Sign in for A Rocha Kenya’s Summer Field Course this July!

A Rocha Kenya offers you an amazing opportunity to experience how Conservation and Christianity go together through practical involvement in our work.
Register for our Summer Field Course this July at Mwamba for a lifetime experience! You will be able to visit different work areas interacting with our staff as you get involved in specific tasks and learn as well as share skills and expertise. The Journal Club (studying a scientific paper together) and our Green Bible Study will offer an opportunity to share on ways to put faith and creation care into perspective. Staying at our Mwamba Field Study Center is extremely amazing and the same counts for working together with other volunteers and our Kenyan staff. More so; the warm waters of the Indian Ocean a few meters away will be there waiting for you!

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What to expect…
• Go out at sunset with your binoculars to learn about the East African birds. Assist with bird ringing and bird counts (Mwamba, Sabaki and Mida Creek).

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• Go out rock pooling with our Marine team and learn more about our Marine eco-systems.
• Help restore a mangrove habitat as you assist with planting mangroves at Mida Creek.
• Visit our conservation farming project “Farming God’s way” in Dakatcha.
• Visit the Arabuko Sokoke Forest with our experienced guide David, who extensively understands the forest.
• Learn more about our ASSETS eco-scholarships scheme and visit an ASSETS school.
• Help a local group (Watamu Marine Association) with beach cleanups and attend the art workshop to make something valuable   out of the rubbish.
• Assist Mwamba look even brighter, by painting a building and pruning the Nature Trail.
• Visit the Gede Ruins, go for a canoe trip at Mida Creek, learn about turtles at Turtle Watch and go out to Malindi.

The Summer Field Course will be held in July; arrivals are expected between the1st to3rd of July. The program will then start with two days of orientation on the 4th and 5th; this will help you learn more about A Rocha Kenya, the Kenyan culture and basic Kiswahili as well taking part in team building activities. After a Sunday of resting on the 6th, the program commences on the 7th and ends at the 27th of July.
There will be a few extra ‘farewell days’ from the 28th till the 31st of July. On these days you are free to stay at Mwamba, go out for a safari or as well depart to share the amazing experience with friends and family!
The Summer Field Course will cost $1230 equivalent to €895. The price covers full board accommodation from the 1st till the 31st of July. It includes all the program, outings and transportation costs.
KARIBUNI! (To sign in or more information: mwamba.ark@gmail.com)

Catching Crab Plovers, avoiding ants and ringing zombies in Kenya!

Conservation and Research volunteer Ben Porter spent an amazing time birding and ringing with A Rocha Kenya. For you interested in volunteering with the team here are a few tips, tricks and eye-fizzling photography…

Looking out towards the south end of Bardsey Island as I write this, with winds gusting 104 mph and lashing rain, it is hard to believe that Kenya even exists, let along think of the warm climate and number of birds that I remember experiencing. However, I will attempt to give a bit of an idea of the birding on offer in the area, and some (hopefully) useful details about volunteering and staying with A Rocha Kenya.
Whether other members of the party would say the same as myself I am not sure, but for me, wandering aimlessly around in the forest in a state of severe dehydration for eight hours was definitely worth it for this…

Ben porter 1

A short way inland from the the Mwamba Field Study Centre is the Arabuko Sokoke Forest. Some 420 square kilometres in size, this mix of ancient coastal forest is home to the most threatened inhabitants of the area. It is the largest stretch of coastal dry forest remaining in East Africa, and so it is perhaps no surprise that six globally-threatened species depend on the forest, namely the Sokoke Scops Owl, Sokoke Pipit, Amani Sunbird, Clarke’s Weaver (Endemic to the forest), East Coast Akalat and Spotted Ground Thrush. On top of these, over 260 species have been recorded within the confines of the forest, including such superb birds as the Narina Trogon, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Fischer’s Turaco, BÖhm’s Spinetail, Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill and Blue-mantled Crested-flycatcher to name but a few…

Ben porter 2

Keen to read more about Ben’s adventures with A Rocha? Follow the link below and see some of his amazing pictures of local wildlife, read how the team got lost in the forest for eight hours, walked long distances through knee deep mud and spend the whole night netting and ringing waders … http://nextgenerationbirders.blogspot.co.uk

Teamwork, Large numbers and Rarities during the national waterfowl count 2014

Waterfowl count

They were wonderful days filled with new experiences and fun moments; Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th Jan 2014 when A Rocha was spearheading the waterfowl count for the National Museums of Kenya. Turtle Bay Hotel supported A Rocha with transport and catering while students from Pwani University and volunteers from Mida Creek aided the A Rocha team to do the counting. Our efforts covered the main sites ranging form Gongoni to Mida including Lake Jilore and Sabaki River Mount. The team had unifying moments as we all marveled at the beautiful creation of God. A sky filed with over 3000 Lesser Flamingos or the splendid colors of the Malecite Kingfisher. We endured long moments of standing under the heat as we diligently counted the birds, with a dedication that can only emanate from the heart. However, the difficulties were nothing compared to the electrifying moments that characterized the spotting of rare bird species. Among them Glossy Ibis, Purple Heron, Common Snipe and a very rare species at the coast the Grey-headed Gull. Furthermore, it was a learning experience for all of us especially for those joining the exercise for the first time. We thank God for making the 2014 NMK waterfowl count a success!

Nairobi farmers go ‘God’s way’ in their farms……

Cities over the world are known to be biodiversity deserts. They are synonymous with tall buildings, lots of traffic and a sea of humanity, so is Nairobi. The one amazing thing about Nairobi however, is its ability to combine the hustle and bustle that is characteristic of a rapidly growing city in Africa with rare biodiversity.
Seated in my office at the Karara plot in Nairobi’s Karen, I enjoy this stunning site of a beautiful forest, with a wave of lovely butterflies gracing the flowers, a community of rather friendly monkeys complete a magnificent and quite ecosystem.
On this particular day however, I gladly welcome an interesting visitor; Sarah Young from A Rocha International. She quickly blends in as I lead the team in transplanting a few seedlings; Meru Oak, Ehretia symosa and Margaritaria discoidea in our garden.
We then decide to seize the opportunity, invited farmers from the neighborhood for two days of training on Farming God’s way. It was a wonderful experience sharing with farmers from diverse religious backgrounds; and by this I mean a huge Muslim delegation including the vice-chairman of Supreme Council of Kenya Muslim!
FAW-Training-on-composting1

Additionally, we ministered to them on the need to show our love for God’s creation not only in the farm but also in our everyday lives.
Encouraging enough, I have recently been answering lots of phone calls from farmers asking specific clarifications regarding the same, which tells me that people are going ‘God’s way’ in their farms!

Muvera wa ASSETS-True Environmental Ambassadors!

Coordinating a project as great as ASSETS can get a little scary sometime going by the amount of hope laid on us by the thirsty young minds yearning for school apart from nature itself that we view to conserve in the long run!
I must however thank the different stakeholders involved since things would be impossible were it not for them. Muvera wa ASSETS categorically, has been pivotal in effecting fruitful conservation initiatives at the local level.

Recently I visited the association members from Malanga and the site of their beautiful casuarinas seedlings; healthily dancing to the rhythm of the wind truly moved me.
In this part of the world, this is certainly the driest period of the year and it must have taken them immense efforts to accomplish this. It got me thinking how transformed their attitude towards the environment should be; truly encouraging…! In less time than it takes to tell undoubtedly, we will have a completely ‘green community’ bordering the ‘greenest’ forest in the whole of Eastern Africa.

I leave Malanga headed towards the southern end of the Arabuko sokoke forest, a village called Nyari.A peculiar site welcomes me though; a very clear path into the forest despite the electric fence! Maybe or maybe not, someone uses this opening to smuggle timber out of the forest.
Normally, I would be extremely disturbed by such a site, having had to get hold of the Kenya Forest Service guards and report this , but then on second thought…! I stop my relatively old but responsive Yamaha DT motorcycle to call the chairman Muvera wa ASSETS Nyari branch, I explain what I had seen and speed off to my office in Gede to attend to other office matters; am all glad though because undoubtedly my laments are in the right hands.

An Environmental Education Resource Room at Mwamba Field Study Center

It has been seven weeks of constant running; hard to believe we are in the
2nd month of 2014 already! The last two weeks of December were really busy with building work albeit creating stints of time for Jordan and Carol.

On the 24th of December 2013, the construction of the Environmental Education Resource facility at Mwamba Field Study Center officially started with what looked like just breaking the ground and going off for the Christmas holidays only to learn on 27th that the building had continued throughout Christmas. This turned out to be one of the busiest holidays as the building went on and on and I found myself in constant negotiations with suppliers of building materials for better prices to suit our slim budget.
For more than three years we have been involved in a back-breaking process of seeking legal permission to carry on with the construction of a resource center which was funded five years ago.
Finally the full permission was issued in October 2013 to pave way for the ground-breaking ceremony.

So far so good; Abdalla, the Contractor has done a really good job in moving the project ahead even in a situation when the cost of most of the materials have more than doubled. It would have been possible to build the whole facility as planned; which included a research laboratory and office with the same amount of money five years ago when building materials cost half as much as they do today.
EE Resource room 1(1)

We have our fingers crossed and pray that the available funds will complete at least the first phase of the project.
We envisage to officially open the facility beginning of June when we expect
a group of students from Harvard University to come and stay for a month.

This facility will be very helpful particularly with A Rocha Kenya’s latest
initiative of running summer field courses. Overseas students will have an
opportunity to stay at Mwamba and get involved in A Rocha Kenya’s work to
gain experience as well as adding value to our programmes.

Colossians 1:10 – A standard for marine research?

We often don’t think that the Bible has something to say about research. Of course, the issue of scientific research isn’t explicitly addressed in the Bible. After all, what we call science came to be much later. However, we do know that the Bible can be applied to all aspects of our lives and that includes our vocations. So while there isn’t such thing as a Christian transect (a field technique used in much of ecology), the Bible can give us principles to apply to the process of collecting field data.

I have been reading through Colossians during my stay here at Mwamba, A Rocha Kenya’s field study centre. This book of the Bible is one of Paul’s letters to churches of the time. There is so much that could be said, but for brevity, I want to just focus on one verse that struck me as particularly applicable to how we on the marine team aspire to conduct our research. I have been reading from a Gideons New Testament that was on the bookshelf, so I will give it here in the New King James Version as I read it:

“That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

The context is the beginning of the letter to the Church at Colosse. Paul is greeting them and praying for them. The focus is on encouraging them in their faith and he prays the above four things (among others) for them.

So what does this have to do with research? I think each point is something that I want to aspire to as I set out each day here as I go out and collect data, interact with people, and plan my work. Firstly, Paul prays that they “may walk worthy of the Lord.” He is talking about Christ, of course. This statement points to integrity in all we do. We can’t just do shoddy research in order to get by, but should aspire to the highest possible standards. We need to do the background work of reading the scientific literature on our topic, know the current field methods, their biases and how to adjust for them. We should feel confident, that to the best of our ability, we have done everything reasonably possible to collect information that reflects what is really there.

“Fully pleasing Him.” This says to me that our hearts are important. Why are we doing this research? Certainly it is great fun to go out onto what has been labelled Africa’s second-most beautiful beach, spend the day snorkeling on a reef or meandering through the rockpools. We also love our neighbours – those who depend on these resources for their livelihoods and our conservation partners whom we want to serve with information that can be used to better protect this beautiful place. But we also want to please God. Our heart’s desire is to hear God say – “Well done!” We do all this as unto the Lord, not trying to please people, but the one to whom we are ultimately responsible. As Colossians 3:17 says “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

The A Rocha Kenya Marine Team also wants to collect data in a way that it is “fruitful in every good work.” The team found a rare coral in our rockpool research. What are we doing to make that known? To help others to appreciate it and want to protect it? Do we just write a scientific paper, publish it in a journal that few will read and notch up another line in our CV? We need to get better at publicizing our findings. I don’t think our lack of publicity is out of some sort of notion of humility, though I, for one, don’t like “tooting my own horn.” I think there is just so much that can be done and, frankly, it is more fun to go out to ocean to collect some more data than to sit and write something that can be posted about what we found. The Marine Team has to get better about communicating so that we can bear more fruit with the work we are doing.

God reveals Himself primarily in His word, but Scripture itself teaches us that the world around us points us to God. We see tangible glimpses of His beauty and creativity in the intricate web of life found on a coral reef. I felt his power in being pummeled by the waves on the reef crest while trying to get a glimpse of a stocky hawkfish found only in the surf zone. I feel His peace sitting contented after a dive, warming in the sun while sitting on the boat gazing out at the Indian Ocean. The list could go on. My research helps me to be “increasing in the knowledge of God” as I learn more about His world.

There is more that I aspire to as a marine researcher and conservationist. But Colossians 1:10 has challenged me to not be satisfied with where I am at and has put some focus into this intense few weeks of research here in Kenya.

Robert Sluka, Ph.D.
Director, A Rocha Kenya Marine Conservation and Research Programme

The Environmental Education Resource Centre.

Walking into the Mwamba Nature trail right now could be quite adventurous!
A fast-paced construction, set to house our Environmental Education Resource Center and offices is underway.
The relatively spacious building is set to be well equipped to offer a conducive learning environment for school groups and other environmental enthusiasts visiting our center.
This will be a huge relief on the strain witnessed at the center when such groups visit.
photos here fb.me/34Bti7RjG

Strategically placed at the heart of our little forest, the project is part of a long-term two-phased plan to move all our offices from Mwamba centre.
This will therefore allow us to upgrade and beautify the guesthouse even more. Glory be to God for this new development!

Hawkfish and Sandperch!!

Many of us may have had or still do have aquariums in our houses or in our work places. Hawkfish are one of the groups which are collected for such tanks despite their slightly aggressive, territorial behaviour. Other than the details of keeping the species in an aquarium, not much is known about them. Hawkfish and Sandperch families are currently being assessed for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The IUCN Red List categorises each species depending on their threats, habitat and ecology and geographical range. Each species is then placed on a scale ranging from Least Concern to Extinct.
The A Rocha Kenya marine team are conducting field work to determine each species abundance and distribution across the Watamu Marine National Park which will contribute to this assessment. Additional research into habitat association of hawkfish will be conducted by one of the current marine volunteers, Hannah, as part of her Batchelor thesis.
Hawkfish and Sandperch

A prayer well answered!

Eco-tourism has been the main source of funding especially for our community and conservation work. Funds collected from our Eco -facilities have been pivotal in the sustainability of our projects. However breaking down of the Gede Ruins Tree platform was one problem that wrecked our minds in the last quarter of 2013.
We desperately tried to have it fixed soonest possible so as to beat the December deadline when tourism would be at its peak but that was to be in vain! Repair operations started but on a rather small scale due to the lack of a steady source of funds to sustain that.We closed the year with a prospect of funding from the Watamu Rotary Club but the facility was still closed.

During the first Monday morning meeting of the year, we sat together as a team to share our joys, success and aspirations.We then joined hands in prayer but the most common “phrase” in every one’s prayer was that of the tree platform repairs.
Later that same day our staff members Stanley and Daniel set out to meet a couple, adamant supporters of our work, Bill of the Watamu Rotary Club and his wife Cassandra. “Fingers crossed” we waited hoping for the best as they had shown some interest in funding the repair operations.

We could all read the glee in the faces of Stanley and Dan as they drove back into the Mwamba compound (where we are located). Finally The good Lord had answered our prayers and the repair operations had been fully funded by this couple. The tree platform should now be operational by the end of this month.

A big thank you to Bill and Cassandra for standing by us in our time of need. May you find favor in the Lord