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FEATURE STORYAugust 16, 2022

Female Leaders in Sustainability at the Helm: Drones and Data Merge to Tackle Marine Plastic Pollution in Tanzania

Plastics MtoniKijichi Beach

Photo credit: Tanzania and Zanzibar PROBLUE Program, February 2022.

Tanzania is well known for its expansive wilderness, from the Serengeti plains, Mount Kilimanjaro– the tallest mountain on the African Continent — to its over 1,400 km of coastline and territorial sea area of about 64,500 km2. Like almost every other country and region around the globe, these diverse landscapes are already feeling the strain of climate change’s impacts, such as droughts, floods, and sea-level rise. One particularly pervasive reminder of climate change and environmental degradation is the presence of marine pollution. In both Zanzibar and Tanzania, plastic pollution is ubiquitous along their coastlines, encroaching on ecosystems as well as coastal tourism sites, which represent one of the country’s most lucrative industries.

The World Bank, which has long been committed to addressing marine pollution both at the source and through clean-up measures, is engaged in one of the first-ever marine debris assessments and control projects in Tanzania and Zanzibar. For two economies built around marine-adjacent sectors— from fisheries to tourism— understanding the absolute sources, quantities, types, and characteristics of marine litter in Tanzania and Zanzibar is critical not only for the environmental health but for the economic and social wellbeing of local populations.

Local leader Ana Rocha is intimately aware of the critical nature of a coastal waste assessment with an eye toward stopping waste at the source: 

Marine pollution is not generated in the ocean; it is a consequence of land pollution. And land pollution is a consequence of unregulated production.
Ana Rocha
Executive Director, Nipe Fagio (Tanzania)

Rocha is the Executive Director of the Tanzania-based environmental NGO Nipe Fagio, which is working with the World Bank to deliver a local marine debris control and coastal zone management project.

Funded through the World Bank’s PROBLUE Trust Fund, the project is uncovering key baseline data on plastic types, amounts, and sources to inform a decision on how to tackle the mounting plastic pollution in the country.

In addition to Rocha, at the helm of this project is Dr. Blandina Robert Lugendo and her data team at the University of Dar es Salaam UDSM, as well as the Tanzania FlyingLabs, a drone and technology lab. Together, this unlikely team of experts, drawn from various backgrounds, focused on 11 coastal hotspots— three in Zanzibar and eight on Tanzania’s mainland coast— to analyze the kinds of marine plastic waste that end up there and their most likely sources. In speaking with this team, it was clear that to start to solve the problem of marine pollution development workers should consider three fundamental principles: Inclusivity, Innovation, and Impact:

Principle 1: Inclusivity. The inclusion of varying voices, lived experiences, and expertise is imperative to achieving lasting and sustainable development. This level of inclusive planning and execution ensures that WBG projects and their outcomes are within the ownership and control of local populations. Beyond local buy-in, the principle of inclusivity also delivers more accurate data. According to Dr. Lugendo, is it imperative that teams, “collect contextual information from a wide group of stakeholders.” As a data expert, Dr. Lugendo stresses that this principle delivers results “that you could otherwise not get through surveys, waste collection and analysis.”

Principle 2: Innovation. While NGOs and data experts worked on-the-ground to monitor and assess plastic debris on the coast, this project went a step further by introducing a collaboration between human teams and technology to expand the project’s findings. Tanzania FlyingLabs worked from the sky, using drones to collect images from the same 11 hotspots and create a more comprehensive picture of the status of marine litter in these areas. By flying drones above the teams on the beach, Rocha, Dr. Lugendo, and partners delivered a nuanced  understanding of the state of plastic pollution on the coastline, while also tracking the project’s progress over time.

Principle 3: Impact. The GIS Department at the University of Dar es Salaam has combined the data collected on the ground with the images taken by the drones to put together a more comprehensive analysis of the project for the public and other interested parties. In addition to drones, Dr. Lugendo shared that they used focus groups “involved in waste related matters, including the value chain on daily basis.” This diverse set of respondents were drawn from fisheries, waste pickers, recyclers, transporters, and landfill managers, as well as government officials from planning, fisheries, sociology, and environment departments.

Harnessing the “Three I’s” – Inclusivity, Innovation, and Impact – to Achieve Sustainable Development

Drawing on an inclusive array of stakeholders and innovative technologies is critical to move the needle on marine debris. To this end, Rocha emphasized, “Having a holistic approach is extremely important. Our work shows that aligning data with policy advocacy and the implementation of tailored solutions can produce perspective and impact.”


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