Nature Calls

Nature Calls
“Home” as T.S.Eliot wrote “is where one starts from.” As an affirmation to this statement, I have come to call A Rocha Kenya, my home away from home.

The day is 21st July 2014. It marked the beginning of a journey, a journey that can be alluded to the Biblical Moses Story, a journey that brings into light Prophet Jeremiah’s words, “For I now the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not harm you.” – Jeremiah 29:11

After a successful orientation on day one, I got down to business establishing my primary role as being able to carry out environmental education and awareness activities among communities and schools in A Rocha Kenya’s focal areas at the coast. Fundamentally, we (community conservation Department) are supposed to build the capacity of the local communities and schools towards conservation and making them realize the need for such effort. Nature trail survey
The most exciting part of this job is that, it has offered me a platform where I get to interact with the environment coupled with communities and schools but at the same juncture I get to answer “the call by nature,” that is saving it by participating in activities or programs that spearhead conservation taking into account our Biblical obligation of caring for God’s creation.

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A  flash back to my past experiences as a high school teacher and as an intern at the then Ministry of Environment and Natural Mineral Resources (which were extremely eye opening experiences and contributed to whom I am today) am left with words like “Routine” and “Rigidity” to describe the former and the latter was characterized by a hierarchical, bureaucratic, protocol, command following experience. Despite all this, am still heavily indebted to them because they catapulted me to joining A Rocha Kenya.Snare walk

Flash forward to my current experiences at A Rocha Kenya the word “spontaneity” springs into life, highlighted by a roller coaster of activities. These range from participating in the snare walk (For a personalized experience of the walk look at In The Name Of Saving The Forest at http://www.majaliamjomba.wordpress.com) with a community group from Chipande to visiting Dakatcha where a project is currently underway on enlightening farmers about Farming God’s Way where a tremendous effort has been put in the farms and the farmers are enthusiastic about their harvest.Whale watching

Not forgetting the whale watching experience, the bird ringing exercise at Mwamba, taking part in the nature trail surveys, and just being part of an intertwined team, has been an exquisite experience. The best part is the organizational structure, horizontal it may be described but everyone seems to know his/her right place and formalities are given little thought. In addition one can literally be involved in everything from the Science and Conservation Department to the Hospitality Department, therefore, empowering one to carry out his/her roles accordingly and lend a hand where necessary.

“There is no blueprint for a perfect course of action which it is our job to identify”- Peter Harris, Under the Bright Wings. Hence, I believe any challenges encountered are towards discovering the perfect blueprint in order to execute one’s tasks and on my part so far so good.

Finally as Peter Harris (in Kingfishers Fire) puts it, ”Conservationists of all persuasions have embarked on a quest for environmental sustainability, but in the face of an acutely difficult task we all need to consider what would motivate us to achieve it.” It’s my humble believe, I have found my motivation, in the name of being a community conservation officer at A Rocha Kenya, ready to heed to “the call by nature,” Manifesting itself as the continuity of a self-discovery journey in the world of Environmental conservation packaged with a rich Christian touch.

Allan Mjomba Majalia-Community Conservation Officer

 

 

A Lifetime Experience

Cross culture is one of A Rocha Kenya’s core values, and it is thus integrated in each and every aspect of our work as a Christian conservation organization.
This July three students from the United Kingdom, United States and Holland joined our team at Mwamba for the summer field course which lasted the entire month.

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During this period they participated in various activities together with help of our staff at Mwamba.
Their first week at A Rocha Kenya was basically on learning about our work as A Rocha Kenya, the Kenyan culture as well as bible study as Christianity is the basis of what we do.

With the help of the science and conservation team they were able prune the nature trails, make sitting benches as well as direction plates/labels in the trails, landscape, paint the rooms and map a roundabout at the car parking area.

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The beautiful view and incredible amount of terns and nests at Whale Island was very exciting for them as they carried out a survey on the breeding success of the terns. This really was a surreal moment for them: standing on the beautiful, untouched rock in the ocean with thousands of screaming birds encircling them. At Sabaki River, it was a mud filled affair as they waded through the mud while doing a wader count.

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Imagine seeing a black-tipped shark’s dorsal fin just meters from where you are rock pooling? Isn’t it amazing? While rock pooling along the shores of the white sandy Watamu beaches, they were able to observe corals and as well as shark’s dorsal fin.A visit to the turtle watch and whale watching was more than amazing for them.

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“I have never imagined in my entire life I would ever have the opportunity to join a forest patrol on a trail deep within the largest coastal forest of East Africa.” remarked Hannah. These students joined the anti-poaching team and an avid birder Mr. David Ngala in Arabuko Sokoke Forest, where they were able to remove snares placed in the forest as well learning more about their work in the forest.they were also able to visit Mida creek as well as Gede ruins(a heritage site at the Kenyan coast).

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It has been a month of adventure and positive experiences for them, “The experiences we’ve had on this summer field course have been unbelievable”. Said Hannah, one of the students attending the field course. “The friendly atmosphere and simple lifestyle will be sorely missed.” added Alex

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They have sure enjoyed the program and learnt a lot, and as they head back home, we wish them all the best and hope they will be good ambassadors of A Rocha Kenya.

 

 

Bounty Harvest

The Kenyan coast is famed for being one of the top tourist destinations in Kenya; it is characterized by a distinctive hot and humid climate. This makes it hot for the better part of the year despite the heavy downpours between April and May and the occasional showers towards the end of the year.

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Gede, situated in the coastal region, has poor infertile soils and little rainfall all year round. Thus Farming in this area is practiced on minimal levels as the probability of the crops surviving or obtaining a good harvest is very low.

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At our farming God’s way demonstration plot at Gede, which is about 110 metres squared.We are always assured of a good harvest despite the poor rainfall and soil conditions. Wondering how this is possible? This is made possible by incorporating farming God’s way techniques into farming, which are; carrying out mulching, zero tillage, use of compost manure, no burning, good timing and most important of all putting God first.

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We planted maize on the 25th March 2014 at a time when the first rainfall showers are experienced around Gede. People around were surprised and asked if the rain was really enough for planting. The shock on their faces cannot be explained when they saw the maize on our demonstration plot had germinated as most of them expected it not to, because of the scarce rainfall.

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And when the rains came later on in May, the maize was flourishing as compared to the maize on the nearby farms which had just been planted. We harvested our maize on 19th July 2014 getting about 50kgs.The nearby communities have been visiting us to find out more about this and all we can say is come forth lets farm God’s way.

Marine conservation through Marine Protected Areas.

With  the ever increasing threats to marine ecosystems, several strategies have been brought forward to help address this issue. One of them is the use of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the management and conservation of marine ecosystems. If well managed, MPAs can increase the ecological, aesthetic and social-economic values that marine ecosystems ought offer. DSCN6398

Within a no-take zone for example fish grow bigger and abundant eventually repopulating adjacent areas that are open to fishing and therefore increasing fish catches in the long run. The abundance and richness within the park also increases the aesthetic value of the area therefore attracting other opportunities of resource use such as tourism. These areas also act as  a refugio in the event of a destructive global disturbance providing seeds for the re-population of the impacted areas.

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The management of an MPA is not easy especially with conflicting uses of the marine resources such as tourism and fishing. Some resource users may not fully understand the importance of these areas while others might not have alternative for the mostly slightly long term benefits. Two main important components for effective management of MPAs is the availability of information and the community. We need sound scientific information to set up conservation goals and monitoring the performance of the park. The community is also important to support the initiative and ultimately reap the benefit.

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Peter A Rocha Kenya’s marine Researcher sharing information to local stakeholders
A Rocha Kenya’s marine programme work with other stakeholders and government agency in Watamu Marine National Park, one of the oldest marine protected areas in Africa to address these two issues. We carry out research within and outside the park that is informed by the management objectives of the park to obtain ecological information and the interaction between the ecological and human components. Through information sharing and community awareness we believe we are not only assisting in the management of the park but we also assist people to understand God’s creation and everybody’s responsible to take care of God’s creation.

Mwamba Nature Trail Monitoring Project

Take a minute and imagine the earth without trees…trees are superficial living things that have the capacity to provide shelter, oxygen and food for countless organisms.

It is for this reason that we at A Rocha Kenya value the trees in our trails and are carrying out a monitoring project on them.857424_733708943316893_8021754802469940044_o
Mwamba nature trail monitoring project, is a long term fruiting, leafing and flowering project that involves walking through the nature trail while looking for new leaves, flowers and fruits of selected tree species. The survey is usually conducted on a weekly basis normally after the staff meeting on Mondays.

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Bourreria petiolaris tree and fruits
The total number of the tree species is 12, all coastal indigenous trees. Surprisingly, the number of the monitored trees is 93.The maximum number for each species is 10 and the minimum is 2. Most of the tree species are flowering and fruiting but a few are continuing to leaf. However, some few species are neither flowering nor fruiting.

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Afzelia quanzensis flowers
Data collection is essential in understanding the variation patterns of the different species when it comes to these tree parameters. For realistic conservation strategies, scientific knowledge is of utmost importance. Thus this is intended to produce useful information to be used by A Rocha Kenya’s Environmental Education and Community Conservation departments.

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A Rocha Kenya’s staff recording data during a weekly survey
Communication is ongoing on the possibility of using data generated from this project to help write and publish a Mwamba tree guide book especially in regards to flowering, fruiting and dispersal agents among various non-floral elements. Currently, a Germany botanist has offered to help in developing the book and we hope for the best.

Bird ringing at Karara

Birds are excellent tools for monitoring and understanding environmental changes as well as wildlife resources that bring employment and enjoyment to millions of people all over the world. It is for this reason that there is need for their conservation. For effective conservation to take place, their migratory and behavioral patterns should be known to both conservationists and ornithologists, hence the need for bird ringing.

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Bird ringing, also known as bird banding, is the process of attaching a small, individually numbered metal or plastic tag to the leg or wing of a wild bird. This process involves identification of the bird species, its age, sex, moulting state of the flight, body feathers and weight. Other measurements such as bill length and tail length can also be taken if one wants to do a keen observation of a certain species.

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Through monitoring of the birds, information such as their life span and migration habits is obtained, which is crucial in their conservation.

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A Rocha Kenya, in conjunction with the National Museums of Kenya carried out a bird ringing session at Karara (A Rocha Kenya’s Nairobi Office). The session which lasted half a day, begun with mist nets being set up along the nature trails in the forest. A total of 33 birds were captured from 13 different species. The green backed twin spot was the most beautiful bird ringed on this particular day.

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We are indeed grateful for the great partnerships, as we carry out conservation work.

Fishing among local communities

Fishing has been a long standing and important source of livelihood to many coastal communities. Various measures have always been set to control and sustain fisheries with success and failures in equal measures. In recent times numerous confounding factors from destructive fishing practices brought about by modernity to population growth and impacts of emerging global phenomenon such as climate change have made fisheries management even more complicated. Fisheries have become a sensitive topic in all aspects from political, commercial, social and even in scientific fronts. This has been especially more pronounced in vulnerable coastal communities from developing countries who normally have fishing as their sole source of livelihood.

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Strategies such as gear exchange and alternative sources of livelihood have always been employed to sustain these fisheries. Within and around Watamu Marine National Park and Reserves issues such as type of fishing, illegal fishing and illegal gears have been experienced. Local Beach Management Units (BMUs) and Fisheries Departments have been involved to bring order but more is still to be done. With all proposed management strategies, education and awareness is an important component of linking resource use and conservation. Through Education, communities have become more aware of their resources and their sustainable utilization. Through this understanding local conservation areas have been born which have beamed with biodiversity and added another sustainable source of livelihood, ecotourism.

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A Rocha Kenya marine programme is involved in working with fishers and other Marine stakeholders around Watamu marine park and reserve to understand their work and challenges and raise awareness on how to sustainably use these resources. It’s quite amazing how enthusiastic and passionate local communities are about their resources.

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Through education, awareness and collaboration with other stakeholders we can ensure sustainable use of these resources. We can have both; we can enjoy what God gave us and still have some left for our future generation; that is sustainability.

Photos courtesy of Melita Samoilys – CORDIO EA
Peter Musembi
Marine Research

Natural Resources

Exploitation of natural resources is an essential condition of the human existence. Throughout history, humans have manipulated natural resources to produce the materials they needed to sustain themselves. This refers primarily to food production, but many other entities from the natural environment have been extracted. Often the exploitation of nature has been done in a non-sustainable way, which is causing an increasing concern, as a non-sustainable exploitation of natural resource ultimately threatens the human existence.

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Kirepwe Island

A Rocha Kenya’s Research work on natural resources is centred among four villages in Watamu namely Dabaso, Kirepwe, Mida-Majaoni and Uyombo.

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Kirepwe Island

Why are we implementing a research in these particular areas? Well, the natural resources in this areas have decreased in the last couple of years and in particularly trees and marine creatures are under threat through illegal logging, poaching and the usage of illegal gears. Previous studies have also shown a tremendous decrease in fish population and the same applies to the amount of acres of Arabuko Sokoke Forest.

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Resource mapping at Uyombo

This research aims to find out the livelihood practises carried out by the villagers and how these practises affect the natural resources from the reserves; in what extent they use the reserves and their attitude towards these areas. The four reserve areas included in the research are Mida Creek, Arabuko Sokoke Forest, Watamu Marine Park and Watamu Marine Reserve.

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Mangroove Vegetation
In line with our vision nature conserved and people transformed we aim to achieve conservation of these unique areas and to educate the villagers on  sustainable use of natural resources as well as their conservation.

 

Environmental Education At Karara

Do we ever think about how life is going to be for our children, children’s children 50 years from now? How do we expect them to lead healthy lives when we have already destroyed natural systems to an extent that they are unable to regenerate themselves?
We live in an era where more and more children are disconnected from nature, and instead are glued on television screens, mobile phones and play stations. Well then how do we expect these young ones to take care of their environment when they hardly know what it is or rather when we ourselves can’t take care of it?
A Rocha Kenya recognizes the importance of making a real investment in environmental education and outdoor learning, and is therefore carrying out environmental education in various schools in Nairobi.

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Gillian Raven( A Rocha Kenya’s Environmental Education officer)got together with pupils from Logos Christian school for an Environmental class, with the main topic tackled being forests in Kenya and their importance. This is part of an Environmental Education programme that was rolled out between A Rocha Kenya and the school, to run for the next few months, and hopefully into the future.

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With both theory and practical learning employed, the pupils got to learn about the different types of forests found across Kenya and their importance as well. They got to learn how to measure a tree diameter which most of them found very interesting.

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Tomorrow’s leader needs to be equipped for tomorrow’s challenges, and we must adequately prepare our children for the future they will inherit.

 

Tourism and marine ecosystems

As a Christian organization in conservation we believe we are called by God to take care of his creation (Gen 1:26). We thrive to promote sustainable use and care for God’s creation, in collaboration with Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) we aim to create awareness to beach operators and tourists to adopt environmentally practices in marine ecosystems.
A Rocha Kenya’s marine work is carried out in the rocky intertidal platforms among other areas in and around Watamu Marine National Park. Rocky intertidal platforms are uniquely rich and abundant with numerous species of fish, echinoderms, corals, sea grass, sea weeds and molluscs. It is amazing how these habitats are connected to the other adjacent and equally important habitats such as coral reefs. Their role in the provision of recreational, economic and ecological roles cannot therefore be overlooked.

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Recently A Rocha Kenya marine team carried out a survey to study the various tourist activities carried out and their impacts on these habitats. Interaction of anthropogenic activities and the intertidal components has an impact on the well-being of these areas. It was evident that there are significant levels of tourist activities being carried out in these areas some of which have detrimental effects on their integrity. Activities such as pooling sea stars in a single pool, poking puffer fish, feeding moray eels and trampling as well as litter disposal in these areas are not environmentally friendly.

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For long term well being of these areas and their continued provision of both ecological and recreational services, we all need to care for them by ensuring that we don’t engage in activities that cause harm to them and we take time to redeem part of those already disturbed. Take the initiative today; pick litter you see on the rock pools. Don’t poke clams and don’t take beautiful creatures as souvenirs. Let’s take care of God’s creation.
Peter
Marine Research