Five things no one will tell you about when joining A Rocha Kenya

It has been an exciting,eye opening and educative journey  with A Rocha Kenya; a christian conservation organization that is part of the  larger International Network of A Rocha organizations in 19 countries around the world.

With offices in Nairobi and Watamu, A Rocha Kenya aims to conserve and restore threatened habitats and biodiversity through research, environmental action, advocacy and community empowerment.

For the time I have worked with this christian organization, I have learnt a lot more than I imagined I would.And today I want to share with you the five things that no one will tell you when joining A Rocha Kenya.So here we go:

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At Karara (A Rocha Kenya’s forested property in Karen)

1.Too much love

Well, the love I got when I joined A Rocha Kenya is indescribable.Normally as a newbie in most organizations after your orientation you are left on your own to execute your duties as per your employment agreement.At A Rocha it is a  completely different thing,everyone is always willing to lend a helping hand wherever and whenever they can,which makes most employees,interns and volunteers settle in quickly.The love can be overwhelming at times especially on birthdays and farewells.If you are the emotional one,pocket tissues and handkerchiefs will come in handy.

2.You must embrace the spirit of  communality
The spirit of communality is embraced throughout A Rocha Kenya.More so at Mwamba(A Rocha Kenya’s field study center),where are required to interact with each other and guests with love and respect as we work towards conserving God’s creation.

3.Getting your hands dirty

Be ready to get your hands down and dirty.A Rocha Kenya operates on the principal that, for one to understand conservation work better they have to get involved practically in the activities such as gardening,tree nursing and rock pooling.So you might want to  get yourself a pair of gloves (if you are a girly girl like I am and care about your nails) and to avoid looking ridiculous in heels on that field day, a pair of good gum boots would do.

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Preparing a farm for Farming God’s Way at Logos Christian School Nairobi with A Rocha Kenya’s National Director Dr.Raphael Magambo.

4.You must own a bible or rather have access to one
Being a christian conservation organization,every activity carried out by A Rocha Kenya  is aimed at caring for God’s creation.And most of the time quotations from the bible are used to pass across the message of conservation.You will also need your bible during Monday morning meeting and sharing.Oh yes! We do have a rota where each individual gives a sharing from the bible.You do not want to injure your neck by overstretching.So just get yourself that bible,will you?

5. Deprivation of titles
Aha!You read that right!.No titles at all.Titles can get to people’s heads causing detrimental effects at times. A Rocha Kenya is aware of this and therefore encourages equality and co-operation at all times.Make use of that title when conducting business on behalf of A Rocha outside the office and remember not to let it get to your head.

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Sharing a dance with A Rocha Kenya National Administrator Mrs.Carol Kitsao in a white trouser and Mrs.Sue a volunteer at A Rocha.

You are now in the know zone,aren’t you?

Claire Nasike

Communication and Community Conservation Intern

“The Raising Voice of an Empowered Community”

“Character gets you out of bed; commitment moves you to action, faith, hope and discipline enable you to follow through to completion.” This statement best describes how community forest associations have sprung into advocacy action after a series of trainings with A Rocha Kenya and working as well as walking (literally and figuratively) with the organization thereafter.

Having completed their trainings by mid-June, the three CFAs- Gede, Jilore and Sokoke, which cover Arabuko Sokoke Forest were challenged to raise their voices for the forest and speak against the illegal activities taking part in the forest by engaging in various advocacy initiatives geared towards relieving the immense pressure the forest is facing especially from illegal loggers.

Fueled by the conviction of conserving their forest for their future generations, the Gede CFA was the first group to kick start their advocacy activities. In the beginning it seemed an arduous task but they were motivated further by ziglar’s saying, “If we don’t start, it’s certain we can’t arrive. They organized series of meetings which culminated with the selection of an advocacy committee to spearhead the various initiatives, comprised of six members.

Mida assistant chief addressing the community members during the Mida advocacy campaign

The first campaign took them to the hotspot of illegal logging and charcoal burning that being Mijomboni. The campaign was hosted by the area chief together with the CFA chairman. There was a presentation on illegal logging, hunting wildlife for bush meat and elephant poaching which elicited angry reactions from the community members who wanted action taken against the perpetrators for the vices they had done and the lead agencies charged with the role of managing the forest- Kenya Forest Service and Kenya Wildlife Service play their roles effectively. The campaign culminated with feedback and reactions from the community preceded by remarks from several other stakeholders followed with chatting a way forward. The event ended having being attended by over 100 people.

On the eastern side of the forest another voice is emerging in the name of reclaiming and restoring an encroached forest. Jilore CFA has embarked on a journey that can be likened to going down memory lane and opening a can of worms. This is so since they are advocating for a forest that has highly been politicized for a long time and utterly has been destroyed with effects resulting from the same readily manifesting themselves and threatening the food security of the residents. There efforts have seen them make trips to Mombasa High Court and Malindi in search of the much needed but elusive justice.

A Section of CFA Members leading the International Elephant walk

On the western side another voice raising is that of Sokoke CFA, they have been part of the teams that have organized and participated in de-snaring walks in the forest but haven’t stopped there. They have engaged the county government fully both in terms of service delivery and advocacy initiative with Ganze Sub-county Forest officer gracing their advocacy implementation plan meeting which saw the selection of 9 advocacy committee members. They attempt to tackle illegal logging by conducting regular patrols with support of Community Forest Scouts and conduct awareness campaigns in areas greatly affected by the illegal logging menace. They even took immediate action upon completion of their strategy meeting after spotting a woman carrying logs of Brachylaena huillensis (a threatened species in the forest and sought after by wood carvers) in the name of collecting firewood- which is legal only if its dried small twigs are collected. Appropriate action was taken and she lost her permit to collect firewood from the forest.

The woman whose permit was taken for harvesting logs instead of firewood

The raising of these voices has not been easy, it has been marked with financial constraints, inadequate support from key stakeholders, integrity and accountability issues which mar the groups. However they have withstood the storm and heeded to the message, “It’s not what you know, or what you have, it’s what you use that makes a difference and creates the echoes of the raising voice”

Linking Forests and reefs conservation

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Coral reefs ecosystems are complex marine habitats, very valuable to societies but very vulnerable. Currently they are on the verge of disappearing because of numerous threats facing them. Just as complex as they are, their management is also complex. Many strategies have been brought forward, what works and what doesn’t has never been easy to tell. What is clear though, there is no one distinct solution to the coral reef crisis. Looking holistically at all the drivers of reef health and tackling them at different levels might work. Linking forests and coral reefs conservation could be one way of handling drivers of reef health.

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Other than for mangrove forests the role of other forests for the well-being of coral reefs and other near-shore marine habitats is often overlooked. Conservation and management of terrestrial forests is never connected to the health of coral reefs and local communities around forests never understand their contribution to reef degradation.

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Coral reefs can be negatively affected by human activities further upstream. Among the issues affecting coral reefs globally that results from land-based activities include sedimentation and nutrient and chemical pollution. Sedimentation cuts access of sunlight to corals hence preventing them from photosynthesizing reducing coral growth and coral reef productivity. Sediments can also direct smother corals killing them. Sedimentation results from poor farming practices and forests degradation upstream, these activities leave soil bare that is easily washed downstream by rain.

Discharge of fertilizers from farms can result to nutrient loading into coastal waters. Introduction of nutrients into coral reefs causes proliferation of algae that always compete with corals for space. This suppresses the growth and recruitment of corals and therefore degrading the whole reef ecosystem. Chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides on the other hand are toxic to corals and other reef biodiversity capable of killing them.

The health of forests both adjacent and further from coral reefs is important to maintain their health. Illegal logging and charcoal burning is as important to coral reefs as it is to terrestrial biodiversity. When designing management plans for the forests we should as well put in mind how that would contribute to the well-being of coral reefs. Communities living around forest should be made aware how their activities upstream can adversely affect other ecosystems downstream.

 

Reflections on the A Rocha Kenya 2015 Summer Field Course

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By Cyrus Hester…

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.
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The 2015 Field Course took us everywhere from the bumpy roads of Dakatcha to the brittle cliffs of  Whale Island and the swaying boardwalk of Mida Creek. We’ve assisted with research on tree regeneration, counted migratory birds, surveyed for illegal logging, and visited rural schools – where kids are continuing their education thanks to support from A Rocha Kenya. We’ve learned how farming practices can be amended to improve crop yields and reduce impacts on the land. We’ve also heard that the challenges for communities and their environments remain; be it in the form of poaching, fuel production, climate change, or limited access to basic goods and services. All the while, we’ve been nourished by ugali, chapatis, mangoes, freshly-caught crab, and kind-hearted friends. We’ve been lulled to sleep by the sound of ocean waves and woken by the chatter of birdsong. We’ve braved dense forests, busy city streets, and knee-high mud flats – with each step giving us a new perspective on community conservation.
As the final days of the 2015 field course tick away, I can’t say how your experience will be. But, I can tell you that this is a beautiful place with inspired, compassionate people who work each day to make a difference for local communities and the environment. I can tell you that I am leaving here richer in memories, hope, and Kiswahili vocabulary. Maybe the same will be true for you someday.

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There’s only one way to find out…

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.