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The Quirimbas Archipelago, a cultural and natural heritage in northern Mozambique, consists of 31 islands stretching south from Cape Delgado for approximately 200 miles. These islands, running along the coast, are partly linked to the coast by sand bars, coral reefs, mangroves and water rich in marine life. Of special interest are the Islands of Ibo, and to a less extent, Quisiva and Matemo, that are old Portuguese settlements with pre-colonial Swahili settlements. The site is an outstanding illustration of the phases of a particular culture that brought together and homogenized disparate elements of the cultures of Africa, the Arab region, India, and Europe over more than a millennium.
The Quirimbas Archipelago, specially the Stone Town of Ibo Island, is an outstanding material manifestation of cultural interaction and harmonization. The architecture, urban environment and the living culture of Ibo Island demonstrate in an exceptional manner the cultural influences that have come together there over several hundred years from Europe, Arabia, and India, utilizing traditional Swahili techniques to produce a distinct culture. The urban settlement represented by religious, commercial and residential buildings and ruins is a physical reflection and testimony of a long-term inter-change of human values within the coastal region of East Africa: an authentic impression of the living Swahili culture.
The architectural character of the stone built town created through several hundred of years is remarkable for its homogeneity. It testifies a local interaction between the popular building style of Swahili matrix and the exogenous contributions - from the “original” rectangular Swahili house (built in coral stone) to the popular and rectangular house of Swahili matrix (built in natural materials); from this one to a colonial house of Swahili inspiration developed with exogenous contributions; and finally from this to the transformation of the basic popular type of Swahili matrix. It is clear that the town, the fortifications and many fine buildings on the Islands of Quisiva, Ibo and Matemo are an outstanding example of architecture in which local Swahili traditions, Portuguese influences and Indian and Arab influences are all intertwined.
Located where the South Equatorial Current meets the African coast and part of the Mtwara-Quirimbas Complex, the Quirimbas Archipelago is considered a key biodiversity site (seascapes) of global importance in the Eastern African Marine Ecoregion (EAME). From its extensive complex of reefs with high coral diversity (> 48 genera), diverse range of habitats including mangroves, seagrasses, sandy and rocky shores, the site is considered to be of outstanding universal value in terms of its terrestrial and marine biodiversity. The Quirimbas Archipelago is important feeding area for turtle, crab plovers and migratory birds. The site is also known to be important nursery area for bottlenose and humpback dolphins and whales. The Quirimbas Archipelago is clearly a significant habitat for a significant diversity of African biota.
The more southerly eleven islands, such as Quisiva, Quirimba, Ibo and Matemo, and other six districts of Cabo Delgado are integrated within the Quirimbas National Park (QNP). The Park, gazetted in 2002, is primarily terrestrial covering a total area 7,500 km2, of which 25-30% is a marine. The QNP has three zones in the marine area, namely: total protection or ‘sanctuaries’ (where fishing is banned); special use zones (e.g. St Lazarus Bank) and community use and development zone (where people live but some fishing methods are restrict now). A Management Plan (2004-2008) prepared by the Government of Mozambique is currently in place and has the commitment and support of local communities and international cooperation. In accordance with the EAME priority seascapes, the Governments of Mozambique and Tanzania have initiated the establishment of transboundary conservation initiative with Mnazi Bay-Rovuma Estuary.
The Quirimbas Archipelago can be compared with World Heritage Sites such as the Socotra Archipelago (Yemen) and Ibiza (Spain) because of its excellent biodiversity, or even with Mozambique Island, (Mozambique), James Island and Related Sites (Gambia) and the Stone Town of Zanzibar (United Republic of Tanzania) as an exceptional testimony of the African-European encounter and a fine example of the Swahili coastal trading town in East Africa. Of special interest about the Quirimbas Archipelago is that the site has authentically preserved its historical characteristics such as urban environment in a natural setting of exceptional aesthetic qualities, outstanding biodiversity attributes and habitat for threatened species of universal values.