IN THE LIFE OF AN ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION INTERN

“I am often seen carrying random paraphernalia like balls, multicolored balloons, a ball of string, a mangrove seed besides the dusty chalky fingers.

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When I first got the call to volunteer at A Rocha Kenya in the Environmental Education Department (EE), I had no idea what was in store for me. But it turned out exactly what I have always wanted to do; teach and have fun while at it. The Environmental Education Programme at A Rocha Kenya is not just your typical chalk, board and maybe PowerPoint presentation. It is dynamic and has a twist of games and fun environmental activities. In most cases singing about the environment.

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing children and teenagers learn and interact enthusiastically with the natural environment. The children see a tree with new eyes, not just a tall structure that is brown and green and that can be used for charcoal, but also as a home to lots of God’s creatures. Or the role of a tiny earthworm in enriching the soil. Sometimes it is appreciating the sheer creativity of God when he created the birds, which are able to fly thousands of kilometer to breed, eat and always remember their routes to and from.

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Practical conservation is also a key part of EE. The children always have an adventure walking through the forest as they learn about the different kinds of plants but also assist in removing snares in the forest.  Learning about scarcity of resources also makes these children more conscious of the amount of water they use, ways of water recycling and even rain water harvesting.

I have; braved long off road bumpy rides to make children aware of the environment and the need for its conservation, camped in staff rooms when the schools were too far from home and used a few giriama words to make the lessons user friendly. Regardless of all this the job is quite rewarding. My colleagues and i strive and press on, to raise a generation that is more environmentally conscious and works to protect God’s creation.

I cannot wait for my next class!!”

 

Marxine Waite

Environmental Education Intern

 

 

SUMMER FIELD COURSE

As narrated by Cyrus Hester…..

The 2015 Summer Field Course has been a very busy and exciting experience so far. We’ve visited local schools bustling with smiling children, watched hundreds of flamingos feed along coastal flats, patrolled dense forests with community elders, and watched baby sea turtles scramble for the ocean. We’ve also had the opportunity to assist with ongoing research. On Monday, July 20th, we paid our third and final visit to the Gede Ruins National Monument and forest regeneration project.
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The Ruins rise out of the East African coastal dry forest like a dreamscape; toppled walls of rough-faced stone standing over wells filled with impenetrable dark and ornate tombs plastered a ghostly white. These are the remains of a coastal, Swahili trading town that reached its peak in the fifteenth century AD. The Omani, Portuguese, and Chinese all paid visit to this place at one time or another in the distant past. But, archaeological evidence suggests that rising hostilities, shifting centers of power, and a falling water table all contributed to its abandonment in the 16th–17th centuries AD. Whatever the causes, the structures fell to disrepair over the coming centuries and natural features came to dominate the area.
In 1927, the site was gazetted as a historical monument and in the early 1990s the first phases of forest restoration project began to turn agricultural plots back into coastal forest. This is where our story meets that of Gede’s. The Research and Conservation team at A Rocha Kenya recently agreed to take up the task of monitoring the long-term fate of the restoration project. A small team of us headed into the forest armed with hand-drawn maps, lists of species, and the keen wits of A Rocha Kenya’s resident ecologists. As Sykes’ monkeys watched from the canopy and pollinators flittered around us, we scrambled between tree trunks great and small to find the little aluminum tags that marked each tree. We noted which were present, which were missing, and which required replacement tags.

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It was a small, but important, task and one which will hopefully help contribute to our understanding of how this under-researched habitat responds to change. We were lucky to have had the chance to spend our time in such a beautiful place, with such a rich history, and all the while contributing to ecological research. I look forward to seeing what comes of A Rocha Kenya’s work here.

ARABUKO-SOKOKE FOREST

The Arabuko-Sokoke forest is quickly getting tampered with. A look by the road can be very deceiving. Before you take a walk inside the forest one would think it is very much intact but alas! After a recent snare walk we found that trees are being cut at a very high speed by our own people, people who know very well that it is not right to destroy the forest, but may be; just may be they need a little more awareness of how important forests are.

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And what’s so disappointing is that this activity is bravely done just about 200m from the forest edge. There are no silver bullet solutions to this problem but we strongly believe that the day the society is going to put pressure on the corporations and markets depending on the forest resources, that is introducing zero deforestation policies and cleaning up the supply chains and holding the suppliers accountable for producing commodities like timber and charcoal; changing the Kenyan politics on forest resources is the day this forests will survive from this menace. The corporations and individuals placing demands of forest timber should be told TO STOP ENDANGERING OUR FORESTS!!

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Arabuko-Sokoke forest happens to cover approximately 420sq km and was gazetted in 1932. It is home to different birds such as Amani sunbird, Sokoke scops owl, Sokoke pipit, Clarke’s weaver, East coast akalat and spotted ground thrush. More so, it is also home to animals such as the golden-rumped elephant shrew, sokoke bush tailed mongoose and giant Gambian rat. We noticed more than 20 trees were cut for timber. Very sad but we thought it was high time something had to be done.

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With the help of Community Forest Associations (CFA), realization of different Village Development Forest Conservation committee (VDFCC) were formed thus, it was agreed that meetings be scheduled to discuss ways of saving our forest with recommendations such as: increasing the CFA personnel since the forest is too big to be handled by a few people, creation of awareness, frequent patrols by community members, involvement of various schools around sokoke forest on more about environmental education, discussions with other VDFCC on what they do and what can be done to help the community protect and conserve the forest and more importantly discuss other means of sustaining the community members lives because most of them depend solemnly on the forest for their daily needs.

BLACK TIP FRIENDS

Have you ever seen a shark? I have been lucky enough to see sharks…. well; I have only seen three sharks in my lifetime just a few metres from the backyard Mwamba Field study Centre. They were black tip reef sharks, all three of them swimming gracefully in a circular pattern very close to the shore. It was an exhilarating experience, well because it was my first real encounter besides the movie stuff. If you don’t want to see one yet, I don’t blame you. The sight of a popping fin moving in predictable patterns on the surface of the ocean sends shivers down many a spine. These fins would only mean one thing; sharks. Fueled by the many years of terrible Hollywood movies that depict sharks as ferocious man eaters most people are afraid of them.

Even before the advent of these movies sharks were historically viewed as savage creatures of the deep and therefore were hunted in a bid to make the ocean “safe”. This has led to the endangering of these creatures that are little if not misunderstood. While the reality of sharks attacking people exists, this is an extremely biased conclusion to be applied for all sharks. Out of the over 400 species of sharks known and recorded only 5 are that aggressive. It has taken the intervention of marine biologists working long hours to study, understand and hopefully change this popular perception.

Contrary to popular belief that killing off sharks would lead to a safer ocean, the reality couldn’t be possibly farther way. Sharks play a vital role in the ocean ecosystem. They serve to remove disease plagued fish from the ocean in this regard contributing to a healthier ocean. If there were no sharks, the ocean systems might even collapse. No sharks mean uncontrolled populations of smaller herbivorous fish that feed on algae and sea grass. Too many small fish would then overgraze and deplete marine plants which are also habitats for other marine creatures.

Did you know that sharks do not have bones? Their skeleton is made up of cartilage; this is also found in human ears and noses. This gives shark a distinct advantage over other fish as it is very flexible and can easily navigate corners. Another interesting fact is that sharks have multiple rows of teeth; some even have 50 rows!! Sharks’ teeth also never get cavities as they are fortified with fluoride (imagine your body making its own version of toothpaste). Some sharks glow in the dark such as Green Lantern sharks and others have feet like Epaulette sharks. In the hundreds of species of sharks we know, God has made them all unique and with peculiar interesting characteristics that would not fit in this short article.

Sharks today are endangered because of over exploitation for various reasons. A curious delicacy in Asian countries; fin soup spells a particularly cruel death to sharks. Sharks are fished just to obtain the fins then they are released back into the ocean to die a pitiful slow death. Some people hunt sharks for their teeth which are used to make jewellery.

God made all creatures of the earth for a reason. Through research and Science we now understand to some extent why we have sharks in the ocean. Wouldn’t it be lovely to say hello to our black tip reef friends when you ever get a chance?

Author:  Peter Musembi

Marine Researcher

Bird Ringing at Mwamba Field Study Centre

Bird ringing can be a very entertaining experience. Last week, we had the pleasure of hosting a good number of visitors from different hotels around Watamu who happily arrived at A Rocha Kenya’s Mwamba Field Study center one early morning to join the whole team in bird ringing.

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The whole process of bird ringing
Tying of the nets to strong poles is what kicks off the whole process either at the beach or at the nature trails a day before the D day.

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As this picture below shows you the tied net, what follows after is letting it free the next day at around 5.45 am for the birds to be caught while flying around.
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A check is then made after every one hour to see if some birds have been caught. A total number of four birds were caught on 25th June, 2015 and a thorough study were done on them.
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When caught or rather captured, the birds are put in cotton bags and everyone proceeded to the ringing table.

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At this stage the birds are studied one by one by first attaching a metal ring on its leg with a unique identification number. Two common Drongos, African kingfisher and Northern browbull were the birds of the day. Everyone was excited to have learnt something about birds that and more so about the African kingfisher which happened to be the favourite to almost everyone who had visited.

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On the ringing table different measurements are recorded of the different birds that were captured in the nets before releasing them. The measurements include the weight of the birds, the wings and the tarsus. Moulting of their feathers is also recorded and an estimation of the age of the birds is also done and recorded by analysing them all in a general view.
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Bird ringing is therefore a very interesting activity as it exposes one to the field of ornithology; which is the study of birds.

A Glance at the Intertidal Zone.

The intertidal zone is a highly dynamic area but one that plays important ecological roles as well as providing economic or livelihood benefits. The intertidal zone is the area that is periodically inundated or exposed depending on the tidal regime. This forms habitats such as rocky shores, sandy beaches, mudflats and sea grass beds. Due to the intervals of high and low tides, the area is highly dynamic with fluctuating conditions such as temperature, salinity and light intensity. There is also a lot of influence from land-based factors such as freshwater run-off. This makes it difficult for organisms to survive here, only those that are specifically adapted to such environments are able to maintain a niche. Such organisms are called permanent residents.

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Corals thriving in an intertidal area.
Transient organisms visit the intertidal zone to feed on debris and planktons brought by the tides. Other transient species come to the intertidal zone to rest or breed. This emphasizes the vital role of this habitat in the wellbeing of adjacent areas. The intertidal zone is also influenced by a handful of anthropogenic factors because humans can easily access it. Intertidal invertebrates harvesting, for instance, is a prominent human activity in this habitat and has been widely carried out in different parts of the world for many years. If this is further overlooked, and continues beyond the carrying capacity, it will definitely lead to biodiversity loss. Tourism and harbor activities such as careless anchorage of boats causes habitat damage which will eventually jeopardize the ecological and economic roles of these areas.
In terms of research and monitoring intertidal areas form perfect platforms for understanding processes of other marine habitats. Think of, for example, corals that thrive in the intertidal zone. We all know corals do well in areas with relatively stable conditions such as temperature and light intensity, conditions that are hardly present in the intertidal areas. The obvious question is: so how do these corals survive here? Understanding the community structure of corals in the intertidal areas, gives an insight on how corals are likely to adapt to changing conditions.
For the restoration of the intertidal habitat a sustainable management strategy is indispensable. Understanding its ecological dynamics and involving all stakeholders in the management is commendable.

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A Rocha Kenya staff carrying out research in the intertidal zone.

Politicians must follow the Pope, say Christian Conservationists.

Climate Change is a global plight, its damage on ecosystems affects all creation. Each human has a stake in tackling climate change since we all need a habitable earth.

A Rocha organisations have welcomed the new Papal Encyclical. It has a strong moral message on the environment.

Read here

 

Care of Creation Training.

Towards the end of May A Rocha Kenya conducted a training on Care of Creation in five villages in Dakatcha. Since moisture (water) plays a pivotal role in the wellbeing of the rest of the creation, the film  Water Running Dry was shown.
Looking at the  dire consequences of desertification as projected on the film, one villager  said,” I did not know that you actually should cry before felling a tree”. Deforestation is a real threat to fresh water sources. Some scientists anticipate international crises on fresh water due to waning global forest cover and general degradation of the environment.

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A group watching the film Running Dry.

A Rocha Kenya has taken the conservation message to Christian  communities, sharing the biblical basis of creation care with pastors. Pastors who attended the week-long training confessed that they have not incorporated conservation in their preaching. The event was a great insight for them as they agreed to spread the creation care message to their congregations.

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This church was among the venues during the training.

In the discussions the villagers acknowledged that Farming God`s Way (an on-going project) which upholds agroforestry as a principle is one of the solutions to the degradation of the woodlands. Deforestation (charcoal burning) coupled with shifting (slash and burn) cultivation is a major threat to the forest ecosystem. As a result the area receives rains at quite irregular times. Last year we were inspecting the Farming God`s Way plots (which had a luxuriant crop) and we saw a withered crop on the plots farmed the ordinary way. Early planting and mulching was the recipe for the success of the Farming God`s Way plots. The communities have started to establish tree nurseries and among the trees to be raised is the acacia Faidherbia albida. Seeds were issued during the training. The beneficiaries were excited to be issued with  seeds of such a useful tree. It is ideal for agroforestry as it shields plants from excessive sunlight during the dry season since it sheds its leaves during the wet season. The leaves readily decompose due to the presence of moisture and enhances soil fertility. In fact, it is claimed to fix ten times more the amount of Nitrogen fixed by legumes. Livestock such as goats and cows feed on it and it is also home to insects including pollinators.

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A group gathering tree nursery materials.

Breeding Sites of Clarke`s Weavers.

Clarke`s Weaver (Ploceus golandi) is a threatened species whose breeding sites have been sought by bird enthusiasts for the last one and a half decades.
In 1998 A Rocha Kenya led by Colin Jackson, and partners visited Dakatcha Woodlands where the birds are believed to be breeding. This was the first of the series of expeditions that would follow and although the ornithologists found no weaver during the first visit, they never gave up. In May 2004 the team found an unoccupied weaver nest on the top of a tree. The previous year they had spotted an adult female feeding a juvenile. In 2007 Colin Jackson wrote,” [U]ntil we actually find a Clarke`s Weaver at a nest, the mystery remains”

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A Clarke`s Weaver at a nest.

Early this month A Rocha Kenya`s Science and Conservation team, aided by university interns visited the  Dakatcha Woodlands in search for breeding evidence of the birds. At last a couple of sites are discovered! Bore    is a large swamp (approximately 10 acres), probably the largest within the woodlands. The team arrived here in the evening. A flock of about 500 Clarke`s Weavers including juveniles, fly some metres high then abruptly descend and perch on  sedges; an aquatic reed with luxuriant stem and long parallel- veined leaves. The crafty birds wove the spine-like reed leaves into nests which firmly rest on the stems, above the water lilies.

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Sedges woven into nests.

The marsh is surrounded by shrubs which form a hedge. Water between the hedge and the sedges creates a buffer and reaching for the nests would require some deal of wading. Some cattle can be seen quenching their thirst here. Some members of the community have been doing some washing and are packing up their clothes.
The following day the team visited another swamp known as Gandi. It is approximately 4 acres though nests are concentrated on a relatively small portion; an acre or so. Some scores of adult Clarke`s Weavers can be seen. Some are mending the nests, and occasionally some enter the nests and before long, fly out. It is highly probable that the birds are roosting.

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An adult Clarke`s Weaver mending a nest.

Young People on a Global Stage.

Young People on a Global Stage (YPGS) is a project that brings together schools in the UK, Germany, Spain, Kenya and The Gambia to research on global sustainable issues; biodiversity, including trees, waste management, climate change, food and water, in and around the cities where the schools are found. They then try to come up with initiatives to address these issues and then propose their ideas to decision makers.
A Rocha Kenya began the project towards the end of last year with Lenana School and the students embraced the initiative with huge enthusiasm. On 8th November last year, the Environment Club organised a clean-up event in Ng`ando Estate which borders their school. Other conservation enthusiasts participated in the exercise.

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Some of the members of the Environment Club(Lenana School) doing a presentation on Trees and Climate Change during an International Forest Day event.

Early this year Karen Secondary School joined Lenana School and from the 27th to 30th of April this year, we did an official launch of Young People on a Global Stage project with the Year 9 students at Braeburn International School.
We introduced the five issues and allowed the students to get into groups and formulate research questions and/or hypotheses. They then researched on the topics and presented their findings on the last day of the launch.

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A group of students doing a presentation on recycling of waste during the YPGS project launch at Braeburn International School.

The event was cross-curricular involving Geography, History, English, Science, Arts, and Music among other subjects. There were all sorts of presentations including Power Point, photography, artwork, animations, poetry, and songs among other exhibitions.

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A dust bin made of recycled material.

Some of the groups will carry on with the project and we anticipate being with them for some more time.
It is indeed a great thing to see young people become more enthusiastic in global environmental issues in bid to make the planet more habitable.