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Training a new generation of ocean guardians in Mozambique

13 December 2021

A blog by Metolo Foyet, Commonwealth Correspondent

This Commonwealth Secretariat blog is part of a series launched at Youth4Climate and continuing during COP26 and beyond, featuring young people from across the Commonwealth who are leading the way on local climate action. View the full blog series.

The blogs are written by fellow youth citizens from the Commonwealth Correspondents network. To be part of this series, contact us.

Mozambique is home to the fourth longest coast in Africa and some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet, including more than 1% of global coral reefs and 2% of global mangrove forests.

In the south-eastern part of the country, lies the Inhambane region, also known as Terra de Boa Gente (Land of Good People). It is in this paradise-like landscape that young climate leader Razaque Quive is raising awareness of the threats to Mozambique’s marine environment through the Ocean Guardians.

By combining conservation education, swimming and water safety skills, Razaque is helping coastal communities develop sustainable fishing practices and explore alternative livelihood opportunities beyond fishing.

This group of young people supporting each other to protect the ocean in Mozambique, can act as a blueprint for implementing effective educational approaches to marine conservation around the world.

Ocean guardians

During school, Razaque didn’t know much about marine conservation. He studied English Teaching at the Universidade Pedagógica de Moçambique and became an illustrator for children’s books.

But Razaque soon observed coastal erosion and human-made environmental changes happening in his region and wanted to raise awareness. As he learned about ways to tackle his community’s challenges, his interest in becoming a marine conservationist grew, leading him to join the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF).

Founded by two doctors and members of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, Andrea Marshall and Simon Pierce, in Mozambique in 2003, the MMF is a non-profit organisation on a mission to save ‘ocean giants’ – sharks, rays, whales and sea turtles – through research, education and sustainable conservation.

Razaque joined the organisation in 2016 and soon spearheaded the launch of a programme for 16-21 year-olds, the Coral Reef Club, aimed at promoting public education about marine conservation and local training in alternative livelihoods to fishing.

He then initiated the Ocean Guardians programme, which promotes gender equality and empowers young people to connect to, and be custodians of, their underwater world.

Through the programme, children and young adults are educated about the impact of climate change on coral reefs and encouraged to value the Mozambican coastline, as well as advocate for positive change within their communities.

New opportunities

Ocean Guardians also focuses on preparing young people for employment opportunities because many youth from coastal communities do not get to attend university, or enrol in professional training programs or apprenticeships.

To ensure effective youth engagement, the programme develops activities such as internships that are based on the young people's specific interests. Razaque explains: “We have arranged for internships in partnership with business owners, according to what the young people we train want.

“In the past, we taught students about marine conservation, swimming or first aid. We would just train a group one after another, without monitoring progress. Today, we follow up and grow with them. They start the program from grade six and are still with us throughout their academic life, including internships. Now we can clearly follow and see them apply what they learned in our program.”

The needs-based program is shaped by a survey which is completed before the curriculum is designed, to identify what young people are interested in. The team then matches their skills to secure internship spots with partners prior to the training.

As many young people are interested in diving, Ocean Guardians connects them with diving centres where they learn how to become diving masters – a skill that is vital in the tourism sector of Mozambique.

The programme also encourages youth to join eco-tourism activities by offering training and facilitating placements in sustainable fish farming, permaculture, research and eco-tour guiding.

Equality in the community

In the past in this region, only men joined community meetings and took decisions – without involving women or young people. But today more women and young people actively take part in marine conservation initiatives within the communities in which MMF operates.

Razaque says that of those trained in the Ocean Guardians programme, 60% are women and 40% men, a positive change which is also being seen in the increasing levels of youth engagement.

“More young people are interested in the topics discussed in community meetings, especially regarding fisheries. As a result, more young people are now participating in community matters and decision making within their communities.”

He explains how the Ocean Guardians work has clearly changed local youth engagement around environmental issues in particular.

“Whenever we promote events, for instance World Ocean Day activities, every participant in our programmes take part in the celebration. We do a lot of activities they like, such as beach clean-ups for example. A lot of young people attend and want to show that they really cherish the ocean. They want to say it loudly. Such a thing didn’t happen six years ago.”

Education and employment

As well as positively impacting young people, MMF activities have also benefited coastal communities in general.

For example community fisheries councils (Conselho Comunitário de Pesca, or CCPs) existed on paper but were not implemented, especially in the Inhambane region, where there were no organised groups to manage marine resources locally.

But through the Ocean Ambassadors – a conservation initiative involving adult community members – and with support from the Coral Reef Club, the MMF revitalised these local CCP groups in Tofo, Barra, Rocha and Bazaruto Island.

“The fishermen are now organised. It is now easier for them to collaborate and do the necessary to protect the marine resources. Organising these groups helped us contribute to the protection and management of marine resources at the community level,” says Razaque.

The Coral Reef Club also teaches about alternative livelihoods and business initiatives to fishing, in order to reduce the amout of fishing and its impact on the environment.

Between 2012 and 2020, Ocean Guardians trained 2,802 mini marine conservationists, facilitated the training of 952 new swimmers, and nine of its ecotourism graduates have secured paid internships for careers in marine tourism. Nine schools have also worked with MMF in Mozambique.  

But Razaque says his greatest achievement is not only to have participated in the creation of the Coral Reef Club, but to have laid a successful monitoring and evaluation system that allows the programme to sustainably measure the impact of its activities.

Challenges

But while the Ocean Guardians has seen much success, it still faces challenges. Because Mozambique is a poorer country, there are multiple barriers preventing citizens from protecting the environment.

More than half of the population live on the coast and 85% of all of Mozambique’s fish are caught by small-scale fishers, which means this sector has a major impact on national food security, as well as local economies.

Razaque sees education as a solution. He says, “People rely on fishing for their livelihoods; if they are only told to stop fishing in a way that negatively affects the oceans, without being offered other options for their livelihoods, they will keep doing what they think is good for them to survive.

“But marine resources can be used sustainably. We don’t want people to stop fishing, although when we work with new communities, they think we are coming to tell them to stop. That is not the idea. We rather promote alternative livelihoods in order to help diversify revenue streams. [...] In that sense, illegal and unsustainable fishing practices that have been common could gradually reduce.”

There is also a lack of educational organisations focused on marine conservation in Mozambique and the topic is not included school curriculums, which further adds to the challenge of raising awareness.

Environmental awareness is further hindered by the limited use of technology and social media in the country due to slow infrastructure development, which could otherwise serve to attract youth to marine conservation.

Enabling environment

While Mozambique may still have a way to go in the field of marine conservation, the Government has made noticeable efforts to support the sector.

In 2020, the Government of Mozambique, via its Ministry of Sea, Inland Waters and Fisheries, approved the revised Fisheries Maritime Regulation, a landmark regulation that empowers community-based fisheries management while paving the way for healthier ocean ecosystems, by giving coastal communities the formalised right to access and steward coastal waters for their fisheries.

The regulation extends protection to an array of threatened marine species, including whale sharks and manta rays as well as dolphins and other ocean giants.

Yet while Razaque supports the enacted law, which in his opinion supports his work and accelerates progress on marine conservation, he says the dual task of raising awareness is still critical to success.

“Education is key. If you have the law but people are not educated to follow the law, it won’t work. We need to work hard in order to have more people aware of what is going on in our environments, and the importance of sustainability.”

A new generation

As we enter the most important decade for climate action in history, Razaque believes young people everywhere must be given a voice, if we are to create a safe future for our global communities and ecosystems.

“We need to change our behaviour toward the environment in general and inspire positive change in the new generation. We need to involve them because they are the ones that are going to use and manage the ocean in the future.

“We need programs that will train and empower many young people as well as adults to involve their children in decision making. They have ideas they can share and innovations that can help in what the wider community is trying to achieve.”

Razaque’s inspiring story mirrors the educational mission of the Coral Reef Club. He became interested in marine conservation at a young age and now supports other young people to discover and respect the ocean – and bring change to their communities today and for generations to come.

This Commonwealth Secretariat blog is part of a series launched at Youth4Climate and continuing during COP26 and beyond, featuring young people from across the Commonwealth who are leading the way on local climate action. View the full blog series.

The blogs are written by fellow youth citizens from the Commonwealth Correspondents network. To be part of this series, contact us

Share this blog series on social media using hashtags #CommonwealthForClimate, #CommonwealthYouth and #BlueCharter.

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