When it started as trial alternative income generating activity in 2006, financed by USAID through SUCCESS project, no one could imagine that one day it would grow and attract more people to engage in growing half pearl (Mabe).
Farmed pearls were for the first time harvested in November 2007, generating more than $3000 from selling 29 good pearls. It was the gained profit which opened peoples’ minds and attracted more villagers living in Fumba peninsular and the neighbouring villages to engage in growing oysters for pearl production. In 2006, there was only one site; Bweleo, currently other two sites have been established within the area, one in Unguja Ukuu and the second at Nyamanzi, these farms are owned by a formal group of community members. The Nyamanzi site was used by a MSc student conducting a study on the feasibility of Black lip oysters (Pinctada margaritifera) focusing on spat collection and is now fully operated by the villagers. Unguja Ukuu, is a new site.
Presently, this type of culturing marine bivalve to produce pearls has been replicated in other coastal areas of the country. The number of small individual owned farms has also increased tremendously.
In Unguja, the market for pearls is quite substantial, the island receives hundreds of thousands tourists a year. Villagers sell their products to tourists in Kwale isles; a famous island in Menai bay. They also participate in different trade fairs in the country and region, in various festivals and cultural celebrations. All these events offer them an important opportunity to sell their prestigious pearls.
Increased group owned farms and individual farms as well as the increased number of people engaged in pearling pose enormous threats for oysters’ population in Menai Bay Conservation Area. This is because the growing of pearl oysters in the island relies entirely on the collection of adult animals from deep water. If too many adults are taken for pearl farming, they will become very rare or disappear and the whole industry would collapse.
To mitigate the risk, we resorted to spat collection (a way of harvesting young pearl oysters to avoid over fishing of the adult population). Spat collection is used as a main source of providing enough young pearl oysters that produce better pearls anyway; while avoiding harming adult oysters which are left to breed for sustainability of the initiative in the area.
30 metres spat collection lines, with several spat collectors have been installed in all the sites. Since spat are attracted by the nature of substrate, three different spat collectors made by rice bags pieces rolled together, coconut shells and rubber are deployed. Spat prefer settling on dark places so the rice bags are painted with black colour to influence the settlement of spats. Since pearl oysters spawn at different times each year, new spat collectors will be hung every month to test the right season to collect the most spat and to test different locations.