Bazaruto Archipelago: an Area of Globally Outstanding Conservation

31 March 2015

The Bazaruto Archipelago National Park is protected as a conservation area and national park (declared in 1971), including the coral reefs surrounding the islands, making it one of the five official marine protected areas in Mozambique.



The park is a crucial achievement in global marine conservation, being Mozambique’s first declared marine protected area and one of the large marine parks in the Indian Ocean. The archipelago has earned its reputation as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ and its beautiful beaches and reefs attract substantial visitor numbers to the Park.

The Archipelago has a wide variety of terrestrial and marine habitats including coastal sand dunes, rocky and sandy shores, coral reefs, mangrove forests, and seagrass meadows. It boasts among its wildlife, 180 species of birds, 45 species of reptiles, endemic butterflies, suni antelope and freshwater crocodiles. Around 2000 species of fish have been recorded for the area, including reef fish such as surgeon, moorish idols, parrot, angel and butterfly fish to name but a few. Marine turtles, game fish and devil rays are regularly seen. The Bazaruto Archipelago is also home to the largest population of dugongs along the eastern coastline of Africa, south of the Red Sea. 

The Archipelago’s seagrass environment constitutes an area of Globally Outstanding status within the East African Marine Ecoregion. The Archipelago itself supports a resident population of about 4,000 people located in seven communities. More than 70% of the population is directly dependant on fishing and fishing-related industries as a primary livelihood and base for economic and social development.

Size and location

The Bazaruto Archipelago consists of five idyllic islands: Bazaruto, Benguerra, Magaruque, Santa Carolina and Bangue. The three larger islands (Bazaruto, Benguerra, Magaruque) were part of an extensive sand-spit peninsula, once attached to the mainland, but since separated as the continent dipped into the Indian Ocean over millions of years. Only Santa Carolina is a true Rock Island.

The Bazaruto Archipelago is located around 15 km off the coast of Mozambique opposite the town of Vilanculos on the coastline of Inhambane Province. Bazaruto Island is the largest at around 12 000 ha. Next are Benguerra at 2 500ha, Margaruque and Santa Carolina at 208 ha and 59 ha respectively and then the tiny island of Bangue at 5ha.

Flora and fauna

This protected area is home to whale sharks, manta rays, dolphins and whales (hump back) as well as the mysterious and rare dugong. Five species of Indian Ocean turtle breed on the beaches, while offshore, sailfish and marlin living in deeper waters surrounding the park, provide spectacular game fishing opportunities.

Globally dugongs are ranked as vulnerable (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014). However, in the Western Indian Ocean, numbers are very low. Recent population estimates indicate that the area in and around the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park (BANP) in Mozambique retain a dugong (Dugong dugon) population of no more than 250 individuals. These dugongs represent the Western Indian Ocean’s single remaining viable population.

Dugongs occur in shallow tropical and subtropical coastal and island waters of the Indo-Pacific. The sirenians are seagrass specialists and frequent shallow coastal bays, mangrove channels, and the lee of large inshore islands. The dugong’s fecundity is highly sensitive to the availability of adequate seagrass forage.

Challenges and opportunities

Due to limited alternative income opportunities provided in the Archipelago, the resident population and ensuing anthropogenic pressures have over the years exerted extreme pressure on the area’s marine, coastal, and terrestrial resources. The heavy utilization of the ocean’s resources by a population of around 4,000 people resulted in bycatch and seagrass destruction. The reefs are under pressure too, suffering anchor damage and being over-fished by illegal means.

The main threats to the dugong population as well as many other species protected in the National Park are unregulated and illegal fishing activities. Of particular concern is the use of gill nets, which constitute an unselective fishing method and therefore impact severely on fish assemblages in and around the Park. Gill nets are also the most significant threat to dugongs, and their use is responsible for dugong entanglement and drowning.

Information on the location of key species and habitats in the park is crucial for its effective protection. In addition, constant and active engagement with communities living around the park is crucial to manage these threats. Both of these are elements of the BIOPAMA strategy for Eastern and Southern Africa to support protected areas in this region.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) assists the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park apply an enhanced Law Enforcement Strategy that has minimised dugong mortalities over the last 3 years, and effectively reduced illegal fishing activities within this marine protected area. The Dugong Emergency Protection is one of the EWT projects aiming to stabilise Bazaruto’s dugong population on the long term, by maintaining strengthened law enforcement operations, developing the park’s leaders, applying alternative income generating activities for local fishing communities, and by profiling the dugong as Mozambique’s flagship marine mammal.

Related News