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News item dated 13 Nov 2017

Did you know, Mafia Island Marine Park is one of the only marine parks in the world that includes land, as well as sea? Well now you do. So, what does this mean for the work that we carry out on the island? As well as monitoring the fish, corals, invertebrates and seagrass that live in the ocean, it’s also so important to see what’s happening on land. In the case of Mafia Island, this means looking at the birds, insects, plants and butterflies!

Since being in Mafia, I’ve learnt that butterflies provide the ecosystem with a great service throughout the world through pollination, making them an essential food chain component. By being pollinating agents, they indicate to us the health and quality of their host plants, and therefore the ecosystem as a whole.

Lepidoptera is the order of insects that includes all butterflies and moths, and we have over 1,500 species of lepidoptera that live in Tanzania. The exact number of species that live on Mafia is still unknown, but there’s predicted to be a handful of endemic species that live here, as well as the butterflies and moths that live on the mainland too.

By conducting butterfly surveys, we can further monitor, and measure the biodiversity of the ecosystem here, as they are great indicators. With butterflies in decline all over the world, it’s important to keep a record of the abundance and diversity of the species found here, especially with the continued development of Utende, our local village, and the island, which could lead to more potential threats to the butterflies’ habitat. For example, throughout Europe, we’ve already lost 50% of the butterflies there, due to habitat loss and anthropogenic development.

At the moment, we’re at the early stages of our surveying, trialling methodology and data collection techniques. Near our camp, we have three sites where we monitor the butterflies within the marine park, and we plan to survey in the main town of Kilindoni too. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll be able to expand, and look at the ecosystems on nearby islands, Juani and Chole, as well as in the north of Mafia, at Kanga beach, to see if we can find a difference in abundance and diversity throughout the island.

By Jess Floyd - Wildlife Conservation Intern

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