The Muslims Who Want to Save Octopuses
ZANZIBAR—Ivory pirates, slave traders, and naturalists alike have long sought out the Zanzibar archipelago, a biodiverse group of islands lying off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa. One of these islands, Misali, is surrounded by a six-mile coral reef. It teems with rare life: hawksbill turtles, flying foxes, coconuts crabs—and lots of octopuses.This island is special to Muslims, who form the vast majority of Zanzibar’s population. According to a local Islamic myth, Misali was once visited by a saintly man known as Prophet Hadhara. When he asked fishermen for a prayer mat, they had none to offer, but he said it didn’t matter: The teardrop-shaped island, whose northern beach faces Mecca, was like a prayer mat itself. In fact, “Misali,” in the local Kiswahili language, means “prayer mat.”Misali sustained generations of Muslims; the octopus catch, in particular, kept them fed for centuries. But overfishing, climate change, and oil exploration began in recent years to threaten the ecosystem. The octopus population dropped dramatically. Government regulations did little to curb the problem. And so, some residents decided to try a different strategy: appealing to the community’s Islamic consciousness and using verses from the Quran to promote conservation.
Reporting for this piece was supported by a grant from the International Women’s Media Foundation.