One of our most exciting projects of 2020 was a pilot project on the coast of Mozambique, which gave us the chance to work with a wide range of stakeholders to trial the use of eDNA in Inhambane Bay.
Picture this, nestled into the coast of Mozambique is a town called Inhambane, and it’s surrounded by an estuary with mangrove forests and seagrass beds. There are many reasons to support the environment here, not least to protect the livelihoods of the communities around the bay, who are heavily reliant on fishing.
The fishermen noticed that the species living in their waters were changing after decades of their local “ocean rules” being ignored or lost. According to the Inhambane Bay Community Conservation Network (IBCCN), the village elders of Inhambane, known locally as Mukhedzisseli or “the watchers”, historically managed where fishing was allowed to take place and they would close off certain areas to protect fish resources. With local rules no longer being taken seriously, the local people welcomed help from local NGOs Ocean Revolution and Bitonga Divers to try and protect their local species.
With the support of local NGO, Ocean Revolution Mozambique, the communities have established a network of small no-take MPAs in and around the estuary, forming the Inhambane Bay Community Conservation Network (IBCCN).
In 2019, NatureMetrics were contacted by the founder of Ocean Revolution, the late Tim Dykman, who was interested in whether eDNA could be a useful tool for understanding whether the MPAs were being effective in protecting fish, and how to manage and organise them to maximise the benefits to the ecosystems in the bay and the people who rely on them.
eDNA is a tool that can give a more complete picture of the biodiversity than may have been previously possible, and the NatureMetrics sampling kits have been designed to be simple enough that they can be used reliably by the fishermen themselves and other community members. Building evidence for how the species are distributed in the estuary (inside and outside the MPAs) could provide valuable information for future management, as well as an evidence base that could help roll out the community-led MPA approach to other areas of the East African coastline, which is heavily overfished. We will also be collaborating with Dr Nasreen Peer at the University of Stellenbosh in South Africa on this.
In September 2019, a team from NatureMetrics visited Mozambique to work with Ocean Revolution and the IBCCN communities to introduce eDNA and demonstrate how the sampling process works.
Representatives from the communities people gained hands-on experience in how to collect eDNA samples from their bay. The NatureMetrics team also met with key stakeholders, and together they began planning a wider project. Following on from this, we were successfully awarded GCRF funding via an Innovate UK grant.
Phase 1 of the GCRF project involved consolidating an eDNA stakeholders group in Mozambique and piloting the eDNA approach in Inhambane, as well as addressing all the practical, logistical and regulatory challenges of applying this technology in Mozambique. We were lucky to be supported by the team at WCS Mozambique and the Institute for Fisheries Research (IPP) in this. Phase 2 of the project will see more intensive sampling in the Inhambane bay to start providing data that can inform MPA management, as well as a much wider roll-out of the approach along the coast of Mozambique.
Over the coming year, we will keep you updated as we start generating the exciting first results from this community-led DNA-based monitoring project.
Images from Google Maps, www.BlueParks.org and NatureMetrics.