Environmental data, stepping stone for sustainable change

Trash littering Bagamoyo mangroves in September 2017.

Trash littering Bagamoyo mangroves in September 2017.

By Deanna Cook, Administrator, Bagamoyo Beach Lovers

It would be difficult to recognise the beach in the coastal town of Bagamoyo, Tanzania today compared to what it looked like just a few short years ago. While the shore is still spotted with broken fishing nets, plastic wrappers, and household waste that get washed in with the tide, the beach is relatively clean. It’s not spotless, and there’s definitely room for improvement, but it’s come a long way thanks to a local beach cleaning organisation called Bagamoyo Beach Lovers (BBL). Unfortunately, up until late last year, they had no data to support that conclusion.

In September 2017, a local international development consultancy offered to do a pro-bono baseline study and report on the Bagamoyo beach and marine environment. The purpose of the project was multifold:

  • Capture current data and perceptions in order to accurately measure impact over time.
  • Use an action research approach and engage in stakeholder mapping to raise awareness about the various environmental issues plaguing the community and build a robust stakeholder network to effect change.
  • Develop sustainable management structures to build institutional memory and internal controls that make the organisation more effective and accountable.
  • Attract ongoing grant funding, donations and sponsorships by clearly demonstrating the accomplishments, need, and potential for growth.
  • Create a roadmap for improvement and suggestions for the future of the organization.

The project surveyed almost 800 members of the community and helped to raise the profile of BBL’s work through collecting and analysing data about the current state of the environment. There were three different survey instruments developed: one for tourists or visitors, one for workers in the fishing industry, and one for the general community. They also conducted interviews with 11 government offices involved in environmental cleaning and management. Other data collected included GPS coordinates taken along the shoreline every 50 metres for a stretch of 2 kilometres to record tide levels, and photographs documenting physical evidence of the sea breaching the shoreline, such as broken seawalls and fallen palm trees.

The perceptions captured during the data collection were interesting, but not altogether surprising. Survey respondents who were already aware and passionate about local waste management challenges were quite receptive to discussion, and keen to get involved. Those on the opposite end of the spectrum however, who had no interest in the environment whatsoever, were much harder to engage. It’s nearly impossible to change someone’s mind or behaviour in just a single interaction. At the end of the survey, respondents were asked if they wanted to leave their contact information and whether they gave permission to be contacted in the future. Those who agreed were then added to BBL’s contact list, so they were able to reach out to them again to invite them to participate in World Cleanup Day.

The final report amalgamated all of the collected data along with background research on global and local marine and environmental issues. Topics covered included coral reefs, mangroves, eroding coastlines, climate change, illegal fishing, pollution, and Tanzanian solutions, among others.  The report appendices included valuable resources such as the five-year strategic plan for the local livestock and fisheries department and potential partnership or funding opportunities for the organisation. Overall, the report presents a thorough, well-defined picture of the current state of the beach and marine environment and the challenges BBL faces in their work.

Following the completion of the report, BBL attempted to meet with the municipal District Commissioner and District Environmental Officer—the highest members of the local government—to present their findings and seek further support in combating the issues. At the time of this writing, they have still not been successful in securing this meeting. The report has also not aided BBL in securing any additional funding or sponsorships to date, as was initially hoped.

Despite this, the project helped BBL formalise their operations, build out their contact database and network, and encouraged them to finally set up a board of directors. The board of directors consists of a director at a local college, a retired head of the municipal Livestock and Fisheries department, and a prominent anthropologist, all of whom brought a unique perspective and skillset to the table. The board also fosters connections with other networks in the community: the college director provided a link to college students, the Livestock and Fisheries department head was able to speak on behalf of the fishermen, and the anthropologist helped connect the organisation with artistic, recreational and nonprofit groups.

Although the baseline survey and report didn’t quite achieve its intended impact, the process of collecting data, speaking with local stakeholders, and implementing systems was absolutely invaluable to BBL. It helped the small organisation grow and build relationships in ways that are hard to quantify, and raised public awareness about the beach and marine environment. All in all, it was another stepping stone on the path to creating sustainable change in the Bagamoyo community.

Bagamoyo Beach Lovers is a small community-based organisation in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. Founded in early 2016 in response to the devastating amount of trash piling up along the shore, the organisation is now the leading beach management unit in the coastal region. Today, they work with local, national and international partners to achieve their goals: cleaning the beaches and oceans, advocating for sustainable consumption and waste management practices, and engaging and educating the community about the environment.

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