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Sea Sponge FarmingZanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania, enjoys high financial capacity due to its successful tourist industry, fishing and seaweed production. However, many of Zanzibar’s coastal communities still suffer from acute poverty and local industries are under threat from environmental degradation. One nonprofit, Marine Cultures, aims to solve these issues by introducing sea sponge farming to households in Zanzibar.

The Benefits of Sea Sponge Farming

Sea sponge farming offers a more economically sustainable option than the traditional seaweed farming industry. Farming seaweed for the production of carrageenan, a common thickener in foods, has long been a staple industry for the employment of Zanzibari women. However, the industry is in decline, as seaweed is susceptible to pests and diseases. Additionally, the global market price for seaweed is now low and more labor-intensive farming is rewarded with comparatively minimal income. As a consequence, many single women struggle to make a living from farming seaweed.

Farming sea sponges, however, offer higher monetary returns for a lower-maintenance product. Unlike seaweed, pearl farming, or traditional fishing, sea sponge farming is less time consuming and allows farmers the time and opportunity to pursue other economic activities. Marine Cultures introduced the first sponge farm to coastal Zanzibar in 2009. Since then, the organization installs up to four new sponge farms a year and each farm generates enough income to feed 2-3 families of approximately ten people. The organization specifically targets single, unemployed women, granting them a one-year training period before turning over the farm. This strategy allows the recipient to independently establish and operate their business.

Giving Back To The Ecosystem

Zanzibar’s coastal ecosystems, although essential to the island’s wellbeing, are under pressure from a variety of factors. Overfishing, invasive species, unregulated tourism, dumping of human waste, overpopulation and rising water temperatures are just some of those.

However, sea sponge farms answer the call to establish sustainable forms of using natural resources extracted from the local ecosystem. As the market price of sea sponges remains high, sea sponge farming offers a financially viable alternative to traditional fishing, reducing overfishing and easing some pressure off of the coastal ecosystem. Additionally, sponges are filter-feeders, which means that in addition to saving farmers money on feed costs, they also act as a biofilter that filters out particles in the water.

In this way, sea sponges can help act as a buffer against pollution and encourage the health of local coral reefs. Marine Culture’s sponge farms have even been shown to improve local stocks of species on certain occasions.

Future Perspectives

Looking to the future, sea sponges pose a promising new industry to Zanzibar and beyond. Those women who have begun operating their own sea sponge farms through Marine Cultures report increased income for lower amounts of labor than they experienced harvesting seaweed. All the while, these farms pose long-term career opportunities, as farmers learn the skills not only of sea sponge farming but of marine biology, entrepreneurship and commerce.

By the end of this year, a twelfth sea sponge farm is on track to become independent. Marine Cultures hopes that by 2022, they will be able to remove themselves completely from the local industry and turn over all sponge farms to a local organization that will train future farmers without oversight from Marine Cultures.

– Alexandra Black 
Photo: Flickr

Unique Library Programs

Access to books is vital in developing countries. However, it is often difficult to bring libraries to these countries. Across the world, many organizations promote literacy through unique library programs.

School Library in a Box

Book Aid International is a charity working to create a world where everyone has access to books. Book Aid International has a unique library program called School Library in a Box. School Library in a Box takes libraries to students in the “poor and remote areas in the Kagera Region of mainland Tanzania and the Zanzibar archipelago.” In these areas, children’s schools do not have libraries due to lack of government funding.

The project provides 700 books written in English and Kiswahili to schools. Student librarians transport the books to classrooms to allow children to enjoy independent reading before their lessons. School Library in a Box also provides training for educators on how to use the books to support their classes. The teachers use the books to support their lessons and to help children develop reading skills in both English and Kiswahili.

This charity collaborates with non-government organizations (NGOs), national library services, community library networks, local government and individual institutions to make its vision happen. For the Zanzibar library services, it collaborates with Zanzibar Library Service and with the Kagera Region it works with Voluntary Service Overseas.

An evaluation of eight schools that participated in this project found that reading levels of students have improved and school lessons became more creative and engaging. As a result, students in many schools proactively chose to read independently. Students borrowed books and established regular reading periods. In 2016, the program supported 40 schools and 39,101 children.

Mobile Libraries

Around the world, many organizations have created mobile library programs. Mobile libraries are now in countries such as America, Nigeria, Norway and Columbia. These libraries transport books by boat, elephant, donkey and bus to reach children who need access to library services.

Though it might seem like a new phenomenon, the first mobile library was established in 1859 in Warrington, England. This mobile library used a horse-drawn-cart and lent about 12,000 books during its first year in service. Today this unique library program idea has greatly expanded and many organizations now have mobile library programs.

In Columbia, Biblioburro brings books to children via donkey. This library is run by an educator who wants to increase his pupils’ access to books after noticing their low literacy rate. Over the 22 years since it started, the program has expanded to include a network of libraries, including a brick-and-mortar library. Biblioburro began distributing laptops to help children learn about the internet.

Other unique mobile library programs include Epos, the boat library, which travels along the coast of Norway. This boat carries 6,000 books. A unique mobile library in Nigeria called iRead Mobile Library travels by bus and carries 13,000 books.

There are many unique library programs around the world that help increase literacy. Ultimately, government funding is needed to permanently solve this issue. These unique library programs inspire many and are creating a world where literacy is more accessible.

Emily Joy Oomen
Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Among other diseases endemic to the region, malaria presents a constant danger in sub-Saharan Africa. While the disease continues to spread, new methods and technology are utilized to contain and treat it. Habiba Suleiman Sefu, a malaria surveillance officer, stands on the front lines of this fight on the archipelago of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania.

Malaria is by far the deadliest disease known to mankind, killing more than 1,000 children a year. Most victims of the disease live in sub-Saharan Africa, in moist, humid regions where disease-carrying mosquitoes thrive. While the disease is not contagious, it is blood-borne and can spread quickly in areas with poor sanitation and standing water.

Historically, malaria in Zanzibar has been a constant danger, as it is the leading cause of death in mainland Africa. In 2000, malaria accounted for 30 to 50 percent of all hospital admissions and approximately half of all hospital deaths.

Sefu, 29, is an environmental science graduate and works as a malaria surveillance officer in the village of Shikani, in the southwest region of Zanzibar. Habiba tracks and treats malaria on the archipelago using her tablet, mobile phone and motorcycle, all supplied to her by the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI).

When a case of malaria is reported at the local clinic in Shikani, Sefu receives an SMS message on her mobile phone. She then visits the family of the patient and tests them for the disease. If it is detected, she distributes medication and encourages affected individuals to go to the hospital.

In addition to treating malaria, Sefu educates families on the disease and makes certain that they are aware of contributing risk factors. She makes sure that families understand the importance of intact mosquito nets, insecticide, and the elimination of standing water, which provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Sefu represents a new generation of disease control, utilizing new methods and technology to target malaria at its source and stop outbreaks before they begin. These new methods of malaria identification and treatment have yielded unprecedented results in fighting the disease. In fact, the prevalence of malaria in Zanzibar was reduced from 40 percent in 2005 to less than one percent in 2012. In addition, hospital admissions for malaria decreased to less than five percent in 2012, and no malaria-related deaths have been reported in Zanzibar since 2009.

While malaria has historically been a problem in sub-Saharan Africa, places like Zanzibar are making great strides towards eradicating the disease through the use of new technology and tracking methods. These methods have effectively eliminated malaria in Zanzibar, and with the use of surveillance officers like Sefu, malaria can be similarly eradicated on the African mainland.

Chasen Turk

Photo: Flickr

blast_fishingFishermen in Zanzibar used to use blast fishing, which is an illegal fishing technique using explosives to maximize catch. In combination with climate change, blast fishing threatens the coastal ecosystem, Mariculture and the local economy of Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Identifying the problem, the World Bank launches the SWIOFish program to protect priority fisheries in the African region. Guided by the program, increasing fishermen in Zanzibar turn to ecotourism and seaweed farming to conserve the coastal ecosystem, protect Zanzibar’s fisheries and grow the local economy.

“Blast fishing destroys the fish habitats underwater, where fish reproduce, and that has had a big impact, especially on us who use ring nets to fish,” says a 32-year-old fisherman and added that, “the number of fish has drastically reduced we are not able to catch many fish like before.”

“We face many challenges,” says Ramia Tlia, project coordinator of SWIOFish. “Blast fishing ruins the entire ecosystem and biodiversity by turning coral reef into ashes and destroying all kinds of fish species. Illegal fishing by industrial trawlers is another issue that, along with the volatility of climate change, deeply impacts livelihoods in the region.”

In order to conserve the coastal ecosystem and protect the fisheries in the southwest Indian Ocean, the World Bank identified key high-value fisheries and current obstacles to marine fisheries in these areas and launched the SWIOFish program.

The new South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Governance and Shared Growth Program (SWIOFish) is aimed to improve the management effectiveness of selected priority fisheries at the regional, national and community levels. It contributes to the World Bank Group’s corporate goals of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity in a sustainable fashion.

The program includes Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Tanzania and Seychelles. SWIOFish in Tanzania, for example, focuses on tuna, prawns, small pelagics, octopus, reef fisheries and mariculture, such as seaweed, so as to strengthen the local employment on the economy of fisheries and mariculture.

Seaweed fishing was established a long time ago in Zanzibar and has been one of its key exports since the early 1990s. However, due to climate change, the slowly-warming water reduces seaweed. Last year, they lost four tons of seaweed due to warmer weather. In order to conserve the coastal ecosystem, fishermen in Zanzibar embrace seaweed farming and advocate ecotourism.

The SWIOFish program is based on coastal community involvement and cooperates with the government in the daily management of marine resources. The opportunities of ecotourism have increased since communities started participating in the management of the Menai Bay Conservation Area, which is a popular haven for whale tourism, fishing and diving, and Jozani Chwaka Park, which is famous for its mangroves and rare Colobus Monkeys.

Based on the good governance from SWIOFish program, ecotourism and seaweed farming, it’s possible to transform livelihoods, protect fisheries and develop the economy-based, local fisheries sectors in Zanzibar.

– Shengyu Wang
Photo: reefkeeping