Fire Island – A Work in Progress – Part One

Conservation, Scuba Diving

When the owner, Robert Koski, and logistics specialist, Jan Van Deventer, visited Ilha do Fogo in Northern Mozambique back in 2014, their agenda was to look into setting up infrastructure for a boutique, five-star resort. However, what they discovered on the island changed the entire course of their plans.

They found around a dozen poachers on the island and the marine life was suffering at their hands.

Endangered targets

One of the many victims was the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, and another, was the endangered green turtle. They came across several discarded turtle shells, upon which, there were markings that were evidently from harpoon points. What made this discovery even more alarming was that, unlike many locals who harvest turtles purely for sustenance, these poachers were selling the turtle meat to a Chinese buyer. They were also catching and smoking hundreds of fish to sell as food, with no regard for sustainable species.

The objective of building a resort on the island was put to one side, while several conservation and community projects were established.

Since the first visit, the team has set up a small anti-poaching unit, and this human presence has prevented further plundering. Previously, there had been no patrols or other human activity at the island, or, indeed, around most of the northern part of Mozambique. This gave poachers the freedom to carry out all illicit activity, without repercussion.

Ethical tourism

Now, the team is ready to develop the island for exclusive eco-tourism, so that we can subsidise the conservation and anti-poaching projects. With the island’s location being quite remote, getting building materials to the island requires a lot of planning and thought.

Ilha do Fogo is over 250kms from the nearest airport, with poorly maintained roads from that point to the nearest land base of Pebane. To get to the island from Pebane is another mission, requiring the use of local skippers and their boats.

The current strategy will see the development of eight units on the island and these units will accommodate 28 guests. Although cyclones are rare in the area during Mozambique’s rainy season in January and February since the island is thankfully in the rain shadow of Madagascar, there still needs to be a consideration for the possibility of a storm. Therefore, anything erected on the island must be able to withstand a hurricane.

Responsible development

This is where BOXA comes in. They are an award-winning construction tech company that integrates a new generation of construction systems, with off-grid technologies. Their designs take account of the surroundings and climate. And the ultimate plus-point for us… they’re sustainable. We have been working closely with a representative from BOXA, who has visited the island. A top priority for any development on Ilha do Fogo has to be minimal impact on the environment.

When we looked at the sites for each of the units, in many cases, the view was sacrificed in order to save vegetation and protect wildlife. The BOXA units are constructed to ‘float’ above the ground, leaving existing ecosystems and vegetation intact. Each unit will have solar panels on the roofs and all amenities on the island will be entirely powered by solar energy.

Sustainable materials

Another advantage of engaging BOXA for the development is that each of their units arrives as pre-fabricated components in a single load. This means that once we get them onto the island, they’re ready to pop together, like a lego set (but life-sized and functional!). Although getting the units to the island is far easier said than done.

Currently, we are planning the logistics of what will need to be a convoy of vehicles filled with the materials necessary for this next stage of development on the island. So far, we calculate that a total of 78 tons of locally and sustainably sourced timber, and 1,5km of roof sheeting, will be required.

We want to reduce our carbon footprint where feasible and make sure that every time any of the vehicles is set to make a trip to either our land base or the island, it is as full as possible. The road to Pebane is extremely poor in places, and very badly maintained, adding to the complexity of planning since we will have to navigate these roads with heavy loads of vital construction goods. We will need to include in our strategy how we will get everything over to the island, utilising the small dhows we currently use for the channel crossing from Pebane.

Next steps

The next steps of our plans for the island will include the setup of a dive centre, that will be fully operational with all SCUBA equipment available and on hand for our visiting divers. We will also establish a basic medical facility for emergencies.

Currently, there is no fresh water on the island, but we will be constructing a rainwater harvesting system, using sundomes, and also introducing a small desalination plant. Additionally, we have been in talks with some renowned biologists and we are eager to launch a marine research facility on the island, with the purpose of collecting data to feed into international projects.

There is a lot of work ahead, and we will be keeping our followers abreast of the construction as it unfolds. We’ve already had a hugely positive impact on the poaching activity, which has ceased since we established occupancy. However, this is not a solution. The poachers have likely moved to one of the other uninhabited islands close by. Once we have instituted a base on the island, another goal will be to set up patrols on the neighbouring islands in the archipelago and monitor activity in the area.

If you’re an advance+ SCUBA diver interested in an exclusive, bucket-list adventure tour to our Fire Island, please get in touch. You will have the unique opportunity to explore the incredible fauna and flora around the island’s 150km of awe-inspiring, flawless reef.

Look out for Part Two of our blog, coming soon…

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