Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Michelle’s Trip to Zanzibar

Michelle Wong in Zanzibar
Michelle Wong, an EcoGastronomy Major at UNH and a longtime friend of Island Creek is on assignment for us in Zanzibar.  She will be blogging about her time in Stonetown, the women she is meeting and her impressions of this far-away place.  Michelle’s mission is to visit chefs at local restaurants and resorts to promote the use of the shellfish that will someday be generated by the village hatcheries ICOF and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution are developing.

Zanzibar, January 16, 2013

It’s the kind of heat that you feel instantly; a heavy and humid heat that turns your sweat to candlewax and soaks through your clothes. It’s the kind of air so thick you have to fight your way through it; pushing particles aside as you walk, swimming in a jar of warm honey.
The sun is high and burns off the remaining clouds that welcomed our ferry into Zanzibar’s port with a sprinkling of rain. The harbor’s mouth is dappled with a collection of forever-fluctuating sandbars that gleam like golden brushstrokes in the water, and ancient dhows trail our wake with their tea-stained triangular sails.  Stone Town, a world heritage site and my new home for the next month is visible from the water as we approach. For the next four weeks, I will be involved with a project three years in the making. A collaborative effort between the University of Dar Es Salam (IMS), the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), and Island Creek Oysters Foundation  (ICOF), aims to introduce shellfish hatchery and cultivation techniques to villages in Zanzibar, a small island off the coast of Tanzania that is about six-times the size of Nantucket.
Seafood is the primary source of protein on the island and can be found on practically every menu you come across. While the men traditionally catch fish, it is the women who harvest shellfish. In coastal villages along east Africa including those on Zanzibar, it is common to see women on the flats at low tide in search of wild clams, oysters, and cockles; their silhouettes bent over double, digging into the mud, still draped in their brightly-colored robes and scarves. The harvested shellfish is boiled, dried, and taken to local fish markets to be sold. In villages scattered along Menai Bay where the IMS-WHOI-ICOF team has been focusing most of their efforts, wild shellfish stocks are becoming increasingly harder to access. The women in some villages, who already are walking a mile to reach the product, are forced to walk even further, sometimes up to their necks in water.
For the past three years, the project has focused on establishing a shellfish hatchery that will eventually provide a controllable and steady supply of “seed” (baby shellfish) to be raised by the women in Menai Bay. Long term goals of the project will be to establish a strong customer base and to train locals how to cultivate, process, and sell the shellfish. The hope of the project is for the villagers to be able to produce an economically and environmentally sustainable source of protein and income. In a region where the average person lives off less than five dollars a day, the project’s success would have an incredible influence on the lives of these hardworking women and their families.
My task however, is to begin a dialogue with restaurants, study the local market’s demand for shellfish, and to establish a venue for growers to sell their products. Things are looking up already – just this morning we had a successful spawn in the hatchery, and are proud new parents of some microscopic blood cockles. It’s achievements like this that gives everyone confidence in the project that lies ahead – which still, isn’t a hard thing to believe in. Because after all, we do believe in aquaculture. 
For more information about Island Creek Oyster Foundation visit this link.

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