Personal Perspectives

The Big Five of the Ocean: Exploring the Waters of East Africa

A whale shark swims with a diver off the coast of East Africa.
A whale shark swims with a diver off the coast of East Africa. (Caine Delacy)

When we think "Africa," we think of the "Big Five"—lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo and rhinos—that crisscross the African Savannah. Few would imagine that there could be more natural beauty on offer. But there is: underwater.

The east coast of Africa holds a bounty of life that rivals the land. It is lined with coral reefs, majestic islands, and, under the surface, animals bigger than any of the "Big Five", and none of them are in game parks! This includes some of the biggest animals in the sea: whale sharks, giant manta rays, humpback whales, dolphins, tiger sharks, and all the colors and wonder of tropical fish and coral reefs.

Just as there are major conservation issues for the animals on the continent of Africa such as poaching, habitat destruction, and other threats, there are many issues and concerns for the East African marine ecosystems and animals. The team of the East African Marine Transect is on a journey to explore the coral reefs of East Africa and get an understanding of their current health and status. Overfishing, coastal development, pollution, the unknown consequences of climate change, and more immediate effects of shark finning and manta ray poaching are some of the most threatening concerns. The major difference between conservation of the animals on the land and that of the sea is that 30 million people rely on the coastal reef ecosystems to subsist and sustain their livelihoods.

We hope to create an unprecedented data set that will be shared among NGOs, governments, universities and scientists in order to assess coral and fish population health, human usage, and fishing practices. Only with more knowledge can we hope to make informed decisions.

November 2012