When the owner, Robert Koski, and logistics specialist, Jan Van Deventer, visited Ilha do Fogo in Northern Mozambique back in 2014, their agenda was to look into setting up infrastructure for a boutique, five-star resort. However, what they discovered on the island changed the entire course of their plans.
One of the many victims was the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, and another, was the endangered green turtle. They came across several discarded turtle shells, upon which, there were markings that were evidently from harpoon points. What made this discovery even more alarming was that, unlike many locals who harvest turtles purely for sustenance, these poachers were selling the turtle meat to a Chinese buyer. They were also catching and smoking hundreds of fish to sell as food, with no regard for sustainable species.
The objective of building a resort on the island was put to one side, while several conservation and community projects were established.
Since the first visit, the team has set up a small anti-poaching unit, and this human presence has prevented further plundering. Previously, there had been no patrols or other human activity at the island, or, indeed, around most of the northern part of Mozambique. This gave poachers the freedom to carry out all illicit activity, without repercussion.
Now, the team is ready to develop the island for exclusive eco-tourism, so that we can subsidise the conservation and anti-poaching projects. With the island’s location being quite remote, getting building materials to the island requires a lot of planning and thought.
Ilha do Fogo is over 250kms from the nearest airport, with poorly maintained roads from that point to the nearest land base of Pebane. To get to the island from Pebane is another mission, requiring the use of local skippers and their boats.
The current strategy will see the development of eight units on the island and these units will accommodate 28 guests. Although cyclones are rare in the area during Mozambique’s rainy season in January and February since the island is thankfully in the rain shadow of Madagascar, there still needs to be a consideration for the possibility of a storm. Therefore, anything erected on the island must be able to withstand a hurricane.
We want to reduce our carbon footprint where feasible and make sure that every time any of the vehicles is set to make a trip to either our land base or the island, it is as full as possible. The road to Pebane is extremely poor in places, and very badly maintained, adding to the complexity of planning since we will have to navigate these roads with heavy loads of vital construction goods. We will need to include in our strategy how we will get everything over to the island, utilising the small dhows we currently use for the channel crossing from Pebane.
Currently, there is no fresh water on the island, but we will be constructing a rainwater harvesting system, using sundomes, and also introducing a small desalination plant. Additionally, we have been in talks with some renowned biologists and we are eager to launch a marine research facility on the island, with the purpose of collecting data to feed into international projects.
There is a lot of work ahead, and we will be keeping our followers abreast of the construction as it unfolds. We’ve already had a hugely positive impact on the poaching activity, which has ceased since we established occupancy. However, this is not a solution. The poachers have likely moved to one of the other uninhabited islands close by. Once we have instituted a base on the island, another goal will be to set up patrols on the neighbouring islands in the archipelago and monitor activity in the area.
If you’re an advance+ SCUBA diver interested in an exclusive, bucket-list adventure tour to our Fire Island, please get in touch. You will have the unique opportunity to explore the incredible fauna and flora around the island’s 150km of awe-inspiring, flawless reef.
Look out for Part Two of our blog, coming soon…