Last year was an eventful year for us, with many highlights to celebrate: from new collaborations and partnerships, the establishment of an educational food garden at the Benguerra Island primary school, to sighting large groups of humpback whales and teaching volunteers and interns how we conduct marine science research.
January & February
We ended 2020 with a very exciting project, namely the new BCSS website. As we revised the branding of BCSS slightly in 2020, a fresh website would encapsulate the fresh colours, typography and new photography. On the 12th of February we were ready to launch the brand new BCSS website, containing the newest information about our projects, research and methodology and marine science programs.
In February we established a partnership with the local primary school on Benguerra Island and African Parks in regards to an educational food garden. Led by our Permaculture Manager Chloë Wallace, we planted seedling trays in preparation for the winter growing season and built a tool shed. The goal of the project is to have both students and adults learn about permaculture practices and gardening basics – and for us to learn more about native species and how best to nurture them.
In March, we obtained a national dive centre license as a result of the completion of our test tank. The license enables us to conduct quality underwater research and broadens our goals in general, as we are able to train our staff and interns to dive in our 5-star PADI Dive Centre. The test tank is mainly used to examine and service research gear on site, but is also used for our new programme: scientific dive master internships.
We hosted a permaculture workshop for the Benguerra Island primary school teachers; the weekend was filled with permaculture theory and practical lectures from our permaculture manager Chloë Wallace and permaculture expert Tichafa Makovere. After the lectures, we finished building the schools’ food garden together with a group of community members, parents and friends.
The goal of the primary school food gardens is to educate children and community members on permaculture best practices. Permaculture is the concept of developing agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.
A four-page feature in the German National Geographic was an exciting highlight of April. The magazine described the research project of BCSS’s Chief Scientist Dr. Mario Lebrato, regarding the finding that sinking of gelatinous zooplankton biomass increases deep carbon transfer efficiency globally. The research was first published in the AGU Journal of Global Biogeochemical Cycles and emphasizes the importance of gelatinous and transparent creatures to sink carbon (CO2) in the ocean, since these organisms have long been overlooked for the functionality of sinking carbon.
BCSS was also featured in the IUCN report ‘Coastal Blue Carbon Stocks in Tanzania and Mozambique’, as the field station aided students Sara Forsbergs, Manuela Amone’s and Laura Chivale’s to collect data for their research on blue carbon back in 2019. The research refers to carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere, buried and accumulated as organic matter in soils, in the scope of a Master thesis and PhD chapter.
Kisawa Sanctuary opened its doors to guests for their “soft opening” in April, offering a unique experience where wilderness and wellbeing come together, careful and comfortably. The property was founded by Nina Flohr on the south end of Benguerra Island. In founding Kisawa Sanctuary and Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies (BCSS), Nina has created a new, symbiotic business model whereby (for profit) hospitality contributes directly to (non profit) marine science and research. Inversely, the data and knowledge output of BCSS informs environmental decisions of the sanctuary, ranging from construction and design choices, seasonal marine life and ocean awareness, to guest experiences that are harmonious and meaningful.
Kisawa Sanctuary is located on the south end of Benguerra Island. A secluded area dotted with luxury villas, each with their own beach and stunning sea views.
The first humpback whale was spotted early, sighted in the Bazaruto Archipelago on the 27th of May. It indicated an early arrival of the mammals, as the season typically starts at the end of June. Most humpback whales visit the archipelago in July, August and September, using the coastal waters for mating, calving and nursing.
With our founding principles being to understand, protect and guarantee, in the best possible way, marine science in Eastern Africa marine ecosystems, we started developing our Ocean Observatory platform in May. The aim of the Ocean Observatory is to share the data BCSS collects continuously with individuals far and wide, so it may benefit as many people as possible. We are currently well underway to realising this goal, and hope to have the data accessible through our website in the next few months.
We dived into the world of sharks and rays and wrote about the importance of these species in Mozambique. The article highlights their crucial roles within marine ecosystems, as they maintain an ecological balance within the food chain and control the variety and amounts of fish. Mozambique is considered a hotspot for these animals, with approximately 147 ray and sharks species roaming the countries’ waters. We emphasise the need for data, research and cooperation to safeguard the future of these species in the Mozambican channel.
“Elasmobranchs are generally apex predators; pivotal species in any environment. The Mozambican coastline is one of the most important shark hotspots in the world and includes endangered hammerhead sharks. Any type of data on shark species is of very high value. There is a high scientific merit in learning more about sharsk, so they can be better protected.”
– Dr. Mario Lebrato, Chief Scientist and Director of BCSS
As we launched the Marine Science Interning and Volunteering programs in the beginning of 2021, by June we had a group of volunteers and interns developing their fieldwork skills, learning about scuba diving for research and organising workshops on mastering presentations about interesting marine science subjects. It was amazing to have an ambitious group of individuals on site assisting with our day-to-day activities.
We also developed a sustainable waste and food management plan for our sister property Kisawa Sanctuary. We shared our expertise and experience regarding waste management in this unique island location. Included in the strategy was an upscaled replica of BCSS’s full-circle food waste composting strategy; food waste from the restaurant’s kitchen is turned into rich compost that is then used in the vegetable gardens on-site. The vegetable gardens now produce fresh, organically grown food that are used in the kitchens of both the restaurants and the staff canteen.
In July BCSS started working together with ZuBlu’s Ecoventures program; a program that involves a selection of conservation-focused experiences to help connect eco-aware divers to NGOs, so they can contribute to marine conservation and research. To celebrate the partnership, ZuBlu interviewed our Media & Communications manager Iris Uijttewaal, who spoke about her passion for using storytelling as a tool to give the underwater world a voice and spread awareness about pressing issues that our oceans face.
On the 27th of July, we celebrated World Mangrove Day at BCSS by visiting several mangrove forest areas in the Bazaruto Archipelago with volunteers and interns. The team provided them with a hands-on workshop on the unique ecosystems, highlighting their function and importance to the ocean and for the fight against climate change. We also published an article explaining the complexity of mangrove forests, packed with interesting facts.
Mangrove forests absorb four times as much carbon as normal forests do, making them an incredibly efficient tool in the fight against climate change.
As August is peak humpback whale season, we were happy to conclude that the number of (early) sightings of the animals was noticeably than higher last year. With 41 sightings in July and August, the team considered the number of humpback whales a positive indication of the health of the species. We observed spectacular behaviour in the archipelago; from mothers and calves breaching to pectoral fin and tail slapping on the surface.
With continuous marine debris collections being conducted, the BCSS team analysed the data and found interesting findings. Certain types of debris appeared to be more prevalent in different habitats; with rubber (e.g. flip flops) found in much higher quantities on beach habitats compared to seagrass meadows or mangrove forests, where clothing was found more often. We also found crustaceans and brittle stars seeking shelter in cans and bottles.
The BCSS team observed interesting behaviour of scalloped hammerheads, identifying 20 individuals on the ocean surface in the Bazaruto Archipelago. Typically, hammerheads stay at depths between 100 and 200 meters, so the team was surprised to see so many patrolling with their dorsal fin above sea level.
We ended the month with the incredible news of a sighting of a pod of orcas. On the 25th of September, four individuals were identified a few miles northeast from Benguerra Island. The group surfaced several times, but moved mostly at a depth of 10-20 meters, heading south. Orcas are the most widely distributed of all dolphins and whales and can be found in every ocean, though to see them passing through the Bazaruto Archipelago is a rare sight.
October was filled with exciting (off-shore) research expeditions, with the aim to collect data. During these expeditions, the team sighted huge pods of spinner dolphins, the last humpback whales of the season, bull sharks and much more. All sightings are being entered into our ocean observatory database, with details like exact location, sex, behaviour and estimated size.
In the spirit of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), we wrote an article about the issues linked to the ocean that arise from climate change and the importance of research and continuous data in order to find solutions to these problems. We elaborated on the impact of climate change on the West Indian ocean, the specific challenges Mozambique faces as a direct result of this, and we identified which research themes of the BCSS Ocean Observatory are linked to those.
On November 18 and 19, Vilankulo hosted the second Crescendo Azul (Growing Blue) Conference. The conference is part of Mozambique’s commitment to further Sustainable Development Goal 14: ‘conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’. BCSS was featured in a 20-minute documentary broadcasted at the event, which included video footage of the research station and an interview with the team. The aim of the conference was to promote the sharing of consultation, alignment and knowledge needed to implement SDG 14’s remit in Mozambique and the Western Indian Ocean region.
We hope your 2021 was as eventful as ours, filled with inspiration, incredible wildlife sightings and new insights in the field of marine science and beyond. With a big 2022 planned for BCSS, we look forward to the next 12 months!