Islands in a Forgotten Sea

Islands in a Forgotten Sea

When the first Arab explorers in their dhows sailed down through the Sea of Zanj from Arabia they discovered many small islands and, as they explored, they left few traces of their passing and must have been in awe of the absolutely unspoiled nature of the seas they sailed through. Off the coast of what is now known as northern Mozambique, these early mariners must have taken a special interest as they could sail for 100km in relative safety, sheltered from the often stormy open Mozambique Channel by a long archipelago of sand and coral made visible by two groups of small islands some 30km off the coast.

The Turtle Trade

In the 20th century these island groups (christened the Primeiras and the Segundas by the Portuguese) that lie north of the mouth of the Zambesi River, attracted a considerable amount of attention because of the wealth of valuable marine creatures that inhabited the seas around them and the detritus-rich, shallow waters that lay between them and the mainland coastline.
As a result of being so isolated, the islands still have amazing, extensive and species-rich coral reefs surrounding them but the turtles, alas, have experienced severe declines in numbers and only a handful return during the summer months to lay their eggs in the white coral sand beaches. The reason for this is simple: After the early explorers came, those with a lust for adventure and trade, and coastal indigenous African people gradually moved southwards from near the equator bringing both a fishing technology and a desire to kill and eat sea turtles. From the early 20th century the demand for tortoiseshell, the largest and finest quality being obtained from the hawksbill turtle, surged and hawksbill joined the green turtle as a valuable trade item and the great decline of sea turtles in the western Indian Ocean was well and truly launched.

Ilha do Fogo (1960)

Ilha do Fogo (1960)