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.

Dust bin made of recycled material

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.

Restoring Dakatcha Woodlands.

A Rocha Kenya continues to empower Dakatcha farmers with farming God`s Way; a form of conservation agriculture whose principles; agroforestry, mulching, zero tillage and crop rotation, boost soil fertility and yield hence discouraging farmers from clearing the forest for new fertile plots. The rich yield, especially cereals, on Farming God`s Way plots has helped relent the rate at which the woodlands were being cleared for charcoal burning and to pave way for pineapple plantations. A Rocha Kenya`s presence in Dakatcha is achieving two important goals simultaneously: transforming the villagers into food secure communities, and conserving the Cynometra forest.

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A farmer on his Farming God`s Way plot.

A Rocha Kenya is also training farmers to make compost manure which can be used on vegetable and maize plots. Farmers  also make biopesticides using neem and Lantana camara which are readily available in the area.

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Farmers standing next to a compost heap.

Dakatcha Woodland is globally recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA). It is also a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) by the international criteria developed by Birdlife International and Nature Kenya. Conservation International recognises Dakatcha as part of Coastal Forests Global Hotspot. A Rocha Kenya acquired 218 acres of Cynometra forestland (Kirosa Scott Reserve) in Dakatcha for conservation and research projects that we wish to use to create awareness to the local community. We not only seek to forge alternative ways of making ends meet but also demonstrate value and direct benefits of biodiversity conservation to livelihoods security.

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Kirosa Scott Reserve.

The Dakatcha Community Forest Association is one of  the groups that A Rocha Kenya is empowering with training on conservation of the forest ecosystems. The empowerment is evident as Dakatcha CFA has started collaborating with other Dakatcha conservation enthusiasts; Community Conserved Areas (CCA) members to strengthen their advocacy for the restoration of  the woodland.They own a plot of tree nurseries.

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Dakatcha CFA members on their plot.

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Some of the seedlings on the tree nursery plot.

We have just completed a regeneration study in Kirosa Scott Reserve which involved mapping and documenting various vegetation types, ranging from the easily penetrated woodland and forest to the impassable Cynometra thickets. Height and diameter of trunks and canopy competition index or class (the latter involves the percentage dominance of each tree in terms of crown level in relation to insolation reception) is part of the data that was documented.

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Taking measurements on trees ( above and below).

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The Science and conservation team during the study.

Mwamba Field Study Centre.

Mwamba Field Study Centre sits on a serene part of Watamu Peninsula with a dazzling sandy beach just in front of Watamu Marine National Park. Besides research and conservation projects, mwamba offers full board accommodation and camping services at affordable prices. It is a unique place that offers guests an opportunity to interact with the conservation work that we are doing.

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Mwamba office block.

Mwamba is strategically located for both terrestrial and marine research projects. The nature trail comprises a variety of trees and is home to birds, Sykes monkeys, Sengi, reptiles, amphibians and insects. We do bird ringing every couple of weeks. Scholars who stay at Mwamba also have an opportunity to do studies on our project sites including Mida Creek and Dakatcha Woodlands where we own a sizeable parcel of a Cynometra forest. Our marine scientists have a boat and a wet lab for aquatic research. We have a conference room located in a conducive part of the nature trail which is ideal for lectures and presentations.

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A student doing research in the nature trail.

Mwamba guest house has spacious self-contained rooms with free WIFI internet. Our cuisine comprises delicious meals prepared with an African touch. Guests can also order supplementary meal packages of choice from our restaurant. Our guests can have a great time snorkeling, playing volley ball on the beach, swimming, doing low-tide rock pooling or reading fascinating books from our library.

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A guest room at Mwamba.

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A view of the Mwamba beach from a rooftop.

 

 

 

 

 

Wader Ringing in Coastal Kenya.

Kenya is important for tens of thousands of wintering waders. While some species like the Little Stint (Calidris minuta) and Caspian Plover (Charadrius asiaticus) prefer the fresh water bodies inland, many others target the coastal zone. The rich inter-tidal mud of Mida Creek, Sabaki Estuary, Tana Delta and Lamu are essential for their survival. After breeding in the Artic Region, in places such as East Kazakhstan and Mongolia, vast numbers of waders migrate southwards spending their non-breeding season in India, East and Southern Africa. Between September and May, they feast on worms, shrimps, crabs and other invertebrates along the coast.
Wader ringing forms an important part of A Rocha’s research programme. Monthly monitoring, annual counts, anthropogenic disturbance, nutrition and moulting strategy are part of our research efforts which have been carried out on over 5000 waders which have also been ringed and measurements taken on them. We have demographic data of different species which has helped in designation of IBAs and general habitat conservation which local communities can access. We are working with conservation partners to safeguard wader habitats and migration corridors. The ringing itself creates excellent opportunities for training as it is a way of establishing environmental education knowledge of wader ecology in their non-breeding habitats.
Our lead scientist, Colin Jackson, is currently in the process of preparing a number of research publications on the collected data. Recently, Jaap Gijsbertsen; Science and Conservation Director at A Rocha Kenya, organised a birding event, and as he narrates, it was quite an experience:

The cloud layers gradually thicken as I feel the wind drop. A first quarter moon is visible behind the clouds and radiates blazing light every time it hits a gap in the clouds. It is neap tide, with a water level of 2.45 meters expected for 01.12. On the exposed tidal plain next to the ASSETS boardwalk, gentle wind blows through the wader net which is supported by long bamboo picks running deep into the mud to withstand wind and waves. These are the perfect conditions for catching wintering waders.
The team, comprising A Rocha Kenya, local bird guides and students from Pwani University gathers at around midnight to go round to inspect the more than 200-meter-net stretched across the plain, which is now flooded. Equipped with bird bags and ‘red’ headlights, we pull up our pants and wade towards the net. We are curious and full of anticipation. It is now deep dark and we rely on our experience to avoid deep pools.
As we progress, the last group of Crab Plovers (Dormas ardeola) fly off to their high-tide roost on one of the off-shore islands. Most birds have been pushed off by the incoming tide. We just hope some of them fell into our net. After wading for five minutes, we find a Lesser Sand Plover (Chardrius mongolus). Skillful hands safely drop it into the bag. Then another Sand Plover, Curlew Sand Pipers (Calidris ferruginea ) and Terek Sand Pipers (Xenus cinereus). Soon we discover that we have a good catch and eager students carry the birds. Large birds like Crab Plovers, Grey Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola) and Whimrel (Numenius phaeopus) go into larger bags. We return to the table and it is hands on as we ring, colourflag and take measurements on the more than a hundred birds belonging to eleven species, including a Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) and a juvenile Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) which we have caught for the first time at Mida.  Assessing moulting patterns requires much experience and dominates our discussion all night long. At day break, we down our net and drive home through the early morning, tired but inspired. The wonder of creation diversity and beauty overwhelms me.

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The team at the ringing table.

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A Ruff being ringed for the first time at Mida.

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A Ruddy Turnstone ringed for the first time, too, at Mida.

Benefits of the Acacia Tree.

About 80% of Kenya is arid and semi-arid. These areas have been associated with less or no productivity. Most of the trees found in  these areas  shed leaves during the dry season. The leaves do not decompose easily in absence of moisture, hence low soil fertility. Most tree species would not do well in such areas but the most dominant and suitable tree or shrub in arid areas is the acacia.
In the Sahara Desert, for instance, towards the edge of Western Africa, countries such as Niger have used Faidherbia albida, a type of acacia to reclaim the desert. Once  acacia has been established, the area becomes fit for agriculture again. Faidherbia albida has a reversed phenology thus it sheds its leaves in the wet season and remains green throughout the dry season. It is suitable for agroforestry as it protects crops from excessive sunlight and provides shade for the soil hence conserving moisture. When other trees  shed their leaves, acacia provides foliage for animals. Its narrow leaves allow adequate light from the Sun to pass through, reaching  the crops for photosynthesis. During the rainy season the acacia leaves decompose easily when they fall due to availability of moisture, and their organic matter is incorporated into the soil for plants.
There is, however, a general negative perception towards acacia because of its thorns, when indeed there is a host of benefits associated with it. Nitrogen fixation, nesting sites for birds (especially the white-browed sparrow weaver), bee keeping, medicinal uses, source of true gum arabic, home for a variety of insects and browse material for zebras and giraffes, are some of the benefits of acacia. In the Sahelian region, acacia is associated with improved crop yield. In line with our mission, transforming lives through restored ecosystems, A Rocha Kenya is promoting the propagation of acacia and we have thousands of seedlings on sale at our Karen offices.

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Preparing acacia seedlings  (above and below)

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Environmental Education in Primary Schools.

Last year A Rocha Kenya was privileged to have an intern, Lydia Kayaa, who conducted environmental education lessons in 16 primary schools in Bamba and Dakatcha areas. Pupils were shown a film, Running Dry, which focuses on the threats of deforestation and desertification to rivers. The pupils were also engaged in practical conservation sessions including the establishment of tree nurseries. After the lessons each of the schools established a tree nursery to be monitored by the Wildlife clubs under the guidance of their patrons.
Towards the end of February, this year, A Rocha Kenya staff visited the schools to see how the tree nurseries were fairing. The major challenges that the schools are facing is water scarcity and our team had to offer refresher courses to revive the nurseries. A total of 243 pupils, who are members of Wildlife and Environment clubs, attended the sessions. This year`s theme is Trees, Forest and Climate Change and the objective was to empower the pupils to distinguish the terms nursery, seed, seedling and to familiarize them with the steps followed in establishing and managing tree nurseries.
This week, we hosted teachers from these schools for two days at our Field Study Centre in Watamu and trained them on capacity building and how they can successfully incorporate Environmental Education in the curriculum. The activity involved creating and writing of environmental games, songs and poems. The teachers also had fun as we took them out for snorkeling in front of our beach and they enjoyed exploring the marine ecosystem.

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Allan Majalia from A Rocha Kenya with pupils

in one of the schools.

 

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Allan Majalia (in a blue T-shirt) with pupils

 establishing a tree nursery.

 

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Pupils during a practical session.

 

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Teachers during the training at Mwamba

Field Study Centre.

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An environmental game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Declining of Marine Resources;Uyombo Village.

In a typical early morning of January 2015, fishermen in small dug-out canoes head out to the sea. Occasionally, sail boats magnificently creep through the waters past the canoes that seem troubled even by weak waves. The mission is to bring food on the table.
Increasing populations and entry of more fishermen into artisanal fishing coupled with dwindling catches in the Indian Ocean has made life to be harder for every one here. Each day experiences less and less catches, sometimes nothing at all. The fishermen are poor and can only afford dug-out canoes and gillnets. Due to lack of effective equipment, it is not safe for them to explore the deep waters and heavily rely on shallow reef fishing. On some occasions they dare row their canoes deeper when the sea is calm. Stories of fishermen capsizing and perishing in the waters are not uncommon here.
At the shore, women are sitted under mangrove trees. Each of them has a bucket and vigilantly stares at the horizon, waiting for any sign of a vessel. Some few people own sail boats and usually sell the catch at any price they want. The tide is receding and vessels arrive at the shore in intervals of two to three hours, each with barely five kilos; a whole night`s catch. It is common to see women rushing to the canoe to scramble for fish and usually one or two can be lucky. Such lucky women hurriedly leave the shore and head home to prepare the fish for sale. The unlucky ones go back to where they were sitted and wait for their fate. A canoe arrives with ten juvenile back tip sharks and two women are lucky enough to share the catch. Today is worse, it is midday and only three canoes hit the shore with a cumulative catch of less than ten kilos.
According to the locals, migrant fishermen from Zanzibar have been camping here for a fortnight and own at least five big boats. The boats are known as Ngalawa. One of the boats is being repaired so that it can be used for a night fishing shift. The crack in the boat is attributed to its hitting a strong wave. The zanzibari men, at times, get no catch too. The situation is yet to worsen as the villagers anticipate arrival of another crew with controversial fishing gear. Other places have opposed such sophisticated fishermen but the Uyombo locals receive them, yearning for small business opportunities like offering them accommodation and meals.
The village borders a park managed by a state agency. Some of the locals whom we interviewed claimed that the locals have not benefitted from the thirty-year old park, citing a relationship between the agency and the community as one that has been plagued with mistrust. Some fishermen admit that they occasionally poach some octopus in the park. To iron out the rapport, the agency established an eco-tourism facility as an incentive for the locals but it unfortunately had to close down owing to declining tourism in the area and probably, limited marketing. Relatively flourishing tourism in Watamu area also contributed to the facility`s failure.

Predictions of global warming and climate change progressively are painting a hopeless picture and livelihoods are at stake. Stakeholders hence have the challenge to effectively link local socio-economic systems to management of the marine ecosystem.

Uyumbo fisheries catch monitoring with CORDIO- bringing back the catch

Fish customers rushing to a canoe.

Uyumbo fisheries catch monitoring with CORDIO- fish in a net

A fishing net.

Uyumbo fisheries catch monitoring with CORDIO- recording data

Monitoring the catch.

 

Bird Ringing at Ngulia.

Bird ringing at Ngulia is a mega event that takes place every year during the fortnight stretching from late November to early December. The Tsavo West activity brings together birders from Kenya and other parts of the world.
Ornithologists gather important information pertaining to birds` migration and reproduction patterns and the adaptation ability of migrant species. Most of the birds that are caught at Ngulia are warblers migrating to South Africa from Europe. For a fortnight birders ring at night. Most birds travel at night when most predators (including birds of prey ) take nocturnal break. Birds follow the light from heavenly bodies and birders turn  lights  on when it is misty to attract more birds. The mist makes the lit area to be the only bright area and birds tend to take it for natural light. Most of last year`s catch happened during the first week which was misty, its best session`s catch being 1532 birds. The second week experienced a severe mist scarcity and only 1000 birds were caught for ringing.
Last year, birders caught slightly more than 7000 birds which is significantly low compared to the previous years . It is, in fact, the smallest catch since 1995. Weather, climate change and the scanty bush in front of the lodge are to blame for this decline. It is further argued that some birds including Afro -tropical species like nightjars, shrikes, sterlings, doves and sparrow-hawks shun the bushes due to elephant dominance causing serious damage on the vegetation during  the dry spell.

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Ringing in progress.

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One of the birds caught for ringing.

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Recording birds data.

Mwamba Field Study Centre.

Mwamba Field Study Centre, located in Watamu, is A Rocha Kenya`s main office in the Coast. We have a guest house , camping equipment and nature trail which make Mwamba an ideal destination for both holiday- makers and scholars.
Mwamba has a dazzling beach in front of Watamu Marine Park and our guest house that has beautiful spacious rooms stands just 80 metres from the shore. The sweet breeze from the ocean, delicious meals served in a beautiful dining room, and the kind, honest staff give Mwamba an atmosphere of serenity. We have free Wifi internet for our guests. The flat roof is an amazing place where guests can sit and enjoy the splendid view of the ocean. Our marine team has a boat and a snorkeling kit that guests can use to explore the wonders of the marine ecosystem.
The nature trail is home to birds, insects, lizards and other animals including elephant shrews. We do bird ringing every week . The trees are labeled to make identification easier and our Environmental Education Hall situated in the nature trail is a good conference facility.

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Mwamba guest house.

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GEDE; one of the rooms.

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Catching birds in the nature trail for ringing.

 

 

 

Re-awakening Ngong Forest User Groups.

Ngong Forest is unique because it is the only indigenous forest located in the confines of a city. About 80% of its 208 species of trees and plants are indigenous.
It is rich in biodiversity with about 190 species of birds and 35 species of mammals. Besides, it supports various rivers including Mbagathi and Ngong-Motoine. Our mission as A Rocha Kenya is to transform people`s lives so that they can conserve nature and we are committed to empowering the Ngong Forest user groups so that they can realise this objective. We are currently using the Community Forest Association trainings as a platform to address the challenges that the forest has been facing. Encroachment, urbanisation, mining, illegal logging and invasive species are some of the major challenges here.
Olulua Forest Environmental Participatory group, one of the user groups we are working with, has realised a major achievement. On 27th January this year, we taught them how to make compost manure using Lantana camara and Tithonia diversifolia. The group has embraced this fully and are now composting using the above mentioned weeds which are alien. These species are rich in Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, Calcium and Manganese.
This is an innovative and environmentally friendly way of turning harmful invasive weeds into beneficial uses. One could say: killing two birds with one stone.

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Gathering Lantana camara.

Sprinkling water on the compost

Sprinkling water onto the compost.