They are rich, productive and vital. Yet compared to other forests under threat, Kenya’s wealth of Mangrove forests does not get the attention they deserve. But they should do. The threats they face are every bit as ciritical as those facing Mount Kenya, the Mau escarpment and the Aberadres. And most of the threats are ,man-made, which means, theoretically, they could be brought under control. The nine species of Mangroves that Kenya has cover 54,000 hectares of the entire Kenya Coastline. Mangroves are classified as the third richest in productivity after tropical rain forests and coral reefs.
They are habitats to many species of birds, reptiles including crocodiles, mammals , fish, prawns, crabs, mollusc, insects, fungi and lichens.Mangrove ecosystems also protect the coast from erosion, trap and recycle nutrients, provide fuel, traditional medicines, building materials, sources of food, honey and recreation areas. This is in addition to the important role they play in carbon sequestration– trapping carbon to protect us from climate change. Despite all these life-giving assets, mangrove forests have been overexploited over the past few years.
They are under threat by conversion to agriculture, Mari culture ponds, salt extraction ponds and unsustainable traditional uses.
Other threats are:
a) Dumping of solid waste and non biodegradable materials, sewage and industrial toxic wastes
b) Oil spillage from the port area. For instance, between 1983 and 1993 Mombasa port and surrounding waters experienced 39 680 tonnes of oil spills that affected mangroves of Port Ritz and Makupa creeks.
c) Clearing of mangrove trees to create access routes to shorelines and pave the way for physical developments.
This causes changes in sea currents and encourages erosion of the shoreline.
d) Lack of cutting plans escalates problems of mangrove management in Kenya. The government agencies responsible for managing mangroves and other forests in Kenya lack adequate resources to implement management guidelines. In most cases, the removal of quality poles for building has wiped out most quality species in out in Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi districts where population density is highest along the coast.
e) Poor land use practices in the hinterland has increased sediment loads into mangrove leading to siltation of breathing roots of the trees and eventual death of the system.
f) A new threat to mangroves is the projected sea-level rise due to climate change. Since the coastal areas where mangroves occur is low lying land a small increase in sea levels will submerge mangroves unless they move to safer fround/ Most of these areas where mangroves could migrate to have already been occupied by humans and/or infrastructure. Evidence of death of mangroves due to climate change impacts has been observed in several areas along the coast such as Gazi bay, Mwache creek, Ngomeni, Tana River and Dodori creek.
To address some of the above the issues, the East African Wild Life Society (EAWLS) through its marine programme
based at Mombasa and through support provided by the United Nations Development programme (UNDP), Darwin Initiative, Flora and Fauna International and Waterloo Foundation, is supporting sustainable ways of managing mangrove habitats.. In this regard, the Society is supporting:
• Conservation and management of critical coastal and marine ecosystems through establishment of Community Conservation Areas (CCAs) and formation of Beach Management Units (BMUs) and Community Forest Associations(CFAs).
• Research to provide information for management of coastal and marine resources such as vulnerability assessments on the impacts of climate change on coastal ecosystems within East Africa, and socio-economic and biodiversityassessments.
• Capacity building of local communities through training.
• Development of fishery management plans and development of tourism Code of Conduct.
• Sustainable livelihood options including promotion of multiple uses of mangrove environment. The main livelihood activities supported include bee-keeping, ecotourism and offshore fishery.
• Advocacy, education and awareness on sustainable fishery and mangrove conservation.
Airkenya is supportive of EAWLS marine programme initiatives and is exploring ways of strengthening a partnership with EAWLS to ensure that there is s reduction in mangrove cutting and improved livelihoods of people that depend on mangrove and marine associated resources. EAWLS is calling upon other stakeholders including tourists to help protect the Kenya mangrove Indian Ocean shoreline by joining hands and supporting conservation of this vital resource and tourism destination area. One way of doing this is by joining the EAWLS membership or contributing towards conservation of our marine resources.
EAWLS Deputy Director