He is a strong supporter of coral reef restoration and protector of marine biodiversity and is on a mission to transplant more coral reefs than any other individual into the Mwamba Fisi ecosystem as a personal contribution.
He says he thinks it will be an injustice if he doesn’t restore the coral reefs he had damaged over many years. Mwamba Fisi is a name given to a location in the Indian Ocean that is home to a colony of coral reefs. It is located about 5 kilometers from Somanga Bay North Village and covers an area of 1 square kilometer.
Coral reefs are living ocean ecosystems that grow optimally in water temperatures between 23º and 29º Celsius and some can survive in temperatures slightly below 23º or slightly above 29º Celsius, but not in extremely low temperatures or high
They serve as habitats and breeding grounds and provide shelter and are the main source of food for certain species of fish and other aquatic biodiversity. However, they can be easily damaged by severe weather conditions and destructive human activities such as dynamite fishing, lime mining and clods used as fishing boat anchors from hardened rock-like coral reef structures.
Mgeni says it was a long time ago that he started fishing in the shallow waters of the Indian Ocean with his father. At that time, his father did not use a GPS tracker like some fishermen do today, but he located areas where they could get big catches of fish as if they were using a GPS tracker. This means that when dynamite fishing was not yet common, fishermen were assured of high fish catches.
“Even without a GPS tracker, my dad would say what kind of fish we were going to catch that particular day and he was never wrong. If my dad said we were going to catch such and such fish, we we found exactly that. Of course, we caught other kinds of fish, but not many,” he said in a recent interview.
At that time, Mgeni had not been influenced to join dynamite fishing and he remembers that it was between 1980 and 1988. In 1988, his relative who had left for Dar es Salaam and traveled to several islands, returned to Kilwa with fishing boats for use in dynamite. fishing and was with some fishermen.
“I also joined them and we started fishing in the areas that my father and I used to go fishing and I caught a lot of fish until the fishing boats were full,” he said.
But in 2001, operations to control fishing in shallow waters had begun due to low fish catches, and Mgeni and his fellow dynamite fishermen hardly caught any fish. So, he says, they moved into deep water and started using bottles to search for fish. In 2007, he said that environmental education had started in coastal communities, but the fishing community in his area was not very interested because of the negative perceptions.
Even when beach management units (BMUs) were established in 2009, they were met with resistance because the fishing community believed that the ocean would be sold to foreign investors and fishermen would not be able to use it while they depended on him for his life.
“So we got very angry, especially with a WWF officer who was raising awareness about the conservation and protection of marine biodiversity. We thought the officer was among those who were going to buy the ocean. We reacted violently against the WWF officer who was European and fled to the mafia,” he said.
“The WWF officer returned with Sheikh Hamis from Zanzibar, who came to explain to us that the officer was involved in raising awareness about the conservation and protection of marine biodiversity and had nothing to do with the purchase of the ocean.”
He says it was after Sheikh Hamis’s intervention that environmental education began to make sense to him and he immediately began to remember the damage he had caused to coral reefs.
“Education for the conservation and protection of marine biodiversity transformed me and I became a new person. I was the first member of the community police and even participated in community watch operations. I received training in various environmental issues and took conservation and protection of marine biodiversity seriously,” he said.
“I formed a network of informers and I didn’t care if the culprit was a family member, a neighbor or a stranger. Whenever there was evidence that he was involved in dynamite fishing, I would arrest him and take him to the responsible authorities for further action.”
He says he received training in arrest techniques, evidence collection and prosecution procedures and performed his duties with confidence and determination. He says that in the surveillance operations they would have the names they got from the informers and after verifying them, they would hand them over to the district commissioner. But before doing so, they would first warn suspected dynamite fishermen and give them a chance to reform before taking further action.
He says that only after these warnings did he arrest those who persisted. He said that at first he was ostracized wherever he arrested someone, but he was not afraid to carry out his duties.
But those who reformed and surrendered their illegal fishing gear to DC were invited to join community policing and participate in surveillance operations. Through this approach, he says they were able to control dynamite fishing in their community. In 2020, he and other members formed a coral reef protection and restoration group. Now he feels a glow of pride that in his community, almost everyone is aware of ecological degradation.
In addition to running his own business, he is involved in the restoration and protection of coral reefs and is also a member of the community police and involved in surveillance operations.
He says there are plans to start another group that has already registered to deal with beach waste management, protection of rare fish species, ocean grass and coastal millipede breeding.
Their plan is to invite tourists to visit Somanga North Village and enjoy the beautiful beaches of Somanga Fungu and other islets. He says that after the preparations they will invite journalists to visit Somanga North Village and see what he and his team have achieved in restoration and ecological protection.