On our second day at Funzi, we were awoken to a panoramic view of dawn over the island which made our 6am wake up a lot easier. Our first port of call was to the Turtle Nesting Beach a good 45 minute walk from our base. The beach is not only a place which can be used by tourists but more importantly, is where the Turtle Club is trying to carry out their research for turtle numbers and nesting behaviour.
As we are used to early wake ups at GVI, everyone was awake and ready to go. Even at that time it was already getting hot but the walk was pleasant. Our walk took us again through the village and forests of Funzi.
Funzi Island forest
Walking through the forests you got a sense of its history, having been there for centuries. With tourists and foreigners only having visited and settled over the past 40 years, the forests remain mainly untouched. However, we were soon to discover that this was quickly changing. As we got closer to the beach area, the landscape changed to strips of cleared land on either side of us which had only months previously been forest. It was very disturbing to see such a distinct contrast. As we walked further, the cleared land again changed to newly planted eucalyptus plants. Only 10 minutes from the beach, whilst on the public footpath, we were stopped by guards and told very bluntly that we had to head back. Our early morning trip had been cut short.
Unfortunately a foreign landowner had taken most of the land on Funzi and made it his own. As a result, a majority of the land is being utilised at the detriment of the wildlife and the islanders. For us all, witnessing this conflict between conservation and development at first hand was very disappointing, we were of course keen on seeing the beach for ourselves, we were all aware and more concerned about the long term impact this would have, restricting the Funzi Turtle Club carrying out vital monitoring of the turtles and limiting tourist access, especially knowing that this was a public footpath.
Deflated, we headed back and after a short break to calm our frustrations, reflect and refuel we started our morning of lectures, more determined and conscious of the importance of our relationship and the positive difference that needed to be made.
A member of the Funzi Turtle Club having a closer view of the parrotfish family
Lectures started with Mangroves and were followed by Tourism and Marketing. Interest was again high and discussions were held. It was clear that the Club members had many years of experience and that knowledge and skills could be shared.
As we all knew, although it was a positive and productive 2 days, this is where the work actually started. Lectures were followed by a debate about the challenges faced and how they could be approached. Challenges faced were:
o All Turtle Club Members are unpaid volunteers, spending a lot of their time on projects including regular mangrove planting, beach clean ups etc.
o Landowner paying Fishermen 500KSH for each turtle caught. How can the club compete with this as they want to ensure that turtles are in fact released and at the same time, use the Fishermen to monitor them?
o Ways to convince fishermen to release the turtles caught.
o Education of over fishing and ways this can be reduced
o Finding the time to do this when all work is by volunteers who have family and other commitments.
Secondly there was a discussion around planning for tourism activities.
• Beach clean ups which would be an activity and raise awareness
• Camping / nesting beaches
• Handicrafts such as the flip flop necklaces
• Visits to the stunning white beaches of the Sandbar
• Crocodile River
• Mangrove visits and planting
• Visits of the historical sites such as the Kaya
• Dolphin sightings
• Homestays and cooking classes
Handicrafts made of flip-flops
For me, this was one of the highlights of my 5 weeks. Not only was I so lucky to get to visit this beautiful Island, but I was fortunate enough to meet many of it’s wonderful residents, all so eager to make our short stay pleasurable.
GVI staff, volunteers and Funzi Turtle Club members
In this age of air travel and discovery it is very rare to find a place on earth that is not heavily frequented by tourists, but you will currently have trouble finding Funzi on Google Maps. It is exciting to this that we can make a positive difference before a few people begin to destroy this beautiful place. It was wonderful to work so closely with such an active Club on such a worthwhile project and although I will be leaving before it even gets underway, I am certain that with the enthusiasm and dedication I saw and by working together and sharing knowledge and ideas, we’ll get there.