A personal initiative in managing our beaches

A few weeks ago on the International Coastal Cleanup Day, volunteers gathered along the coasts all over the world to collect marine debris and raise awareness on marine trash. We have all heard about this problem or seen photos of filthy beaches. We know about the pacific garbage patch and how plastics are harming the oceans and just to add you a little more in case you didn’t know already microplastics are causing more harm to marine creatures than the trash we mostly collect on the beach, I am not saying we stop collecting trash I am saying the problem is extending to a danger zone we cannot handle.


Every year the statistics points to more volunteers and more trash collected and concerns have been raised that cleanups only would not solve this problem and that more aggressive and workable strategies should be employed. Recently the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) through the Global programme of Action of Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities launch a Massive Open Online Course on marine litter as well as raise awareness of this problem. The scientists have been asked to investigate where all this trash is coming from. This could be a great point to stop the source of the problem but really don’t we know where flip flops, plastic bottles or glass bottles come from?


We all think it’s somebody else’s fault that beaches are littered with plastics.  We use them in our day to day lives, but we don’t care where they end up in. We have many problems facing the worlds’ oceans currently, but marine is one we can easily solve (though there is need to emphasize in the long run) by simply being cautious with actions. How often do you see people throw trash on the road? We carry water bottles and snacks wrappers to our trip to the beach, leave them there and later complain the next time we find the beach littered with wrappers.

Easy to say your action will not have any impact but it will. Don’t do it and next time tell you friend not to do it. At the end of the day we will have cleaner beaches, less trash in the ocean and less creatures getting strangled by plastics and other debris.


The fate of our Important Bird Areas…

Arabuko Sokoke forest is the only remaining strip of what used to be health and continuous Coastal dry forest in mainland Africa stretching from Northern Mozambique to Southern Somalia. With an area of only 420km square remaining, the forest still remains to be very important for conservation to both local and international. Being a unique forest of its own nature, it’s very rich in biodiversity (biodiversity hotspot) sheltering a number of globally threatened wildlife including the indigenous African plants, butterflies, mammals and birds. In fact, the forest is a home to six globally threatened bird species such as Sokoke Scops Owl, Sokoke Pipit, East Coast Akalat, Spotted Ground Thrush, Amani Sunbird and Clarkes Weaver.

These Birds require special habitat conditions and are unevenly distributed across the six vegetation types of the forest of both the natural and plantations. The Sokoke Scops Owl; the smallest of all owls in Africa prefers Cynometra vegetaion type of the forest and is believed to be breeding within these territories while the Clarkes weaver spend its entire life feeding in the Brachystagia and mixed vegetation sections of the forest. Both Spotted Ground Thrush and Sokoke Pipit prefer feeding on the undergrowth. They are all very special birds to watch and in return attracts many birders from all walks of life. They all depend on the welfare and contributions of plants and other forest wildlife as a whole for their thriving and breeding. Together, they all co-exist to form up this forest ecosystem whose resources has been pressurized through unsustainable exploitation.

Human pressure on forest resources and products for various uses are accelerating each new day putting Arabuko sokoke forest and adjacent twin forested section of Gede Ruins National Monument at a situation that is alarming for conservation. For the last three months, we have destroyed over 100 snares and recorded over 120 stumps of cut stems in Gede Ruins. It’s a shame even to see snares in a twenty year old regenerated forest within the ruins. This year, over 400 snares have been destroyed and 500 fresh cut stems found and mapped.


Most of the animals targeted are suni, duikers, bush buck, endangered African elephants and protected elephant shrews. Manilkara sansibarensis is the highly targeted tree species for timber and the remaining used for charcoal burning. The highly favored wood carving plant species (Dalbergia melanoxylon) is not readily available due to over exploitation and have now turned to Cynometra webberi (the lonely home to critically endangered Sokoke Scops Owl) for the same purposes. Logging for local house construction accounts for less than 5% of the cut stems which implies that plats related forest resources are harvested majorly for commercial purposes whereas snaring for small animals goes to domestic consumption while bigger animals like elephants products are aimed at international markets. In one survey with communities, we were shocked to discover over 80 fresh cut stems of Manilkara sansibarensis within an area of 300 meters by 200 meters and as close as 100meters from the main road. A quick glimpse from the road side will convince you that all is well but make just few yards inside and you are deemed for a shock of the year.


However, all is not lost as communities around the forests have ganged up to conserve or protect if need be after a series of capacity building workshops with them. With about fifty two villages surrounding Arabuko sokoke forest and three surrounding Gede Ruins, we can be sure of saving the remaining special habitats for homes of endangered wildlife. Unless everyone stands up for the same course, then we shall realize a better tomorrow.

Eliminating the villain – Lantana Camara


Lantana camara

Originating from Mexico, Lantana camara of the Verbanacea family was introduced to Kenya in 1930. Since its introduction as an ornamental shrub, the invasive Lantana camara has spread to most parts of the Kenyan ecosystems including rangelands, wetlands, natural and planted forests, agricultural lands, urban areas, among others.

Research has showed that Lantana camara is an insidious invasive shrub of global significance in the conservation and restoration of biodiversity. Due to its allelopathic nature, it tends to push out native plants, suppress their growth and limit their productivity. The locals have inadequate knowledge about it and most livestock also find it unpalatable hence it spreads rapidly covering vast areas including arable lands. In Kenya, evidence has it that several species of antelopes are being lost and this is traced to Lantana camara taking over their habitats. ‘’A Rocha Kenya’s principle on Lantana camara is that it should be eliminated at all costs. We have really fought it in Karara Forest and continue to fight it in Dakatcha Woodlands, Ngong hills Forest, and wherever it is. It is alien and one of the most stubborn and invasive weeds in Kenya.’’ said Dr. Raphael Magambo , National Director.

Biological and chemical methods of controlling lantana have been unsuccessful. The only method that is showing positive results is physically uprooting it- this is labour intensive and time consuming. So who is willing to do all this?

group eliminating lantana

A group eliminating lantana

Hope lies in the hands of the affected communities. But how do we get them on board? Clearly there seems to be more information on the negativity of lantana than its positives, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any good that can come from it- this good is the incentive that is getting the communities engaged in eliminating it.

In Kajiado and Kilifi Counties, A Rocha Kenya (ARK) is working with communities to uproot Lantana that is choking their ecosystems. After trainings on the benefits they can derive from lantana, the communities are now actively uprooting it and converting it into profitable forms to improve their livelihoods. In Ngong, many people would prefer burning the lantana as a means of controlling it but now most of them are beginning to use its leaves to make liquid fertilizers for their farms since they are high in Nitrogen. This has helped curb the risk of forest fires. The vegetative parts are also being used as mulch in farms, making compost manure, and the stems used for making artisanal products like chicken houses.


Chicken house


A group making compost with lantana leaves

By doing this, it is slowly being wiped out. At Karara Field Study Center, we are using cut lantana branches as a shade for our tree nursery garden.

Despite these uses, we are discouraging people from introducing it in their localities. And where it has already invaded, let us uproot and use it wisely.




The Power of Team Work…..TIME OUT well spent

Even through the aroma of the tantalizing samosas Mathias the chef had prepared for the team, you could still smell the excitement in the room. This was indeed a special day. It looked like a great reunion filled with handshakes, patting backs and laughter as the A Rocha Kenya family from around the country piled into the Mwamba dining room. We were even privileged enough to have a volunteer from A Rocha France. It is incredible that we all seemed to keep time, 6.00 am sharp and it was almost a full house; defying the old adage of African timing.

What better way to start the day than a long overdue lesson on creation care, reminding us of our role in the world. This was a stark reminder that what we do is not just mere conservation, but rather it goes beyond the physical. It is spiritual; it is indeed the will of God. Not even a little choppy water could deter us from snorkelling which was activity number two for the day. Even after some coaching and pep talk on safety from our marine scientist, you could literally see the apprehension on most of our faces. Well, most of us are comfortable on land than in water. Still people put their courage hats on and struggled to get their masks right and floaters were handed out. All this uneasiness was soon forgotten as some of us for the very first time had a peep of the blue world under the waves; Myriads of colours of tiny and big fish, corals; some massive and some branching like hundreds of little fingers and sea weeds and anemones that danced in the waves. Lizard fish crouched in the sand and the occasional ray swam by. Beautiful does not even begin to describe the sights we saw, we could only gaze in awe at God’s wonderful works.



Time for rugby!!  Did I mention this was in the water? What fun this was! The exercise was funny, exhausting and competitive. I think this should be an official Olympic sport. A mixture of barred teeth, glaring eyes and weird grunts filled the play area as the teams put out their most competitive edge. So we sweated and panted and scrimmaged for the ball, a scratch there an elbow here… sometimes we looked like one big messy tangle of limbs. Within twenty minutes of play, we knew what real hunger pangs were, and the whistle to mark the end of the game and time for lunch was all too welcome. Who would have ever thought that some people are faster when they are in a sack than on two legs?! Well this was evident as we all hopped around in the sack race and played many more games after lunch to build our team spirit.







But alas the games and fun and food and competition came to a close. With songs and prayer we gave thanks to God. At the end of the day we came out a stronger team, more united to the purpose and cause of the A Rocha family, and maybe we lost a couple of pounds from all that exercise!!

August News Letter

A Rocha August Newsletter (Issue 6)

Participatory management of Marine Protected Areas


Living in at the coast, the sites and sound of miles and miles of clear blue seas is familiar. You could easily be overwhelmed just by looking at it, beautiful and glistening in the sun, the mighty water crashing on the reef crests and strong Kusi winds that are of great delight to the avid kite surfers.  But if you look carefully just beyond the collection of water and salt and waves, you see livelihoods… A fisherman who needs the fish so he can pay his bills, the beach operator carrying out rock pooling for tourists, the local trader selling beautiful beads, the sweaty guard in uniform keeping crime at bay, the scientist furiously engrossed in a study of tiny corals in the rock pools and the occasional KWS boat splashing by in their patrol rounds.




You see the coast is not just what meets the eye; it is Science, beauty, fun and livelihoods all in one. It is estimated that 60% of the world’s population lives along the coast. The fisheries sector pumps millions to the global economy each year and is an important protein source to many low income coastal communities. The waters and sandy beaches are a delight to many a tourists and this bolsters our economy. The scientists see the coast beyond the blue waters for its many ecological services, protection from erosion, carbon sequestration that serves to avert global warming crisis the reefs a biodiversity hotspot that is affected by man in as much as our dear lives actually depend on it.

Marine and coastal issues are technically and politically complex, involving many interests, perspectives, and stakeholders. While we all claim to have a stake on the coast, it begs the question, who is responsible for this resource? If this question is not adequately addressed we all at risk to suffer the well known tragedy of commons; where shared resources though on the short term lead to individual gain eventually ends in collective loss.  While this was realized a while back, the plethora of management methods applied to combat it has been little but sustainable. While it seemed plausible to apply top-down approach where management decisions were made by the government and handed down to the people, these were neither acceptable nor applicable. This led to steady decline in quality of coastal areas that are already hampered with pollution, waste management, over fishing, uncontrolled beach development to say the least.

As such, it has become increasingly important to incorporate participatory management of protected areas. It involves the participation of all stakeholders in management, from planning, decision making right to implementation. This includes everybody from the fisherman, beach operator, NGOs, Private sector, the Government and local authorities alike.  This is because the fisherman or scientist has as much at stake as the gun wielding soldier to protect the coast, for different reasons. In a well managed protected area, everyone benefits, the fisherman gets his food and pays his bills, the scientist makes astounding discoveries God’s creation of the wonders below the waves and the soldier protects the coast so the tourists keep streaming in and the country earns foreign exchange. In this way although we have individual gains from the resource, we share responsibility. This will foster sustainability in the long run.

By Marxine Waite


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:


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.

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.


There’s only one way to find out…