Dar es Salaam. Mafia Island’s gigantic whale sharks can attract many tourists and generate revenue, but transport snags and poor marketing are a hindrance, stakeholders have said.
WWF has reported that the island is the home to whale sharks weighing more than 20 tonnes and 18 metres long.
However, local stakeholders want transport hurdles to be tackled to attract more tourists.
Mafia Islands Lodge manager Iris Tosini says although the Mafia Marine Park is unique, its huge potential is grossly underexploited. “Gigantic whale sharks come here in big numbers every year, but still we don’t benefit from them.”
According to her, Mafia is the second in the world in attracting gigantic whale sharks after Mexico.
“We are approaching the peak season for tourist arrivals, but there are no indicators of receiving a big number of tourists.”
According to her, the island has more than 10 tourist hotels and resorts, but the number of visitors is low.
“Even as the peak season is about to end, less than 30 per cent of rooms are filled by the travellers.
She attributes the situation to poor and expensive flights from Dar es Salaam to Mafia.
Ms Tosini insists that marine transport snags have stagnated tourism in the island that has unique attractions such as fish hunting, diving and snorkelling.
A resident of Kilindoni in Mafia, Ms Wande William, says poor transport has been dogging the area for years, but no solution has been found. “Apart from lack of reliable boats, the Kilindoni berth is very poor,” she says.
She speaks about difficulties Mafia people face in travelling from Mafia to Nyamisati.
Tanzania Tourist Board principal public relations officer Godfrey Tengeneza acknowledges challenges limiting tourism development in Mafia, saying efforts have been underway to tackle them.
“Three years ago we sent experts to Mafia to study the problems. We are now implementing a five-year plan for revamping tourism on the islands, which is unique for travelers, to engage in diving and snorkeling with sharks,” he says.
“Whale sharks are social and calm if not disturbed or scared. They are not predators. They pose a tourism potential as they can swim alongside people,” reads part of WWF report.
WWF research shows up to eight whale shark-sightings can be recorded in a day by either viewing or swimming in such waters.
“Whale sharks tourism has emerged as one of major sources of income to the community and local authority in Mafia District,” the report reads.
Diving and snorkelling in the deep sea with whale sharks and other wonderful oceanic living things can attract many tourists, but they are not as useful activities as in Mexico, according to Ms Tosini. “The cost of living here is higher than in Dar es Salaam, because we get foodstuffs and other commodities from Dar es Salaam. This problem discourages potential visitors to come here in big number,” she says.
Mafia’s population of whale sharks has increased from about 100 in 2012 to 180 as of December 2017, according to WWF.