MARINE Parks and Reserves Unit (MPRU) has started attracting hundreds of tourists to see the parks' own five attractions- whale sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, coconut crabs and reef fishes.
MPRU acting Manager John Komakoma told the 'Daily News' in Dar es Salaam over the weekend that the "living fossil" coelacanth is yet another attraction in deep waters, saying about 45,000 people visit the parks.
"There is need to market marine parks, which have a natural ecosystem, ranging from the big five, coral gardens and marine reserves. We market our parks through national and international exhibitions as we currently participate to Swahili International Tourism Expo in Dar es Salaam," he explained.
Tanzania's MPRU was established in 1994 under the Marine Parks and Reserve Act No 29, of 1994.
Previously, all marine life and biodiversity were under the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries.
The population along the 1,400 kilometre Tanzanian coastline has increased to over 10 million, with the number of people whose livelihood depends on marine resources on the increase as well.
Mr Komakoma explained some of the unit future plans to boost the sector as branding each park with specific specie, citing Mafia Island Marine Park which has been branded with Whale Shark as an icon specie and Sea Turtle branded Maziwe.
"We plan to introduce exploration and documentation of available sitting grounds, frequency and migration routes for the big five and coral gardens, sand beaches and historical monuments," he said.
The manager decried plastic pollution, which he described as an impediment to their strides, hinting however that "We have strategies in place... Marine Parks have specialised diving programmes to take underwater trapped plastics and monitoring through Strategic Adaptive Management Approach (SAM) collecting trash, separating plastics from other trashes, identifying plastics and transporting to specified centres."
In the past five years, marine protected areas have recorded some achievements, including total elimination of dynamite fishing especially in Mafia Island and Tanga where there is now zero blast per day compared to around six blasts few years back.
"Whales Sharks come to our ocean during the August-December period, this is an indicator of healthy ecosystem (improving ocean biodiversity)," he said.
According to global species database FishBase, Tanzania has some of the world's richest fishing grounds, with over 1,700 species in its waters. Of these, 47 are commercially important, with 69 found only in deep water and 171 at serious threat.
Tanzania shouldn't be importing fishes but the government, regional agencies and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation decry rampant overfishing that is depleting stocks, raising prices and threatening food security.
Despite the number of fishing boats increasing at about 20 per cent in five years to 66,000, the country recorded a sharp decline in catches, from an annual average of 390,000 to 360,000 tonnes in 2017, according to the government.
In 2016, Tanzania's total demand for fish was 730,000 tonnes, with about 50 per cent coming from salt water and the rest from Lake V ictoria and growing fish farms.
The shortfall is made up with fish imports, especially from China.