Toughest canary in the coal mine

by Daimen Hardie on June 13, 2017

Dhow fishing boat, Pemba Island, Tanzania. Photo: Zach Melanson


Small tropical islands are like the canary in the coal mine for climate change.

Islands like Pemba, Zanzibar are experiencing drastic changes in the environment that are already impacting people’s lives. Just look at these trends in rainfall, wind, temperature and sea level from Pemba:

Source: Pemba Meteorological Station. [1]

Source: Tanazania Meteorological Agency. [1]

Source: Tanazania Meteorological Agency. [1]

Monthly mean high water level in Zanzibar. Source: Tanazania Meteorological Agency. [1]


Coastal families in Pemba have already started relocating due to sea level rise. [2]

We must be cautious when interpreting the data above because of the relatively short timelines - on the scale of decades rather than centuries - but the trends are unsettling and the impacts are very real.

Food security has been a problem for people living in eastern regions of the island for a long time, but now climate change is making the situation worse. "For example, in 2010-2011 more than 7,000 people in Micheweni district did not have enough food. This was caused by high fluctuations in rainfall which started around 2006 and which affects local crop production.” [3]


Rice farmers near Minyenyeni, Pemba. Photo: Zach Melanson


Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world on a per capita basis.

Pemba's economy is especially vulnerable because most people live and work very close to the land and sea, earning their income from agriculture and fishing and directly experiencing changes in their environement. Coral reefs, which provide critical fish habitat, have been bleaching and dying back due to rising temperatures. In one particularly severe event roughly 90% of the Misali reef in Pemba suffered mortality [4].


Fishermen on Kokota Islet, Pemba. Photo: Zach Melanson.


Islands are like small versions of our world.

Places like Pemba Island are on the frontlines of change. The challenges facing Pemba today are the same challenges that will be felt around the world as our climate continues to shift. Pemban communities are trying to adapt now, becuase they have too. Families are relocating, farmers are changing their practices, and fishing communities are finding new regenerative ways to earn a living. The rest of the world will have to adapt too and lessons from places like Pemba will prove invaluable to that effort. We're in this together.

Please conisder lending a hand and supporting Pemban communities as they blaze a new path for us all.

- Daimen

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[1] The Economics of Climate Change in Zanzibar. Global Climate Adaptation Partnership. July 2012.

[2] Zanzibar plans relocation of coastal families. Reuters. December 2013.

[3] Climate change and household food insecurity among fishing communities in the eastern coast of Zanzibar. Journal of Development and Agricultural Economics. 2015.

[4] Tanzania: Coral Reefs Off Tanzania's Coast Are Being Destroyed, Most Beyond Repair. All Africa. January 2017.


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