Sustainable Waste Management on Benguerra Island and Bazaruto

Marine debris and plastic pollution in and around the Bazaruto National Park. Scientific research, community projects, and Universal Plastics (UP) partnership goal. The aim of this project is to try and achieve common sustainability goals for the protection of oceans. Also, the regeneration of marine ecosystems removing plastic, fairly rewarding local communities for their efforts and making companies act upon their plastic footprint. 

Seven years ago, the Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies (BCSS) opened its doors on Benguerra Island in the Bazaruto Archipelago on a mission to protect the environment and local communities in Mozambique. BCSS is focusing on the plastic problem in the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park (BANP), doing beach clean-ups, collecting data in marine debris, and working with communities and global organizations. 

Group of people cleaning the beaches in Mozambique
Beach cleanups are vital as they prevent plastic and other trash from being deposited into the ocean and beyond the shores. [Photo credits @BCSS/Orlando Miranda_Salvador Colvee]
The Indian Ocean here is a sanctuary for diverse megafauna and their habitats and protecting them creates a positive ripple effect for all other species in the marine food chain. The BCSS believes in successful partnerships with similar-minded organizations to do their best for people and the planet. One of their committed partners is Universal Plastics and this blog will delve into the issue of global marine plastic pollution, the state of the African oceans, and how BCSS is using science to solve the ocean plastic problem in Mozambique. 

The BCSS is the first permanent ocean observatory in the Indian Ocean where highly trained scientists, researchers, and divers from around the world conduct scientific research to boost marine science and facilitate conservation goals. Their base is in a strategic location on Benguerra Island where environmental issues reflect what is happening on a global scale. It’s the unique base for innovative data collection that aims to feed into research to assist marine wildlife and their habitats. 

At the same time, the BCSS strives to support local people to conserve the resources they need for their survival. This means dealing with plastic pollution hand in hand with local and global waste and environmental organizations. It’s all about regional collaboration, and driving change in communities in such sensitive areas.

The BCSS team is committed to strategic partnerships with local businesses and communities

Benguerra Island’s calm seas teem with tropical marine life and its diverse landscape contains an indigenous milkwood forest and wetland areas making it a sanctuary for small Suni antelope and around 140 species of bird. It is usually the best place to spot the famous pink flamingos and Nile crocodiles found in the island’s three freshwater lakes.

a herd of flamingos in Mozambique
Did you know? A group of flamingoes is sometimes called a ‘flamboyance’ [Photo credits @BCSS/Orlando Miranda_Salvador Colvee]
Luxury island lodges are committed to sustainable waste management policies, environmental ethics, and community support. The island belongs to all and without the inherent biodiversity and beautiful scenery, the lodges would not be there and the tourists would not come. Ecotourism assists local people to survive ethically and sustainably.

Teaching Sustainable Living

Plastic pollution is a prevalent issue affecting the marine environment. It threatens ocean health, the health of marine species, food safety and quality, human health, and coastal tourism, and exacerbates climate change. The BCSS wants to change this! To this end, staff and owners built their beloved research station to blend into the surrounding environment, aiming for a minimal carbon footprint. It serves a purpose, causes minimal impact, and involves the island’s skilled residents who created it with local materials including coconut wood, reed walls, and thatching. Everyone at the BCSS is committed to zero waste policies, sustainable waste management, and using renewable solar energy.  A permaculture garden feeds staff and guests and reuses organic waste.

Benguerra Island Sustainable Tourism and Eco-Lodges

The walkways on the beach at Azura retreats in Mozambique
Azura is a stunning eco-boutique retreat on Benguerra Island bringing a new level of luxury to Mozambique and is the perfect island escape.

Local people built Azura Retreats Benguerra using natural materials, handmade furnishings, eco-detergents, and solar-heated showers. Guests are immersed in luxury in an eco-lodge where high-tech sewage plants recycle grey water for the gardens and all staff are employed from local island villages. The local communities have been educated and encouraged not to hunt rare species or over-fish certain areas and a No Fishing Zone has been established in front of the resort’s shores to encourage a resurgence of dolphins.

Azura Benguerra is a luxury Mozambique eco-lodge

A picnic on the beaches of Mozambique at &Beyond lodge
A tropical paradise tucked into a lush indigenous forest and looking out onto a picturesque crescent of sandy beach.

Just around the corner, at AndBeyond Benguerra Island Lodge, Care of the Land is the driving policy to reduce their carbon footprint and all impacts on the island environment. This luxury lodge ensures efficient water-use management and bans all plastic bottles and straws. The use of recyclable glass bottles has stopped their previous monthly usage of 1 535 cans, and 64 cases of plastic wrapping used for packaging the cans, that would have otherwise gone into a landfill! Other glass bottles are used to store homemade drinks which are then sealed with caps reflecting the company’s brand.

AndBeyond Benguerra recycles waste

Meanwhile, BCSS is trying to understand the magnitude of regional pressures on marine coastal ecosystems such as the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park (BANP) including climate change and human impacts.  Thorough marine debris surveys are key to learning how debris enters the system, increases, and affects the distinct ecosystems of Benguerra Island – mangroves, seagrass beds, mudflats, and sandy beaches. The BSCC is committed to community upliftment and employs over 90% of its team from local villages and all training and education is part of the job. 

Scientific Marine Research and Programmes 

BSCC scientists monitor the ocean within, around and beyond Bazaruto Archipelago regularly to better understand the intricate workings of marine ecosystems in this vast seascape. They study marine life hotspots and learn how organisms interact with the environment over time and space. This involves identifying resident and migratory species as well as water and bio-samples collection to understand ecosystem processes. One of their most important projects to date is tackling the overwhelming plastic waste issue.

Cleaning the beach of litter
By cleaning up our beaches, we prevent harmful substances from entering the marine environment. [Photo credits @BCSS/Orlando Miranda_Salvador Colvee]
All of this happens across four themes:

Theme 1 – Ecosystem Function & Monitoring

Theme 2 – Species Identification & Habitat Mapping

Theme 3 – Migratory Fish Populations Dynamics

Theme 4 – Marine Debris Monitoring

The BCSS would love to see more divers using their facility for both recreational diving and assisting with intensive and focused scientific research programs in the region. The Mozambican waters are haven for more than 2000 fish species in some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world. Divers see all of this and get training in marine biology, oceanography, and environmental sciences in the Indian Ocean. 

Aspirant  marine & environmental research students then acquire core career skills like fieldwork design, scientific writing, species identification, and hands-on  research fieldwork. They stay for a set period in rustic eco-lodge accommodation to take part in hands-on research in on-site laboratories, during expeditions, or within office settings. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to contribute considerably to the monitoring of human impacts on marine ecosystems, in an experience that will noticeably contribute towards a professional ocean conservation career. 

Plastic Pollution and Ocean Impacts

One of the main human impacts on the ocean is plastic pollution and one of the main themes at the BCSS is marine debris monitoring. This vital plastic research and development program is a wonderful partnership with Universal Plastic (UP). Every day, staff see plastic in this pristine environment, washed up on beaches, drifting in the ocean, and sometimes attached to ocean creatures. Accidental ingestion of plastics by marine animals usually causes tragic and painful deaths. 

litter on the beach in Mozambique
Litter, plastic, and other pollutants do more than just ruin the beauty of the beach. They are closing down coastal areas, destroying marine life, and making people sick. [Photo credits @BCSS/Orlando Miranda_Salvador Colvee]
It’s a terrible fact that plastic makes up 80% of all marine trash! The causes of this terrible issue need to be addressed via education and environmental action. The BCSS is doing its best to work with the local community to spread awareness about plastic, how to reduce it, and clean up. The material world is a throwaway society and every single bit of plastic ends up somewhere, in nature.  Mozambique is a developing nation that is still creating the right infrastructure for waste management – the disposal of plastics requires unique methods. 

Álvaro Bravo CEO of Universal Plastic, notes that every person on the planet is responsible for environmental protection. Without planet Earth, we have nothing. Everyone needs to help clean up the environment and to reduce waste production in their own lives. 

“We believe a global, social, and information-driven movement, grounded in scientific research, is essential to drive transformational change. By using the power of data we connect, incentivize, and inspire people to contribute to a global solution. From this approach, we address both the symptoms and the underlying causes of plastic pollution and work towards an innovative future. It is not about hindering development, changing human nature, or eliminating technology and markets. What we are doing here is taking steps towards an economical fit for purpose, about what Ocean Life means for humans.” 

Plastic is a Human Problem

Plastic is produced from fossil fuels and manufacturing intensified after WWII, creating a world reliant on instant strong and affordable goods. The dark side of plastic is increasingly evident however, the worst effect being the filth lying around the earth in heaps and piles. Single-use plastic is a huge problem and is part of the ‘don’t care less throw away society’ that we belong to. 

a woman walking on the dunes in the bazaruto
The unique eco-system of the Bazaruto Archipelago sustains diverse fauna and flora. Visitors exploring the islands will find huge dunes, forest and savannah, inland lakes and wetlands. [Photo credits @BCSS/Orlando Miranda_Salvador Colvee]
Plastic impacts the unseen victims, the living things in rivers, streams, dams, lakes, lagoons, and the ocean – these creatures mistake plastic for food, and microplastics are unseen particles entering every part of the earth as we speak. Plastic causes enormous health issues with hormones, reproduction, and behavior in animals and people. It is time to act and say no to plastic. 

Plastic in the Bazaruto Archipelago Mozambique 

Ongoing plastic waste research at the BCSS means ongoing plastic collection from beaches and ocean depths and Benguerra Island reveals plenty of waste washed up from the sea. In 2022, a total of 1.020 kgs was collected over 6 months, most of it plastics – from mudflats, beaches, mangroves, and seagrass beds. The debris is transported and sorted at the BCSS Waste Management Facility, into PET bottles, soft plastics, hard plastics, foam/polystyrene, rubber, clothing, fishing gear, aluminium cans, other metals, and glass. Most of it is plastics then rubber and marine gear!

BCSS has partnered with Universal Plastic which is creating a DPP (Digital Passport Product) to facilitate the implementation of a circular economy around plastic products in tune with new EU regulations. This aims for better control over the cycle of the CO2 footprint that plastic waste produces and how companies use new plastic material. Individual responsibility needs to improve.  Join the BCSS on a scientific programme to assist with ocean research and waste monitoring expeditions! 

An aerial view of BCSS in Mozambique diving centre
Seen here, the aerial view of the field marine station for BCSS. [Photo credits @BCSS/Orlando Miranda_Salvador Colvee]
Keen divers and aspirant marine biologists or ocean scientists can boost their careers and contribute to marine conservation, while also perfecting their diving prowess.  From the 2-week Experience and Assist course to the 12-week Advance and Lead course, this is a transformative journey to expand knowledge and a love for the ocean. 

All training includes park fees, serviced eco-accommodation on Benguerra Island, three meals a day, access to BCSS science projects, and Vilankulos airport transfers to/from Benguerra Island. There’s also a three-month in-house PADI dive training course that starts with the open water diver course and ends with the divemaster course, joining something like 8 different courses into one and gaining top instruction from the best divers in Africa. 

Some of the rare sightings in 2023, spotted by scientific training participants include a dwarf minke whale and a harlequin snake eel, both rare and magnificent.  But best of all, the BCSS achieved its goals of partnering with special global organizations to tackle environmental issues, like the overwhelming plastic waste issue.

Marine debris and plastic pollution in Bazaruto National Park is part of a global human issue. Scientific research, community projects, and a unique partnership with Universal Plastics (UP) can change this. At the BCSS, experts are using science to solve the ocean plastic problem, and on Benguerra Island, all lodges and community members are involved in sustainable waste management policies. There is always hope!

Visit the Mozambique Bazaruto Archipelago this summer 2024