A United Kingdom-based firm, Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), has committed £3 million ( about Sh8.91 billion) to a project, which aims at protecting fish in the Indian Ocean Island of Pemba from environmental impacts.
Known as the Pemba Channel Small Pelagic Fishery under Climate Threat, the project aims to control weather changes that threaten mackerels, sardines and anchovies in the Indian Ocean in Zanzibar.
The project has been started by the Sustainable Oceans, Livelihoods and Food Security through Increased Capacity in Ecosystem research in the Western Indian Ocean (Solstice-Wio) in its living marine resources and impacts of climate change programme.
It will be implemented by GCRF and other local institutions including the Institute of Marine Sciences in Zanzibar, Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute (Tafiri) and World Wide Fund for nature (WWF), Tanzanian office.
The four-year project will use robots, modelling, remote sensing, field observations and socio-economic studies to identify key environmental and human activities threatening species and address climatic pressures on fisheries, according to the Project Director, Dr Katya Popova.
She added that the project will also help to collect data and information on fisheries.
“As climate change is now considered a major threat in many sectors, we have dedicated the funds to the project as measures to manage its effects in the western Indian Ocean block. Zanzibar is our case study for Tanzania,” she told The Citizen in an interview during the Wiomsa scientific symposium.
According to her, the project took off since October 1, 2017 and would be completed in 2021, with the money set for buying robots, which are to be planted under the water to identify weather conditions and give information and data on the population of fishes.
She said, robots, modelling, remote sensing, field observations and socio-economic studies under the project are set to help regulators and policy makers in the sector to see the mishaps which may occur in the area and come up with a plan to prevent them.
“The robot has a water-proof camera and weather sensing device that uses a computer system to sense the weather condition and population growth of fishes at the specified area,” she said.
She said, the project will therefore help policy makers to come up with relevant policies that will guide and regulate the sector and collect data easily.
According to her, the robot will be placed in water and be operated by computer systems. The operator will be stationed in a certain room and will see what is happening.
She said using the camera and the device implanted with the robot, the operator would be able to determine early signs of weather condition changes and report them before their effects are huge.
Ms Popova told The Citizen that besides Tanzania the project would also be launched in Kenya and South Africa as a pilot study. Furthermore, it will go to other western Indian Ocean country members, making sure that the ecosystem and stability of fishing is consistent.
The president of Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (Wiomsa), Dr Jacqueline Uku, said that marine robotics was currently becoming an ever more reliable and easy-to-use way of making environmental observations and research compared to other models like ships.
She said the West Indian Ocean region decided to use the robots as earth observation satellites to monitor the ocean daily and collect a wide range of marine data for future plans and making policy.
“We expect to install the system in all other Western Indian Ocean country members to explore regional ecosystem dynamics, gain insights into reasons for variability and change and deliver predictions to inform policy development, resource management and adaption to future change,” she said.
She cited Zanzibar for small pelagic fishes – mackerels, sardines and anchovies – for their importance to local communities as a source of food security, nutrition and livelihoods.
“Despite its importance for coastal economies and food security and nutrition to Tanzanians, there is a lack of data and information about fisheries which hampers effective management,” she said.
Ms Uku added that Solstice will now be able to identify the main drivers of variability and change as well as advice people engaged in fishery and the government on how to optimize the use of the species for economics and food security.