At the southern end of the Quirimbas archipelago off the coast of northern Mozambique, Ibo Island is considered by many to be the crown jewel of the island chain. The area is home to some of the most pristine and unexplored island reef ecosystems in the Indian Ocean
, providing habitat for a wide range of marine life, including whale sharks (Rhincodon typus
), humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae
), and dugong (Dugong dugon
). Six threatened bird species and five Endangered or Critically Endangered species
of marine turtle are known to live on or around the island. Adding to its richness, Ibo is one of the main inhabited islands of the archipelago and has a vibrant history, hosting a unique culture that blends indigenous, Portuguese, and Arab influences.
A Local Eye Toward Conservation
Located within the Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa Biodiversity Hotspot, Ibo's region is a crucial area for conservation efforts. The Mozambique government officially recognized this fact in 2002 by creating the Quirimbas Archipelago National Park which encompasses both marine and terrestrial areas, including Ibo Island. Through the Verde Ventures investment fund, which supplies low-interest loans to conservation-oriented businesses in priority areas, Conservation International (CI) is helping to protect the island's biodiversity and support its human communities.
The island's 4,000 inhabitants live primarily in small villages, with most making their living from fishing, agriculture, or, more recently, the blossoming tourism industry. Ibo residents have long had an eye toward conservation. The national park was created largely due to requests from local communities for protection of their marine areas which were being threatened by fishers traveling from other countries and parts of Mozambique. Yet these residents have also historically presented a threat to the area's biodiversity; poverty has often contributed to slash-and-burn agriculture, unsustainable fishing, hunting of marine turtles for meat, and killing sharks to sell their fins to Chinese markets.
Give Them a Place to Lodge
To combat these environmental problems and help ensure good management of the national park on and around Ibo, CI is working to support the development of sustainable tourism. In November 2005, Verde Ventures invested nearly $500,000 in WildLife Adventures, an ecologically friendly tour operator, to finance the development of a tourism lodge on Ibo Island. Verde Ventures also collaborated with the United Nations Development Program's Equator Initiative to secure a grant that will provide guide and language training to the local community, establish a community trust fund to finance conservation projects, and support the creation of micro-enterprises that provide services to the lodge in exchange for conservation stewardship by the local community.
The project's benefits to biodiversity and the local community are many and wide ranging. The establishment of a permanent center for ecotourism on the island will bring a long-term and sustainable means of generating income for islanders, while conserving traditional culture by offering visits to the local village to learn about traditional dancing and craft production. The company will implement educational programs on the benefits of tourism and environmental protection, helping locals make the connection between increased tourism and the protection of local marine life such as sharks and sea turtles.
When Tourists Come, Islanders Benefit
Perhaps most importantly, the project involves monitoring and managing tourism activities to ensure the protection of the sensitive ecosystems and biodiversity of the region. The lodge will help enforce regulations for the 2,900-square-mile Quirimbas National Park, and locals will participate through community patrols in conjunction with the park officials.
Ibo Island lodge will directly employ some 30 permanent staff, and will require the services of 20 to 30 more individuals from Ibo working for third-party vendors providing food, supplies, and services to the lodge. In this impoverished area, a single salary may support an extended family of up to 20 people. In all, the salaries of these 50 to 60 residents could support up to 1,200 people, a significant portion of the islands population. Along with the direct economic benefits will come a reduced reliance on destructive agricultural and fishing practices.
Local craftsmen will also experience positive effects of the lodge and the tourists it brings; Ibo is known for the fine work of its traditional silversmiths. The lodge will operate a program to ensure the quality of the raw materials provided to these artists. The islands coffee and produce growers, and fishers will see the impacts as well; the lodge serves sustainably produced local foods as often as possible.
Attracted to Ibo because of its idyllic atmosphere and ghostly ruins of the islands historic town, including three Portuguese forts and numerous other landmark buildings, visitors bring to the island an appreciation of its environment and history. In turn, they leave behind a measurable economic benefit to the communities across the island and a promise that this unique place will be protected.