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Homegrown Hero – Jambiani fisher Makame and his bottleboat

Homegrown Hero – Jambiani fisher Makame and his bottleboat published on No Comments on Homegrown Hero – Jambiani fisher Makame and his bottleboat
Eco hero - Jambiani fisherman Makame Ali
Eco hero – Jambiani fisherman Makame Ali

When this Zanzibar fisherman started building a boat from plastic bottles, his neighbours thought he was mad.

But now, Babu Makame is the one laughing, as the boat he built from plastic bottles lets him go fishing whatever the weather, leaving his neighbours watching wistfully from the shore whenever the sea is too rough for their traditional boats.

The fishing village of Jambiani is a picture-perfect paradise on the quiet East coast of Zanzibar. A palm-fringed, white sand beach overlooks an azure lagoon to the fringing coral reef, which teems with marine life.

The reef and lagoon provide the sole livelihood for most families, who fish in the lagoon and on the reef from traditional wooden dugout canoes.

However, when the trade winds of the western Indian Ocean blow too strongly, the waves breaking on the reef can make it too rough for the small boats to sail out of the protected lagoon to the reef itself, where the biggest and most profitable fish are found. Zanzibar’s traditional canoes are heavy to paddle, and at risk of capsizing in heavy seas.

As local fisher Makame Ali grew older, he worried he would no longer be strong enough to paddle his heavy canoe. Concerned about supporting his large family, he looked around him for a way to make a lighter boat, and came up with the idea of using plastic bottles.

Makame's first bottleboat (photo copyright Peter Bennett 2012)
Makame’s first bottleboat Copyright Peter Bennett 2012

His bemused neighbours thought he was losing his mind along with his strength. They told him it would never work, and when his first bottleboat came off its mooring in a storm and was lost, they expected him to give up. But Makame was undeterred, and simply went back to the workshop to build a better model.

While the first boat was built exclusively from plastic bottles, he has refined the design into a sophisticated sit-on-top kayak. The backbone is an old windsurf board, with plastic bottles for buoyancy, and electric conduit to make it stronger and more hydrodynamic. The blades of his paddles are carved from a plastic yellow jerrycan and lashed to a pole, and another adapted jerrycan behind the seat serves as a keep box.

bottleboat on the beach 2
Makame’s new homemade recycled fishing boat

Makame now earns his living from Bottleboat III.

Makame can paddle his homemade, recycled canoe quickly through the surf where others dare not go, for fear of their small canoes taking on water faster than they can bail it out.

The open design of Bottleboat III means water continually flows through the keep box, keeping his catch alive and healthy, so he can keep fishing all day while other boats must bring their fish back to shore. His boat is so lightweight, buoyant, and easy to paddle, that he is still proudly supporting his family, while his contemporaries have had to retire.

Not only is Bottleboat III lighter, more efficient and more resilient than traditional boats, with wood prices rising, Makame’s recycled kayak is cheaper to build.

Although many in the community are still wary of the unconventional watercraft, local Jambiani environmental ambassador Okala and his colleagues are proud.

Bottleboat III ready to go fishing

‘Some local people see he thinks differently, and think that means he’s not clever. But they don’t realise that he is cleverer than any of them. Some people are afraid of his boat and reluctant to try something new. But he doesn’t care what they think. On stormy days, he is the one outside the reef, fishing, while they are stuck on shore. We think he is very smart, and hope he can set an example of sustainability.’

Makame now plans to expand his business by building more bottleboats so that he can take tourists on snorkelling tours making it a completely emission-free boat excursion.

‘I know where to find the big octopus,’

he said.

‘I think tourists would like to come and see that – in a boat made from bottles!’

bottleboat in the ocean

9 astonishing and alarming facts about marine debris

9 astonishing and alarming facts about marine debris published on No Comments on 9 astonishing and alarming facts about marine debris

Our oceans are littered with plastic debris. I wrote about some ideas to address it yesterday, but just how bad is the problem?

Far from ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – our waste is ending up in our food. Here’s how.

  1. There is around 140 million tonnes (315 billion pounds) of plastic in the ocean, according to this conservative calculation.
  2. 80% of ocean plastic originally came from land – blown off landfills, or from litter washing into drains and rivers to the sea.
  3. Up to 10,000 containers a year are washed off container ships in storms, spilling their contents into the ocean. In 1992, 28,800 plastic ducks, turtles, birds and beavers were released from a container washed overboard in the North Pacific. Oceanographers tracking their dispersal on oceanic currents report that the ducks and their friends are well on the way to circumnavigating the globe, and even traversed the North Pole trapped in sea ice!
  4. Although plastic degrades over time, it just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. This means plastic lasts for centuries – perhaps for ever.
  5. The most numerous littered item worldwide, and top waste item collected in beach clean-ups, is cigarette butts: so please, use an ashtray, and don’t drop your butt-ends in the street, folks! top-10-items
  6. Ocean plastic has been found in 267 marine species. It kills hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, and turtles, and millions of fish and birds every year!
    This grey whale died after eating nearly 17 kilos of plastic
    This grey whale died after eating nearly 17 kilos of plastic
  7. Plastic balls resemble fish eggs (nutritious food for many fish). Polystyrene packing balls do too, so can we all please use paper cups instead, when using disposable cups is really unavoidable?
  8. Plastic fragments are eaten by oceanic fish (like lampfish) which make up a large part of the diet of predators such as tuna and swordfish. What they eat, we eat.
  9. Plastic is treated with toxic chemicals that can disrupt immune systems, hormone production, and reduce fertility. As it breaks up into smaller and smaller fragments, plastic particles act like toxic sponges, absorbing oily pollutants, pesticides like DDT and heavy metals – becoming more and more dangerous as time goes on and the toxins enter the marine food web – and our own diets.

So let’s all do something about it, folks. Use less. Recycle more. Clean up the mess around us.

10-things-you-can-do about plastic

Can eco-kraken robots clean our oceans?

Can eco-kraken robots clean our oceans? published on No Comments on Can eco-kraken robots clean our oceans?


When flight MH370 disappeared without trace on 8th March 2014, apparently somewhere over the southern Indian Ocean, the world’s media following the search and scrutinising the satellite images were astounded at the sheer volume of debris and detritus of our lives strewn across the ocean, that were mistaken for bits of broken plane.

For those of us involved in marine environmental issues, there was less surprise than sad resignation. This is what we’ve been trying to explain for years.

Plastic and other waste in the oceans is a huge problem that, prior to the exposure in the wake of the plane’s disappearance, had failed to attract widespread attention.

Living on an Indian Ocean island – Zanzibar – ocean plastic is impossible to ignore. Because it isn’t littering some scarcely conceivable and distant expanse of open ocean, it’s right here on the beach at our feet. It washes in from the ocean on every tide, and regrettably, still more is dumped in streets, bushes and beaches, and washes from our streets and drains into the ocean, every time it rains.

Plastic waste, even from landlocked cities, is washed into rivers and to the ocean. From tiny plastic granules in facial scrubs to whole containers that fall off ships, we’re contaminating our precious ocean with reckless abandon.

Once in the ocean, pieces of plastic become coated with other waterborne pollutants such as glues, oil and pesticides, and many are eaten by fish, birds and turtles, which may die, releasing the plastic to be eaten again, or be eaten themselves by predators (such as tuna) in whose bodies the pollutants accumulate. Over time, plastic degrades, breaks into smaller smaller particles, and releases more chemicals and aggregates more pollutants that further impact oceanic life and get into the food chain. Our food chain. solve this problem will require significant action, and an accordingly ambitious idea was conceived by 19-year-old Boyan Slat in 2012. He proposes to install what I can best describe as a benevolent eco-kraken robot in the centre of each oceanic gyre. The device would consist of an array of floating booms several kilometres long, guiding waterborne plastic debris to a central processing platform, that filters it out and consumes it. These eco-krakens ocean clean-up arrays could, he claims, clean up the ocean of plastic debris within a decade.

Will this really work? This critical article by 5 Gyres-founder Stiv Wilson says no, it won’t.

My initial reaction might have been disappointment. Setting aside simply how cool eco-kraken robots would be, to solve colossal global problems like this one requires people with the imagination to come up with big, creative and innovative ideas, and it’s a shame for them to be so roundly knocked down. It would be so nice to think we – or better still, some more elusive ‘they’ – could make the problem go away as easily as that.

However – by the time I’d finished reading the critique, I was still feeling optimistic. From the penultimate paragraph (emphasis mine):

Here’s something that will blow your mind—to clean the ocean of floating plastic, you don’t need to go out and get it, it will come to you. … upon each orbit of a gyre, the gyre will spit out about half its contents. These contents will then either enter another current or gyre or wash up on land. As this repeats, it means that eventually*, all the plastic in the ocean will be spit – out which is why you find plastic fragments on every beach in the world. Beach cleanup is gyre cleanup.

*provided we aren’t continually replacing it with new plastic, mind you!

Maybe that means no eco-kraken robots. But …we already know how to fix this. Many of us are already doing it. It’s not free, but it’s easy, and doesn’t need to cost much at all. If we keep up our collective efforts to clean beaches and stop our rubbish from ending up there in the first place, the ocean waste will eventually come back to us.

But it gets better even than that. The pioneer behind the eco-kraken robot idea didn’t let this get him down – he stood his ground and did his research. He has responded to this criticism with a 530 page feasibility report, summarised here, which amounts to a comprehensive and pretty convincing rebuttal of the objections…

… so just maybe, ccean clean-up arrays may yet be a viable tool in the arsenal to clean up our oceans – and  eco-kraken might live after all.

kraken gif

I’m back!

I’m back! published on No Comments on I’m back!

Laurel Burch notebook  coverSomehow a year appears to have passed since I last posted here… I suppose I’ve just been very busy. I’ve made some changes around Ecologue – I’ve moved the Sustainable East Africa content to a new domain – so check out the Sustainable East Africa website for news about my work (and what’s been keeping me busy all this time)!

I’ll be back with a proper post shortly, but for now, here’s a piece of art by Laurel Burch, which adorns my notebook (as in pulped dead tree bound together (from a sustainable source, of course) not my computer).

Life is chaotic here in Zanzibar, fluctuating wildly from utterly bewildering or tragic to simply spectacular, and everything in between except boredom. It’s necessary every now and again to take a step back and just accept things. Being reminded of it by these words whenever I get out my notebook is a daily reminder.

If you want one too, you can find this design of notebook or diary here.



Close your eyes and dream a dream

and seek the courage to make it real.

Reflect on the past, envision the future

and embrace them with an open heart and soul


Easy urban composting solution: No garden? No problem!

Easy urban composting solution: No garden? No problem! published on 1 Comment on Easy urban composting solution: No garden? No problem!

The Zanzibar Municipal Council (Manispaa) has capacity at the moment to collect only 30% of the waste produced in Stone Town.

But 80% of the waste produced in Stone Town is organic!

All our kitchen waste and cardboard boxes could be turned into compost! Instead, it is blocking up the waste system, and the organic material is what makes waste smell when it rots in uncollected piles in abandoned corners, attracts pests which spread disease – and contaminates the groundwater, which hundreds of people drink.

There are moves afoot to establish some kind of municipal scale urban composting system with different aid agencies and local counterparts exploring the potential. It will be fantastic when it is in place, and Sustainable East Africa, our partners Manispaa Jamii Vikokotoni, and many others are hard at work to find a solution.  But this will of course take some time to establish.

However, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t start doing something about it now.

Most of you who live in town probably believe you can’t compost because you haven’t got a garden – but I can reassure you from experience that it doesn’t matter at all. As long as you have a tiny corner of outside space, then you have room to make a compost bin. I will show you how I did it.

I built a cheap and simple bin on my balcony – and it works extremely well. As long as you don’t let it get too waterlogged, and cover kitchen waste with leaves, a layer of soil, brown paper bags or brown cardboard, it won’t smell, and it won’t attract flies.

Top tip: keep a small bucket in the kitchen lined with a paper bag to collect the peelings in, and you can put it, bag and all, straight in the composter, so there’s no mess!

The great thing about composting is that as the material breaks down, its volume gets smaller and smaller, so even quite a small bin will take a seemingly infinite volume of waste. I’ve had mine for over a year and we still haven’t filled it!

Your organic waste will be separated from the rest of your rubbish – so the kitchen bin won’t smell (meaning you don’t have to empty it as often). And if you recycle the plastic and metal and glass as well then you will find you only need the tiniest bin for the rubbish that is left. Honestly – almost all of the waste you produce can – and should be – recycled or composted.

Still unsure? Here’s my compost bin which has been consuming all our organic waste for the past year. And I shared the idea with Suzanne Degeling from Kawa Tours, who tried it out successfully, and she has kindly written a step-by step guide with illustrations so you can easily follow to build one yourself.

What are you waiting for? Download a .pdf guide to building your simple composting bin here!

Rooftop composting is easy
Rooftop composting is easy


Just add kitchen and garden waste and let nature do the work
Just add kitchen and garden waste and let nature do the work
All you need is a bucket or bowl, some wire, and some cardboard
All you need is a bucket or bowl, some wire, and some cardboard

As Suzanne did, I suggest you make two. When the first is full, start filling the second, by which time the first one should be ready! If you have a garden – it’s even easier to make a compost bin. Use exactly the same approach, minus the bucket at the bottom. Worms and other useful creatures will move up from the soil beneath and help your compost break down even faster.

Haven’t even got the outside space for that?

If you’re feeling inspired, but have no outside space at all and don’t think this would work for you, how about this easy wormery idea! There’s no need for a square box as big as this: just drill small holes in a bucket and its lid for ventilation, and keep it on a tray. This could even be kept in the kitchen under the sink, as the article suggests. To find the worms to start it off, you will need to visit someone’s garden or a farm and dig a little. But once you’ve got happy worms they will breed rapidly and you can share them with other people.

The trick with any kind of composting is to make sure there’s a good mix of brown stuff, like dry leaves or cardboard, and green stuff, like vegetable peelings and other kitchen waste.  It should be damp, but not wet, that flies can’t get to the waste, and that there is plenty of space for air to circulate. If you try it – let us know, and we can share your pictures too!

I am sorry that these materials are only in English at the moment, I will upload Kiswahili translations as soon as they are ready! If anyone is interested to help out with translations of these kind of materials, I would love to hear from you. In the mean time, for anyone with a garden, there is a fantastic Kiswahili guide to making compost that you can read or download here.


14 easy and free sustainable solutions you can start today!

14 easy and free sustainable solutions you can start today! published on No Comments on 14 easy and free sustainable solutions you can start today!
Save 1.5 litres water per flush!
Save 1.5 litres water per flush!

Becoming more sustainable can sometimes seem like a lot of work – but there are so many things we can all do very easily, that cost nothing, and may even save money!

I have therefore compiled a list of 14 very easy and free Zanzibar-appropriate ideas that any of us can introduce at home or at work immediately, without any need for special training or special equipment or anything complicated at all. There are ideas to save energy, to save water, to reduce waste, and more.

I’m sure you have more ideas of your own, so please share them in the comments below.

Let’s all do something to make a difference today!

Free guide to Waste in Zanzibar now available on Ecologue in English and Kiswhaili!

Free guide to Waste in Zanzibar now available on Ecologue in English and Kiswhaili! published on No Comments on Free guide to Waste in Zanzibar now available on Ecologue in English and Kiswhaili!
Free download of education guide - cover
Education and awareness guide to waste in Zanzibar

It gives me enormous delight to be able to share with you a fantastic education and awareness guide to waste in Zanzibar available to download free from Ecologue in English and Kiswahili.

This guide was produced by ACRA and compiled by Ulli Kloiber, Conservation and Education Manager at Chumbe Island Coral Park.

There are sections on different kinds of waste, and different things you can do with them – including a fantastic, really simple, easy-to-follow guide to composting (Kiswahili).

There are also sections contributed by various Zanzibar  projects, organisations and businesses involved in recycling and education about waste (including Sustainable East Africa).

Free download of guide - Takataka katika Zanzibar - Kiswahili
Also in Kiswahili!

Congratulations to ACRA and Ulli for a phenomenal publication and essential resource for anyone doing environmental outreach in Zanzibar and thank you so much for giving me permission to make it available online here on Ecologue.

You may be wondering why am I raving so much about this book in particular? Well the thing is – an education resource is only any good if it is used. You can compile all the pertinent information in the world into the most comprehensive resource – but if nobody ever uses it, then you may as well not bother. And I love this book because I have seen first hand that people want to read it. The information is presented in an easy-to follow, simple, straightforward and relevant way, and is all about Zanzibar.

And when I gave a copy to members of the PLCI Environment Club (SEA partners) during a clean-up day recently in Vikokotoni – every time I looked, a different student was reading it.











So what are you waiting for? Get it now!

Eco-forum now on Ecologue to share sustainable solutions

Eco-forum now on Ecologue to share sustainable solutions published on No Comments on Eco-forum now on Ecologue to share sustainable solutions

Edit: URL updated and social-media registration options now operating – apologies to anyone who encountered bugs yesterday. If there are any problems, please let me know!

I have now created a discussion forum on Ecologue, where we can share ideas and best practice in sustainability.

I have started topics on composting and sustainable seafood. But if you have a sustainable project that you are proud of and would like to share – whether it’s a rainwater catchment system, recycling bin set up, solar power system – or anything – then please let us see. I will showcase the best ideas on the blog to give you exposure.

And if you have any questions about how other people are solving a particular problem that you are stuck on, then start a conversation about it and see who can help.

There’s an extra bonus for any hotels who are working towards RTTZ (Responsible Tourism Tanzania) certification: participating an online environmental forum is one of the criteria used for evaluating eligibility for sapling-level certification, so join the conversation and tick that box.

There are few sustainability challenges experienced in Zanzibar that have not been solved already by someone, somewhere, so I hope this forum will help us avoid reinventing the wheel and enable everyone concerned about sustainability to find the solutions they need (and that work) that bit more easily.

There’s a monkey in the garden!

There’s a monkey in the garden! published on

I try to keep an eye out on the wildlife in the garden, and I’ve had in mind a few blog posts on the subject, but this morning’s surprise was way to cool to wait – we had a monkey in the garden!monkey in the garden 2

There are two native species of monkey in Zanzibar – the endemic Kirk’s colobus monkey (aka red colobus) and the blue or Sykes’ monkey. As best I can judge, this morning’s visitor was the latter.

Although troupes of monkeys are a common sight (and even a bit of a nuisance!) in some rural areas, I live in a suburb of Stone Town and trust me, this is not a regular occurrence. monkey in the garden 1Given the monkey was alone, regrettably it is more likely an escaped or released captive monkey than part of a wild troupe – but it’s a native species, and roaming free (for now) where it belongs (stealing mangoes and Zanzibar apples, and having words with the crows). And it made my morning.

Apologies for the bigfoot-sighting-quality photos, it was quite a way away and moving fast, and I didn’t have time to get the big camera out.

Happy Monkey!

monkey in the garden


Zanzibar Sustainability Directory now online!

Zanzibar Sustainability Directory now online! published on 2 Comments on Zanzibar Sustainability Directory now online!

I have created a Sustainability Directory for Zanzibar (and the Swahili Coast), including links for sustainable initiatives, NGOs and projects, and information about how we can live more sustainably.

I hope it will be a useful resource for everyone in Zanzibar who is interested in the environment, recycling, sustainability and other related issues. – Check it out here.

This is just the start, and I know I have missed many exciting and important projects, so I hope you will help make the resource as comprehensive as possible by suggesting additional links I might have missed through the form provided on the Directory page, or contact me if the information about your initiative is incorrect.

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