Skip to content

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

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

New sections on Ecologue! Check them out and let me know what you think!

New sections on Ecologue! Check them out and let me know what you think! published on No Comments on New sections on Ecologue! Check them out and let me know what you think!

I’ve been making some more changes around here, adding new sections, and am delighted to announce the new features!

Translate Ecologue

  • English not your first language? No problem – you can now translate this site! Look up and to the left and you’ll see a row of flags. Click on the one that relates to the language you prefer and the site will be translated. You can even correct any errors in the translation.
  • Please let me know how this works for you! I can change the languages available and add new ones. So let me know which you use (to make sure I keep it there), or if your language isn’t there yet, let me know in the comments and I will add it for you!


  • While we’re speaking about languages, under the Resources tab above you can now find a page of Swahili Sayings relating to the environment that you might enjoy.  Let us know in the comments if you know any more (or if you have any corrections to the translations).
  • Also under the Resources tab are some Links. I plan to expand this page with more sections and more links as time goes by, to be as useful to you as possible. So if you have any links you think should be there, or new sections to request, let me know in the comments!
  • The third page under the Resources section is Downloads – which will become a repository for all sorts of interesting materials related to the subjects I blog about – and so far includes a link to the text book I wrote with colleagues at Chumbe back in 2011. Contact me if you want the Kiswahili version!

Ecologue Shop!

  • The third exciting new feature is a shop! Help keep me blogging (and working to support Sustainable East Africa‘s projects) by visiting the new shop pages.
  • There are different ‘departments’ based on where you are shopping from. Ecologue Shop UK is here ~ and Ecologue shop DE here.Others are coming soon – see the Ecologue Shop home page for links (that you can use to shop from for now)!
  • Again – this is supposed to be useful for you, so let me know what you think and what products you’d like to see. If you already have any of the products I’ve listed, I’d love to start including some product reviews from you! So have a look around, start shopping, or follow the links to Amazon websites if you can’t find what you want here (yet).

So enjoy looking around the new features and let me know what you think!


Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and Listen!

Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and Listen! published on 1 Comment on Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and Listen!

This is one of the wisest messages I have ever seen.

TED talks are in general exceptional but the following talk by TED fellow Ernesto Sirolli is an absolute must-see.

Readers on limited bandwidth can download the talk as an audio file here, and it is also available at that link with subtitles in many languages (though unfortunately not yet Kiswahili).

For those on very slow internet, has a comprehensive written synopsis of the video.

I strongly recommend everyone interested in development and its successes and failures dedicate the time to watch, read, listen, or otherwise imbibe this phenomenal talk.

Although I had been sent the link before, slow internet meant I didn’t end up watching it till a couple of weeks ago. But I’m so glad I finally did!

The whole message is very powerful but there were some bits in particular that really struck a chord and made me think.  So – go and watch it now! And I’ll be back soon with my thoughts!

Welcome to Ecologue!

Welcome to Ecologue! published on No Comments on Welcome to Ecologue!

Welcome to ecologue, my new blog in which I will be posting on all things eco.

Before I get going properly, here is one of my favourite quotations that has inspired me to do what I do.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;

indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

– Margaret Mead, Anthropologist –

Primary Sidebar