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Marine conservation gaining momentum in Kwale

Marine conservation and restoration efforts for mitigating and adapting in climate change have gained momentum in Wasini Island of Kwale County.

The famed Wasini Island on the Kenyan South Coast is one of the country’s major fishing grounds and home to amazing creatures of the sea.

Marine conservation, also known as ocean conservation, is the protection and preservation of ecosystems in oceans and seas through planned management in order to prevent the over-exploitation of oceanic resources.

Sea grass, mangrove forest and coral reefs conservation activities geared towards saving marine life and by extension local communities dependent on the sea for their livelihoods have gone a notch higher.

Seagrass meadows, coral reefs and mangrove forests were rapidly disappearing in the fishing island blamed on global warming before restoration efforts were initiated by the Coast Development Authority (CDA).

In a bid to reduce severe threats of climate change to marine ecosystems, CDA in partnership with National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is implementing the Kenya Climate Change Adaptation Programme aimed at building resilience and adaptive capacity to climate change among vulnerable communities living along the coastal line.

Climate Change has globally contributed to worsening food security, reduced the predictable availability of fresh water, and exacerbated the spread of diseases and other threats to human health.

Sea grasses are flowering marine plants that have adapted to survive in marine conditions and are mostly found in shallow sandy bottom habitats and can form dense extensive meadows.

It has a range of benefits as it acts as a nursery and food source for a wide variety of marine life such as fish, turtles, sea horses and dugongs.

Besides, sea grass protects coastlines by absorbing wave energy, produces oxygen and cleans the ocean by soaking up polluting nutrients produced on land by humans.

CDA Managing Director (MD), Dr Mohamed Keinan, says his authority is determined to intensify marine conservation efforts to preserve marine biodiversity.

“The marine conservation efforts are crucial not only for biodiversity but for the people who depend on the ocean as a source of food and income,” he said, adding that CDA is deeply committed to the conservation of the ocean and its marine life.

Dr Keinan says sea grasses are a source of food, shelter and nursery areas for many organisms including commercially viable fish.

He said global warming is responsible for the sea level rise as a result of the melting of ice sheets and glaciers and the overall acidification of the ocean.

Dr Keinan contends seas grass ecosystem is a critical habitat among coastal communities as they provide essential services such as maintaining habitat for fisheries, tourism and coastal protection as well as cultural benefits.

He said despite their immense economic and ecological value, sea grasses are increasingly showing signs of long-term degradation as evidenced by loss of seagrass cover due to effects of climate change.

He noted the degradation of these habitats has led to loss of marine resources that ultimately affected livelihoods of coastal communities who depend on fishing, tourism and hospitality sectors.

“By and large they provide food security for coastal communities by supporting fisher folks and are an integral part of coastal livelihoods” he said during an interview with KNA.

Dr Keinan said the sea grass conservation effort is part of a climate change adaptation programme that also encompasses mangrove tree planting and coral reef restoration that covers the coastal counties of Kwale, Kilifi and Taita Taveta.

“We have also over the years heightened awareness about the importance of ocean-biodiversity conservation in the coastal counties,” he said.

He contends that meadows are subject to frequent disturbance such as people disturbing the seabed, which suffocates the sea grass or damage the sea grass by trampling on it which over the decades led to the loss of sea grasses.

The CDA MD said his authority in collaboration with NEMA is also implementing an Integrated Shoreline and Mangrove Ecosystem Management (ISMEM) project in Kwale County.

“Our conservation efforts are geared towards building resilience among vulnerable communities who are susceptible to the adverse impacts of climate change,” he said.

The MD noted that so far two hectares of sea grass has been restored in Wasini Island and over 10,000 sea grass seedlings successfully transplanted.

He said the CDA intervention project has grown over 170,000 mangrove seedlings and restored over 2 kilometers of coral reef in Wasini Island and a National Coral Reef Restoration Protocol developed.

Mangroves are trees and shrubs that grow in salty coastal sediment and protect coastlines by sustaining sea life and help slow climate change.

Mangrove forests can also help regulate coastal rainfall, ensuring supplies of water and are among the most endangered ecosystems on earth, according to conservationists.

Dr Keinan noted climate change and human activities such as poor waste management, illegal fishing methods and degradation of mangroves ecosystem have contributed greatly to the loss of the marine ecosystem.

He also said the large-scale collapse of coral reefs that provide home for marine life has exposed the coastline to increased erosion and the loss of fisheries.

Dr Keinan noted a healthy coral reef provides habitat, feeding and breeding sites for various species of aquatic animals such as fish, birds, prawns, crabs and gallop crustaceans of all kinds.

He noted the coral gardens are part of an income generating eco-tourism project to help preserve the giant coral rocks on Wasini island and the mangrove forest while providing a livelihood for the fishing community.

“Unfortunately, because of the human impact on coral reefs these ecosystems are becoming increasingly degraded and in need of conservation” he said, noting that the biggest threats include overfishing, destructive fishing practices and sedimentation.

Dr Keinan described the project as a success story with unique achievements as it was a community driven conservation initiative noting the partnership with communities was a key ingredient in the success of the conservation initiatives.

He said protecting and conserving the ocean is one way of securing the future generations highlighting the importance of the ocean as the key to human survival, for food, transportation and livelihood.

The MD added that CDA plans to share the knowledge and lessons learnt from Wasini Island on Integrated Shoreline and Mangrove Ecosystem Management with the neighboring coastal counties for replication.

The Wasini Beach Management Unit (BMU) Chairman Muhiyadin Musa, noted that the coral reef restoration had benefited the fisher folks as the fish stocks had greatly improved in the region.

Wasini Beach Management Unit (BMU) is a group of youth and women spearheading the rehabilitation of the degraded coral reefs and seagrass restoration efforts.

Musa said food and nutrition security had been achieved as a result of increased fish production.

“The protection of sea grasses, corals and mangroves have resulted in more catches and more money for the local fisher folks,” said Musa.

He said local fishermen were trained by conservationists on how to cultivate the underwater coral gardens to help harbour fish stocks and draw tourists to the famed island near the border with Tanzania.

Ahmed Abubakar who comes from a long line of fishermen commended the enthusiasm of the community driven conservation initiatives and overall success of the project.

Abubakar says local fishermen are now reaping the benefits of the myriad conservation and restoration activities by the various stakeholders as fish stock increases.

He said restoring and protecting mangroves, sea grass and degraded coral reefs will prevent coastal communities from flooding, while creating livelihood opportunities and supporting healthy ecosystems.

Choti Fumo, a women group’s leader, noted without healthy coral reefs, Wasini islanders would lose out on valuable income associated with tourism and fisheries sectors.

Fumo said degraded coral reefs, depleted mangrove forests and loss of sea grasses increased the region’s vulnerability to costly risks and disasters associated with climate change.

She said coral reef, seagrass and mangrove conservations are bearing fruit as fishing business thrives.

“Following the intensification of marine conservation efforts local communities are now taking a sustainable approach to fishing and generally using ocean resources in a way that doesn’t deplete them,” she said, adding that fish have started to return since the restoration activities began.

By Hussein Abdullahi

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