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Zanzibari Women Take Advantage of a Changing Climate

Nasir Hassan Haji never thought of herself as a farmer or a swimmer, she realised she had surprised herself by becoming both. Alongside 12 other women in Jambiani village on the Indian Ocean coast, Haji has come to rely on the climate-resilient, natural sponges bobbing on thick ropes where they grow for months before the women harvest, clean and sell them to shops and tourists. Before farming sponges — which resemble a white, textured rock but are actually simple, multicellular animals — Haji cultivated seaweed, until rising ocean temperatures fuelled by global warming made it difficult to grow her cash crop. Haji and other women dependent on the ocean for their livelihoods — from seaweed farming to fishing and tourism — have seen warmer, rising seas threaten their work, but they are adapting by finding ways to diversify what they do to get by. Research by the State University of Zanzibar shows that more than 90% of seaweed farmers on the island are women, and that they have seen changing water temperatures, rainfall patterns and ocean salinity hit production in recent years.