It is a little after nine o’clock in the morning at Mida Creek in Watamu, Kilifi County, a group of youth, are busy planting seedlings along the creek. The tide is low, leaving behind waterlogged sands, which provide favourable conditions to plant the seedlings. The youth are part of the Mida Creek Conservation and Awareness group that is working to transform the face of the environment by taking up mangrove conservation. Their efforts ensure the protection of the tropical or subtropical shrub and also serves as a way to make money.
The creek that covers an estimated area of 32 km2 is one of the most productive mangrove ecosystems in the world, according to Alex Thoya, an environmentalist and conservation assistant. It hosts at least nine different mangrove species. The government’s National Mangrove Ecosystem Management Plan 2017-2027 approximates that Mangrove forests along the Kenya coast cover approximately 61,271ha. The woods are essential to the ecosystem as they benefit both local and national economic development as well as a habitat for fish and other wildlife, shoreline protection, and carbon capture.
A study done by the Kenya Forest service reveals that increased demand for mangrove wood products is due to increased population, weak governance, inadequate awareness of the actual value of mangrove ecosystems, plus unmonitored illegal activities. These have led to loss and transformations of mangrove forests.
The Mida Creek-based group, alongside others in the neighbourhood, is working to reverse this trend by cultivating and planting mangrove seedlings. Mr Thoya further shared that they also sell seedlings to other conservation-oriented organisations for replantation elsewhere. Collecting the seeds and planting them in seedbeds by the sea, guarantees that there will be regeneration. The youth reportedly produce approximately 20,000 seedlings annually.
Mida creek, states Kenya Forestry Services (KFS) officer Elvis Katana Fondo, is the oldest reserve of its kind in the East Africa region. It is part of the broader Arabuko-Sokoke forest ecosystem, which has been declared a man and biosphere reserve. The forest — made up of terrestrial and marine ecosystems (into which the mangroves fall) — is one of the remaining tropical forests and initially stretched down from Southern Somalia to Northern Mozambique.
Human activities have caused its decline, and it now stretches for just 420km2. The youth group’s activities target to regenerate the marine ecosystem, now covering up to 8000 hectares.
Apart from conservation, Kibwana Ali, the chairperson of the group, the 28-member group’s mangrove conservation activities, have also seen it support the livelihoods of its members. Through the Arabuko-Sokoke Schools and Eco-Tourism Scheme (ASSETS), an initiative by a Christian conservation organisation called A Rocha Kenya; they have also supported the education of students from their neighbourhood.
The Mida Creek Conservation and Awareness group Mr Fondo believes are a great example of how KFS working with communities living around the forest (adjacent dwellers) can find innovative ways to earn from the forest as they protect it.
“Through the community forest association scouts, these communities, with the facilitation of Kenya Forestry Research Institute (Kefri), Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) and others like Nature Kenya, now watch and keep it safe from illegalities including unlawful tree harvesting,” says Fondo.