Protecting Kenya's Coastline

Kenya's coastal region has seen huge change in the last 30 years.  With a significant population growth, a sharp rise in the cost of living, and the fluctuations in tourism, the coastal communities are under increasing pressure. 

Protecting Kenyas Coastline

Other forms of employment are yet to take off to alleviate this dependency on an unpredictable tourism industry; and so people from throughout Kenya continue to be attracted to the area, only to find a state of flux and lack of steady income. Improvements in the areas of healthcare, sanitation, education, and infrastructure have not been able to match the population’s pace of growth and this has had an alarming impact on Kenya’s marine areas and coastline. 

The change in traditional fishing habits, the popularity of beach tourism, the increase in pollution, and the explosion of property development – these are all factors that have had a seismic effect on Kenya’s marine resources. 

Yet in the face of these mounting pressures, there is always opportunity for change and optimism.

Tusk supports two organisations in Kenya that are focused on the preservation of marine life and the development of sustainable businesses and fishing practices along the coastline.

Local Ocean Trust 

Local Ocean Trust (LOT) grew out of a concern for the dwindling existence of ocean life and was formed, initially as Watamu Turtle Watch, in 1997 by a group of coastal residents looking to overhaul the relationship communities had with their local ocean.

Formed only at first to protect sea turtles in around the Watamu Marine National Park and safeguard Watamu’s nesting beaches, the work load grew to such an extent that by 2001 it was deemed time to form a parent organisation.  The resulting team, LOT, is committed to protecting Kenya’s marine environment with a holistic approach. The team recognise that their conservation efforts can only be effective with support from local communities and businesses, and that this support can only be garnered if they operate in a way that continually informs, educates, and includes the very people their projects seek to support.

“LOT’s operations as a parent organisation have grown significantly since those early days in 2001 and we now run seven programmes that seek to empower the community and rejuvenate marine ecosystems on the Kenyan coastline.  The most established of these is our Beach Monitoring Programme; since 1997 we have patrolled the Watamu Marine National Park beach every day of the year, keeping an eye out for illegal activities and development along the coast. Extending out of this initial programme are three others – our Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, the Bycatch Release Programme, and our Anti-poaching Patrols.  The Centre is the only facility of its kind in East Africa, where injured and sick turtles are treated before being rehabilitated to the ocean. With nine rehabilitation pools, three of which are quarantine pools, turtles of various sizes and requirements can be housed at the Centre.  Over nearly 20 years of continued community education, LOT has built and nurtured a large network of partnerships with local individuals and groups, encouraging fishermen with a fiscal reward to bring turtles caught accidentally to LOT instead of instantly killing and selling them in the local markets.  The Environmental Education Programme focuses on areas where we know there are a significant number of children who live close to the sea or are the children of fishermen. Every term children from 30 local schools are brought to the LOT headquarters to learn about a variety of marine topics – from mangroves to turtles to coral reefs – and, importantly, about the impact pollution and overfishing can have on these species and their ecosystems.  There are very few things more rewarding than the moment we hear from a fisherman in our Bycatch Release Programme that his children are discussing with him the future of their local ocean. It is our goal to create environments for these conversations, but the lead must be taken up by key members within the community for a shift in attitude and behaviour to truly hold. It is this belief that underpins our Community Capacity Building Programme, for which we have three Community Liaison Officers working closely with 22 influential community groups – all of whom have strong ties to the oceans. The groups work collaboratively with LOT to develop strategies promoting sustainable activities and reducing communities’ reliance on marine resources.  In keeping with this notion, we also run a programme that actively seeks to re-establish mangrove biomes. We collect propagules, rear them in nurseries, and plant them in areas where mangroves have previously been destroyed. Our final and most recently developed initiative is a satellite programme that now covers stretches of ocean along the southern coast of Kenya. Eight men from Diani and surrounds have been trained by LOT staff to be Beach Monitors. Although still in its early stages, the Diani Turtle Watch Programme is already making a significant difference in ensuring the safety of nesting females and increasing the survival rate of their eggs.”

Lamu Marine Conservation Trust 

Lamu Marine Conservation Trust (LaMCoT) is a community-based organisation that seeks to conserve the marine life in the Lamu archipelago. Founded in 1992 by the Korschens, the organisation has grown significantly and its projects range from protecting critically endangered sea turtles (hawksbill and green turtles specifically) to running mobile education programmes; from community coral conservation drives to bee projects; and a huge focus of LaMCoT’s is to establish sustainable community development and welfare projects to improve the livelihoods of the local communities and alleviate the pressure on Lamu’s marine ecosystems.

The Lamu Archipelago on the north coast of Kenya is home to all five sea turtle species – the leatherback and loggerhead turtles use the area as feeding grounds, and the green, hawksbill and Olive Ridley turtles as nesting sites. These species are all classified in IUCN red data lists as either endangered or critically endangered and are also entered under Appendix 1 of both the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). Despite enjoying legal protection under the Wildlife and Fisheries acts (CAP 376 & CAP 378) turtle populations in Kenya have declined by more than 80% over the last 30 years, and 85% of turtle mortalities are estimated to be the result of human activities.

Tusk, through the Safaricom Marathon has been supporting LaMCoT’s initiatives since 2000 – for as long as the Safaricom Marathon has been running – and it has been largely because of this long-standing support that LaMCoT has been able to expand its conservation efforts within the archipelago. 

Last year, LaMCoT received USD 10,000 in marathon funding, which supported a number of initiatives including their tag and release project, whereby local fisherman are compensate for turtles that are caught accidently in their nets. These turtles are usually brought to LaMCoT, measured, treated for any health problems if necessary, tagged and released back into the ocean. Last year a record number of turtles were tagged and released (1,115) which has resulted in strengthened monitoring of the marine areas by local authorities – between January and April only 16 turtles had to be tagged and released. Another huge success for LaMCoT is in their protection of turtle nests. On average, 4,432 hatchlings make it to the sea each year under the careful watch of LaMCoT; and the combined benefit from tourists visiting the nesting sites and tag and release compensation fees in 2015 provided the community with an income of USD 6,000. Four primary schools, one kindergarten, and one girls’ secondary school benefit from LaMCoT’s mobile education system, which consists of a dhow, a projector, a generator, a series of DVDS on health and conservation issues, and a dedicated team who aim to raise awareness within the surrounding communities. LaMCoT are also hugely instrumental in coordinating the waste management scheme in Shella village, offering a daily rubbish collection service to households and hotels in the area. All rubbish is taken to an organised dumping site using donkeys; 83 local houses and 64 guesthouses – making up 92% of the local population – have subscribed to the service and it has resulted in a 95% reduction in sea pollution. In addition to this, LaMCoT organise regular beach cleanups on Shella and Takwa every year. In 2015 two cleanups were held, taking a total of 2,430kgs of rubbish off the two beaches. Marathon funding also made it possible for LaMCoT to purchase eight pairs of buoys for Manda Toto coral conservancy (741 acres of marine ecosystem) which attracts a huge number of tourists for snorkelling; an inverter and battery for a solar system at Takwa and three mobile phones to increase patrol efficiency for the wardens; 20 beehives for the beekeeping project at Yawi; and 800 t-shirts and 60 caps for merchandise and publicity purposes.

The success of both Local Ocean Trust and Lamu Marine Conservation Trust is closely linked to each organisations’ progressive and collaborative approach.   With time running out for many marine ecosystems along Africa’s coastline, these organisations have put structures in place that provide strong models for preserving marine species and maintaining sustainable livings off the coast. 

*This article has been adapted from Tusk Talk and the Safaricom Marathon Programme

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