true wilderness and prioritise the protection of these spaces. Many folks are in agreement. In fact, it has been suggested we aim to protect at least 20-40% of our terrestrial environments. To be clear, the suggestion is more of a warning. This is not just about protecting our natural heritage for beauty’s sake anymore but about preserving genetic biodiversity, moderating climate, detoxifying our air and water, protecting food stocks, etc. The sense of urgency of this task is great. In fact, there are few unspoiled regions left and each passing year brings further development and destruction, some of which can never be undone. 

We also have a new understanding that while some of the greatest wild spaces and natural wonders ever identified have been on land, we are living on a liquid planet – and our waters do not receive equal representation. Slightly more than 70% of the surface of the globe is covered with water, namely our great oceans. Like our great forests, our oceans also provide us with indispensable climate regulation, half of the air we breathe, food and medicine. They also act as a carbon sink. Our oceans are actually the lifeblood of the planet and they have been grossly neglected. Recognising that they deserve equal consideration and care to wild spaces on land, we now desperately need to identify priority marine habitats to safeguard as well. 

It has been seventeen years since I moved to Africa on a whim. I had no plan or expectations when I first visited, and while I distinctly remember feeling incredibly drawn to the continent, I never expected to give up everything for a life along the rural coastline of Mozambique. I would say that I am from a pretty average American family. I grew up in Northern California. In fact, up until the age of about 20, I had a fairly normal life. Don’t get me wrong, I loved adventure, animals, and travelled abroad quite a bit. But if someone had told my twenty-year-old self that I would end up living my life in rural Mozambique, I probably would have laughed in their face. 

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This feature appears in ISSUE 04: Fluke science of Oceanographic Magazine

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