THE WORDS OF A MARINE INTERN FROM A ROCHA KENYA

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My arrival at Watamu remains a day to remember and maybe written down for a #TBT memoir in time to come. Well, I was headed to A Rocha Kenya and to confirm my disbelief was the overwhelming atmosphere of a serene and spectacular haven located 200 meters from Tembo road –The Mwamba Field Study Center –Indeed, this is how my excitement exploded, not with a thunder, but a forced squeeze that left me peaceful!

Believe it or not, where everybody else would cave in was the Mwamba Field Study Center. Here I found the most amazing hospitality services like there is in Watamu, the warm reception and the ecological harmony are key ingredients of A Rocha Kenya’s programme. Apparently, almost everyone. All kept their spirits high in readiness to conserve and protect the environment. And amidst the many questions that preoccupied my mind, I was sure that I had just but gotten into a family dedicated to fulfilling God’s work!

Imagine the illustrations, the marine research programme which is still at infancy serves at its best. Sooner did I know that my patience will be compromised and rush to answer the one big question, is Watamu Marine National Park the most biologically diverse marine ecosystem in Kenya and meet my research needs? This wasn’t going to happen in a broken town with a broken ecotourism heart. It was taking place in one of the lucrative coastal areas in the world –the home to Hemmingways Watamu, Ocean Sports Resort, Turtle Bay and the Humpback Whale watching point in Watamu Marine Association, where the world appreciates as the best tourist destination in Kenya.

In efforts to learn about expectation-management, my skepticism paid well when I met Mr. Stanley Baya who explained to me the subtle meanings of the Environmental Education and Arabuko Sokoke Schools & Ecotourism Scheme (ASSETS). Now I attend workshops for ASSETS! From generating income for sustainable ecotourism to offering bursaries to needy children in schools within Watamu, ASSETS has kept its head above the waters despite the raging waves of this ‘Kusi season’.

Mwamba Field Study center meets the demand for all nature of activities be it conferences, prayer meetings, conservation research work . . . etc. For instance, the events of the last few days did prove that the community in Watamu is a huge asset to environmental education and awareness, thanks to a workshop organized by A Rocha Kenya’s Science and Conservation Programme. The management and conservation of coastal and marine resources in Watamu is a common goal for all. You want government intervention on tourism aIMG_20160510_141238nd foster ownership of these resources –the democratic mantra? The workshop carried plenty of that and the community of beach and boat operators loved the entire package with much gratitude to Mr. Justin of Watamu Marine Association.

The strength and commitment in A Rocha Kenya is an expression of the imprint of God in the organization and each day there is abundance of hope. Although I haven’t given an account of all the awesome experience at A Rocha Kenya, I have found the marine research programme able to definitively answer my question and sooner or later all my wise skepticism of the rich biodiversity in Watamu Marine National Park will be proven dead wrong. As entrepreneurs hop into an age of the gig economy, the Western Indian Ocean community has focused on assessment of coral reef bleaching and the marine research programme has adopted that as a pilot project.

How do you preserve optimum conditions for recovery of bleached corals? The way forward is a composite of distilled wisdom on this subject, mind elevating, critical thinking and imparting skills. And the scientific community seem to agree a sustainable tomorrow despite troubled times of global warming and increased anthropogenic factors. Surely, behind the magical sandy beaches there is learning and I can’t get enough of everything that A Rocha Kenya has to offer.

KNOW MORE ABOUT MORAY EELS

Moral eels live in coral reefs among coral heads and rocks. They look like snakes but are in fact fish with elongated slender bodies with a dorsal fin that runs from their head to their tail. Moray eels hide in holes or crevices among rocks and corals with their head stuck out of the hole ready to ambush unsuspecting prey.

Geometric moray

Geometric Moray Eel

They hunt at night relying on their sense of smell because they have poor eye sight. As carnivorous animals, their diet is mostly fish, molluscs and crustaceans. The giant moray eel has been reported to attack and eat reef sharks.

Giant Moray eel

 

 

 

 

 

Giant Moray Eel

Moray eels in turn are eaten by larger reef fish like groupers, barracuda and sharks. People eat them too. Their mouth is usually open revealing a set of scary teeth which can give you a nasty bite. But they usually prefer to stay hidden. They have to continually open and close their mouths to have water circulating around their gills which are at the back of their heads. To keep their skin smooth and not injured while swimming in the coral beds, eels secrete mucus over the skin.

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Lipspot Moray

An amazing fact

Moray eels have two sets of teeth. One set is in the throat and the other in the mouth. The teeth in the throat are called pharyngeal jaws, which are thrust forward to grab and drag prey down through their digestive system. The teeth are also pointed backwards, which prevents the victim from escaping. Moray eels that become used to people feeding them can be aggressive and seek food from them. This is dangerous because moray eels have poor sight and can accidentally bite off the fingers of the feeders. Another danger is that introducing more food in nature creates an ecological imbalance and could affect the animal with disease.

#Nowyouknow

THE “RAIN FORESTS OF THE OCEAN”

Have you ever thought about the coral reef habitat? Coral reefs are rocky mounds and/or ridges formed in the sea by small animals known as coral polyps through the accumulation and deposition of limestone (calcium carbonate). The “rain forests of the ocean,” coral reefs are biodiversity hotspots that make up less than 1% of the marine environment but are home to 25% of the ocean’s marine life. Coral reefs are of great importance in the ecosystem. They are the second richest biodiversity of any habitat in the world, feeding grounds, nursery ground and shelter for many organism including turtles, sea snakes, triggerfish, parrotfish, nudibranchs (a colourful type of sea slug), crustaceans, hermit crabs and sharks. Aside from their stunning beauty and rich marine life, coral reefs provide protection to coastal communities from shoreline erosion and chemical compounds extracted from coral are used in medicine for cancer and other diseases. Coral reefs are threatened by pollution, careless boat anchoring, high turbidity from poor farming practices upstream and climate change causing coral bleaching.

Given this background, A Rocha Kenya’s marine research and environmental education teams saw it fit to develop a Marine Environmental Education Manual specifically tailored for the Watamu Marine Protected Area to create awareness and address the conservation of the aforementioned habitat and the rest of the marine ecosystem. It will be used by both teachers and students in learning more about their marine ecosystem, which they readily interact with and are dependent upon.  This was done in partnership with two other organizations which are; Local Ocean Trust: Watamu Turtle Watch and African Bill fish Foundation together with the patrons to the environmental clubs selected from the eight schools that are part of the program.

The visits to the schools were interactive, fun filled and eye opening for the students, with the activity known as “the egg-carton coral activity” being intriguing and exciting. Through it, the students could easily relate to how a coral reef is built, the two ways in which corals feed and how corals behave at night and during the day. Apart from the school visits, we invited one school for a rock pooling activity at the beach in front of Mwamba. It brought the students to attention about the diversity of life in the rock pools.

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The teachers were also engaged through two workshops with the first geared towards disseminating as much knowledge as possible regarding the marine ecosystem. The second saw the teachers’ capacity built on how to conduct an environmental education lesson followed by familiarization and interactions with the marine biodiversity through various activities that they could adopt and practice them back at school with their clubs, such as crab surveys, beach sand art, making an organic tower, swimming, night rock pooling and a snorkeling trip to the Watamu coral gardens.

The schools are now closed for the April holidays marking the end of term one with the lessons we conducted having managed to reach out to two hundred and forty four (244) children from eight schools near the Watamu Marine Protected Area. Two main topics were covered that is, the coral reef habitat and the intertidal area.

2016 SUMMER FIELD COURSE

Dear volunteer,

It is a pleasure to invite you for the 2016 Summer Field Course of A Rocha Kenya.

Come and join us! We have an exciting program in July. You will participate in our projects, give a hand with general work, visit different work areas and get a better understanding of how Conservation and Christianity go together. Our Journal Club (studying a scientific paper together) and our Green Bible Study will help you to put faith and creation care in perspective. Staying at our Field Study Center (Mwamba) is a life experience. The same counts for working together with the other volunteers from abroad and our Kenyan staff.

Boundaries of ecosystems.

Boundaries are interesting areas that show ecological interactions of ecosystems. Mwamba is 80m from the beach, and at the Eco-line (boundary between the ocean and a vegetated mainland). You will appreciate the role of wave action and anthropogenic influence in erosion, deposition and pollution. Eco-line studies can be used to generate projections of future behavior of ecological units. This can help us understand, for instance, how sea level rise due to global warming is likely to change the configuration of the coastline and impact negatively on the adjacent mainland ecosystems.

Sabaki River Delta

Is an important bird area (IBA) where ARK monitors and do researches on the birds. It is an estuarine ecosystem containing brackish (mixture of fresh and salt) water with a transitional boundary (ecotone) of the river and the ocean where seeds dispersed by water sprout into vegetation, creating a home for birds and some lower creatures. On-site study offers hands-on experience to help students make logical deductions about biodiversity adaptation mechanisms which enable birds to maintain niches in a changing environment. The course will give participants a chance to participate in bird ringing and bird counts (Mwamba, Sabaki and Mida Creek)

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Snorkeling or low-tide rock pooling.

At low tide you will have an opportunity to observe marine life, including various species of fish and sea weeds or ride in a transparent-bottom boat at high tide to explore more biodiversity, such as corals, that inhabit the blue-green waters of Watamu. This will be instrumental in helping you to recognize how sea weeds, as primary producers in the marine food chain, are adapted for photosynthesis, and appreciate marine life interactions, from symbiosis to predatory. At our marine–debris collection point, students will appreciate the significance of conservation in the restoration of ecosystems.

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Mida Creek and Board walk.

The suspended board walk at Mida Creek is an amazing platform which offers a splendid view of the site, including wading birds, from the mangrove forest canopy. You will also see how mangroves adapt for survival in saline environment, and go for a canoe trip at Mida Creek.

Beach fun

You will help a local group (Watamu Marine Association) with beach cleanup and attend an art workshop to make something valuable out of rubbish and also participate in beach games.

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In addition, you will visit our Farming God’s way project in Dakatcha, learn more about our ASSETS program, visit an ASSETS school and assist Mwamba look even brighter by painting a building and pruning the Nature Trail. A visit to Gede Ruins and Turtle Watch to learn about turtles will be organized. Be sure to also participate in our de-snaring walks either in Arabuko Sokoke Forest and Gede Ruins.

Cyrus Hester from the UK puts it clearly from the 2015 SFC

“If you’re reading this, chances are you’re wondering whether the A Rocha Kenya Field Course is right for you. Is it worth it? What will I be doing? Is it too long, too far, too short, or too close? I had the same debate once… Alright, maybe more than once. Of course, I can’t tell you how your course will go, but I can tell you how my time has been. Put simply: it has been an exciting, encouraging, and unforgettable experience. And, while I can’t say whether you’ll have the opportunity to watch flamingos burst into flight over the Sabaki River or watch juvenile lion fish swim in a tidal pool or hold a mangrove Kingfisher, I can say that you will witness firsthand what caring about communities and conservation can do.”

Logistics of the SFC

The Summer Field Course will be held in July, starting with your arrival (1-3 July) and two introduction days (4-5 July). . On these days you will learn more about A Rocha Kenya, Kenyan culture and basic Swahili, and participate in team-building activities.
The full program will run from 6-27 July, with 28-31 July as ‘Goodbye days’. You are free to stay at Mwamba, go out for a safari or go home to share your amazing experience with friends and family!

The SFC price is $840/780€/£590/ksh83000 and ksh1100 for local students. This covers full board accommodation from 1-31 July and includes all program, outing and transportation costs.

KARIBUNI!
(To register or ask for more information, please contact: [email protected][email protected] or fill out our online volunteer application form at www.arocha.org/volunteer)

CRISP PILLOW CORAL- A coral living on the ‘EDGE’

Found only in the warm tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the crisp pillow coral Anomastraea irregularis is a rare endemic. Most people snorkeling around the reef don’t see it because it is so small. It forms flat, encrusting colonies or mound-like structures that can grow up to 20 centimeters high in shallow waters. Despite its small size, it has a tall tale to tell. First, it is the only species in its genus which means if this species disappears, the whole genus becomes extinct. Being in a monospecific genus (the only species in the genus) also suggests that it has a different evolutionary path from other coral families and species.

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Crisp pillow coral is categorized as an Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species and in urgent need for conservation. Poorly studied, the ecology and habits of this coral are not well-understood. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has it listed as Vulnerable on its Red List. The IUCN red list is a database that provides information on the global status of species facing high risk of extinction.

It grows at the base of shallow reefs with tidal pools where it is sandy with turbid water. Colonies are found at depths of two to 18 meters where light is available. As a zooxanthallate, the crisp pillow coral lives in symbiosis with a microalgae within its tissue which photosynthesizes and provides it with energy. The species therefore can only grow in areas with sufficient light for the microalgae to photosynthesize. However, the coral also feed through its tentacles which are normally extended out during the day unlike most species of coral that have their tentacles retracted during the day. Found in shallow tidal pools exposes it to damage such as people trampling on it to being smothered by algae.

CORAL

Corals secrete calcium carbonate. A coral reef is made of thin layers of calcium carbonate. Coral polyps form a living mat over a calcium carbonate skeleton. Coral reefs are home to a quarter of the world’s marine species. They have numerous functions such as protecting the coastlines from eroding into the sea to providing fishers with fishing grounds. Scientists are studying how corals and coral reefs are likely to change with climate change. Increasing sea surface temperature because of climate change is altering their symbiosis with the algae and exposing them to other damaging factors such as coral diseases and pollution. Understanding the habitats and structure of species of corals like the crisp pillow coral can provide an insight on how corals are likely to adapt to stress. This can help to design a roadmap to conserving it. Setting up marine protected areas that are properly managed is important. Everyone needs to act responsibly to save the seas by reducing waste, pollution and carbon emissions because they affect the water and life within.

ARABUKO SOKOKE FOREST SURVEY REPORT

A Rocha Kenya has been doing surveys in the forest to monitor and map all illegal activities taking place so as to generate comprehensive data that will be able to show the actual status of the forest at any time so that managers of the forest are aware of what is happening, and would equip them to make informed decisions regarding the management of the said forest.

Our very recent survey was led by David Ngala (the forest man) who guided the crew; a (KWS researcher), two KWS rangers and one of our own, through the Mida gate to the Nature Reserve section of the forest. They were dropped by KWS car four kilometers away from the entry and saw quite a number of clear footpaths which most of them died off few meters form the main car path. The team walked west until they found the Whistling Duck pools and took to the north. They maneuvered through huge leafless Brachystegia trees, acacias scrub coming across giant baobab surrounded by what used to be water drinking points for elephants; about five marshes, all together with grass dried away. They walked following more clear foot path for two hours north of the pools finding only two old in-active duikers snares and eventually came to a more clear water-way kind of a path which they followed back to the main car path coming across a two weeks old Salvadora persica stump.

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On our way back, the driver stopped the car abruptly and engaged the reverse gear. A young man was crossing the road holding a paper bag which the driver suspected something fishy with the content of the paper bag. Before the rangers could jump down, the young man had already opened his heels and was on fire running like Usain Bolt! The rangers had rough time chasing after him through thick and thin and temporarily disappeared in thorny bushes. He dropped the paper bag and crawled to hide. It was almost thirty minutes later when he was finally found and brought to the car. The paper bag was found containing a roasted monkey. He was taken to the KWS office and handed over to the concerned authorities.

 

THINKING GLOBALLY BUT ACTING LOCALLY-UNITED IN CONSERVATION

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expired at the end of last year and now everyone is trying to embrace the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  SDGs are more globally collaborative and inclusive compared to MDGs and therefore more promising. You move to a seminar room and write MDG or SDG, everyone starts thinking of the United Nations and other big multinational organizations. Here at A Rocha Kenya, we have been working to demystify this and appreciate the potential that all of us, whether young or old, have to help achieve these goals by thinking globally but acting locally.

Young People on the Global Stage (YPGS) is a project that engages students and teachers to address some of these Sustainable Development Goals and here in Nairobi A Rocha Kenya (ARK) has been working with three secondary schools as part of the project.  Between 15th and 18th February this year the project study visit took place and the ARK Nairobi team were delighted to host teachers from the UK, Spain and The Gambia for this event.

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The main aim of the study visit was to exchange ideas, share experiences and knowledge on sustainable development Issues and to hold a workshop towards resource development and a final communiqué by the young people. Over the duration of the week, the visitors together with the ARK team embarked on day trip activities and meetings in a bid to facilitate collaborative learning. The multicultural perspectives ensured unlimited conversations and sessions on sustainable development.

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The most intense day of the visit was on Monday which began with a visit to A Rocha Kenya’s Karara field study centre where Dr. Magambo, the National Director gave an overview of A Rocha Kenya followed by a tour to the tree nursery and demonstration plots to learn about conservation agriculture (Farming God’s Way). This was followed by a visit to Oloolua block of the Ngong Forest where they engaged with farmers and Community Forest Association (CFA) members to see the work of ARK with communities. From there they proceeded to the Ngong Hills for a hike and a picnic lunch. The day rounded off with a trip to Lenana School where members of the Environmental Club steering committee led the group on a tour of the school, showcasing and explaining their environmental conservation efforts.

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The reminder of the week was a series of trips to other organizations engaged in sustainable development. This included a visit to the Giraffe Centre, New Life Home Trust baby rescue centre, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), Dagoretti Special School, Marula Studios and Tangaza University College in smaller groups of five. On Wednesday the YPGS-ARK team met to plan for the workshop on Thursday. Another group had a chance to visit Kibera slums to see the challenges faced by residents and how they try to overcome those challenges. It was interesting to note that the population of Kibera is bigger than the population of The Gambia!

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The most memorable moment was the inspiring story by Musa Abdi Galma, an alumnus of Lenana school Environmental club, who shared passionately about his background, the challenges he witnessed in his area when he was a child, his love for the environment and the unstoppable strides he is making towards conservation. His eloquent, , but real story left everyone amazed, challenged and convinced that indeed young people could be agents and drivers of change rather than just victims, enemies or witnesses of the same.

The culmination of the week was the teachers’ workshop on the Thursday, which involved teachers from all four countries, along with ARK staff, coming together to produce teaching materials on three major themes: Poverty and Wealth, Hunger and Food Production and Sustainable Development. At the end of the session we were given the task of completing, over the next few months, resources which can be used cross culturally with sections specific to the curriculums of each participating country.

For all of us at ARK, the study visit week was an amazingly rich time of learning from and sharing with our project partners from other parts of the world and a great encouragement in our aim to see lives transformed as we work for the conservation and sustainable development of our wonderful, God given natural world.

MANAGEMENT OF COASTAL AND MARINE ECOSYSTEMS; WHERE ARE WE?

Oceans form incredible habitats that provide immense benefits in tourism, fisheries and coastal protection. Think about coral reefs, mangrove forests and other near-shore marine habitats, systems that are closely tied to people’s socio-economic and cultural values. However, over the last several decades, tremendous changes have taken place so fast that it has confused most of the people who have always depended on the oceans. From over-fishing, destructive fishing, pollution and climate change, the ocean systems are deteriorating so fast that predictions are towards functional extinction in the near future. It’s very evident that nobody wants to lose all these ocean values thus everybody is thinking of or looking for a way out.

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Looking at what has worked or not, is it important? Managing marine ecosystems is a challenge. First; the ocean is an open system and vast, which is very difficult to enforce or control. People will go out fishing and if they don’t get enough they will put more effort the following day and eventually the situation gets worse. Marine protected areas were widely acknowledged as an effective tool that would get us out. With the ability to act as a refugia and breeding ground where fish would grow in abundance and biomass and spill over to areas that are open to fishing, these come with their challenges-; their management. Initially most of them were centrally-managed, mainly designed and managed by central governments with limited or no engagement of the local communities. There are also limited perceived benefits to the communities and conflicting interests among the different users. These areas were closed for extractive activities and open to tourism. While anyone working in tourism will be happy to embrace the idea, since the better the condition, the better the business for them. But what about the fishermen? What would make them support these protected area that have pushed them away from their fishing ground without any meaningful incentive? While they have had their success stories, centrally-managed protected areas have never realized their full potential.

Over the last decade especially along the East African coast ­, there has been a rise of locally managed marine areas (LMMAs). This is where communities established an area with some kind of restrictions; completely no-take, gear restricted or periodic closure. LMMAs have solved some of the challenges faced by centrally-managed protected areas. Giving the communities direct dependent on the marine resource ownership and lead-role in their management. They have been greatly embraced as partly solution to the management of marine resources. They have their challenges which are; limited managerial capacity of the community members especially on issues such as financial management often causing conflicts among their members and limited funding. It is clear that these forms of management might offer a better solution than some of other strategies if communities are properly assisted.

The take home question would be what to do with already established centrally-managed marine areas. Case example, while no-take zone (parks) in Kenya has contributed significantly to the management of marine resources, reserves which are gear-restricted have not performed well. They are highly over exploited and there is no difference between them and complete open areas. Will it help if they are passed on to communities that have been properly trained to run them? Or can there be co-management with the government agencies?

NURTURING CHILDREN INTO CONSERVATION

Imagine, you are in a nature trail, sitting on a bench, under a tree completely immersed in a book, that absolute focus such that you feel you are in your own realm. In the background, you can hear the whistles and chirps of birds, the gushing wind brushing off your face and you feel it tickle your cheek bones, above you, the overlapping canopies of the trees cover you from the scorching sun and its unwavering rays and in the distant you can almost hear the trickling of a stream. “This must be nature at its best,” you whisper to yourself. Amidst all this your mind drifts into depths of your childhood, a childhood which reminds you of a curious mind, a mind that has that magical capacity to move among many eras of the earth, to see the land as an animal sees, to experience the sky from the perspective of a flower, a bee or even a snake, to feel the earth quiver and breath beneath you, to know hundred different smells of the earth and to listen to the rustling of leaves when the wind makes contact with them, as if to assert its arrival. Then, you realize you are in utter bliss.

Moving on to reality, there is need for the young children who are growing up to be educated on the environment so as to cultivate a positive curiosity that will drive them to conserve and protect their environment so that in reality they can witness the above imagination. Barlow, in Confluence of Streams, puts it nicely: “children are born with a sense of wonder and an affinity for nature. Properly cultivated, these values can turn into ecological literacy, and eventually into sustainable patterns of living.”

The previous year saw, A Rocha Kenya conduct environmental education lessons in various primary and secondary schools that saw them visit some around the Watamu Marine National Park, those adjacent to Dakatcha woodland and Arabuko Sokoke Forest and finally some in Bamba. All these activities culminated with the holding of a children festival at Mwamba Field Study center where a group of almost seventy were hosted taking part in rock pooling where they familiarized themselves with the intertidal rocky shores biodiversity and its significance, environmental education activities and eventually recreational activities such as swimming and beach games. An activity that the team has mentioned should be conducted on a regular basis.

Flash forward, to the New Year, 2016. The environmental education team has continued with its school outreach program. We have an ambitious plan where we aim to introduce birding into the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya which they normally conduct the lessons to, in different schools bordering Arabuko Sokoke Forest. In addition, they are developing a marine environmental education manual accompanied by several workshops for the club patrons of schools adjacent to the Watamu Marine National Park so as to encourage more awareness about the conservation of marine biodiversity which is rarely covered. Further, they are still going to cover schools adjacent to Dakatcha Woodland and Bamba. A busy year it seems.

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The past weeks has seen the team visit a total of seven schools. Beginning with marine environmental education (Coral Reefs) at Chipande Primary School. A visit that harshly welcomed the team back to the year and the reality of work -you might wonder what I mean- Let me digress and indulge you; the team had a new driver, actually a member of the team had got his driving license at the end of the last year and apparently Stanley who was supposed to be driving forgot his license. Anyway, moving on, under the strict guidance of Stanley he successfully managed to drive the team to the school albeit slowly, at least they reached on time and getting to the destination it is what always matters, right? The lesson went well followed by a quick visit to the nearby Uyombo beach and the team embarked on their journey back- filled with hope and satisfaction of a job well done and having set a good precedent for the start of the year.

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The team has since visited Mida, Kahingoni, Vitengeni, Kanani, Jacaranda and Mzizima primary schools where the lessons have been about ornithology and marine biodiversity depending on where the school is located.

The team has now fully gotten immersed in their work, oozing the aura of an unwavering spirit ready to see the next generation take action after knowing the significance and consequences of caring for their environment.

THE TRIP TO TANA DELTA; THE UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE!

On Tuesday morning of the 9th of February, our team of four set out on the journey to Tana Delta for the annual water bird count. We drove north from Watamu for about four and a half hours, reaching the end of the road mid-afternoon.  There, we boarded a small boat that took us down the river to the lodge where we were to stay for our two nights, right on the mouth of the river. It was a really amazing experience, travelling by boat through beautiful mangroves and sand dunes to reach our destination. We were the only people staying at the lodge at that time and it felt very isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. On our arrival we quickly put our bags down, grabbed our binoculars and headed for the beach to see what birds we could count before sundown. This was my very first time conducting a bird count, and I quickly saw how knowledgeable and experienced Kirao, Juma, and Albert were, as I watched them identify and count the different species we saw with ease.

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The next day was even more successful as we got up early and headed out to count water birds in the fresh water channels of the river. We had to go back and travel by car through thick bush and bumpy roads to where the boat would pick us up. We commenced day two of our counting in the morning, and we didn’t stop until past fourteen hours for snacks; just to refuel our system for the remaining portion. Never before had I seen such an abundance of birds in one area and in such a diverse range of species as well. Before we had been in the boat for long, we were already counting great and Cattle egrets, White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Open-billed Storks, Black-crowned Night Herons, Pied Kingfishers and Water Thicknees in hundreds. Not to mention the endless number of Spur-winged Plovers! There seemed to be a pair or flock of them around every corner we turned. Other great sightings we had that day included Long-toed Lapwing, African Darter, Goliath Heron, Little Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Collared Pratincole, and African Skimmer.

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We even came across a very large group of hippos, watching us curiously as we peered at some birds through our scope. So, after a very successful day we headed back to the lodge, tired from the long hours spent in the sun, for a well-earned rest.

On our last morning came with lots of high hopes as we wade through the mangrove channels of the salt water areas in the delta. This took us through more mangrove areas and even out onto some mudflats. Like the day before, there was no shortage of birds for us to count. Terek Sandpiper, Caspian Tern, Grey Plover and many more were seen in abundance over the course of the morning. We even managed to spot a Western Reef Egret, a very uncommon species at the coast! When we got to the mudflats, we couldn’t resist hoping out of the boat for a while to try and catch a better glimpse of a group of gulls. It really was a lot of fun trudging through deep mud with our scope and binoculars counting birds as we went! By then, I had had around thirty lifers as I had no more space on my personal list of birds! After washing our feet off in the river we rushed back to the lodge and grabbed our things before taking the long drive back down to Watamu, thus concluding an extremely successful trip to the Tana Delta.

Prepared by,

Tim Curie,

Science & Conservation Volunteer.