Category Archives: Centre life

THE WORDS OF A MARINE INTERN FROM A ROCHA KENYA

kelvin

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.

THE YEAR 2015, THE HOPE AND PROMISE OF 2016

Conservationists of all persuasions have embarked on a quest for environmental sustainability but in the face of an acutely difficult task we all need to consider what would motivate us to achieve it”- Peter Harris (Kingfisher’s Fire).

In retrospect, the motivation for the previous year for the A Rocha Kenya team can certainly be traced to the reinforcement of the Christian principles already upheld by the staff. This was instilled and fueled by the bible studies conducted every Monday morning which inspired and rallied the team to take care of God’s creation as alluded to in the book of Genesis, despite their job descriptions. It was further propelled by the visit of the A Rocha Founder- Peter Harris and his wife, Miranda Harris. They were able to be involved in the A Rocha Kenya’s activities and in turn they motivated the team and inspired many more in churches at Nairobi and Malindi through preaching the gospel of care for creation, by emphasizing the need for Christians to reconcile with God and his creation and ensuring restoration of God’s creation

Focusing on the Science and Conservation team, they were able to get a lot of research work going on. Despite being a team of two, they still soldiered on with support from numerous volunteers, interns and even the rest of the staff members. The terrestrial research team was able to conduct several bird ringing exercises held at Mwamba, Gede Ruins, Arabuko Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek. The annual water fowl counts were successfully carried out followed by many others at Mida Creek. One of the major highlights was mapping of the newly acquired Kirosa Scott Reserve and the monitoring of the endangered Clarke’s weaver breeding sites in Dakatcha Woodland. The team was also able to host several researchers.

IMG_9327 (640x427)

Moving on to the marine side of things, the year marked a beehive of activities for the team ranging from research in the intertidal rock pools to the coral gardens of Watamu Marine Park. The major highlight of the year was the presentation of marine research work that has been conducted by A Rocha Kenya since the year 2010 until the end of 2014 in the Watamu Marine Park. This was spearheaded by Benjamin Cowburn and Peter Musembi. They organized workshops at Watamu, Mombasa and Nairobi where several stakeholders were invited including Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, National Museums of Kenya, Watamu Marine Association, Watamu Turtle Watch and boat operators. However, it was not all hard work and no play for the marine team, there was always the occasional recreational snorkeling and swimming for anyone willing to join.

10989127_10153708415068524_33380764427004956_o

The larger Community and Conservation team worked to bridge the gap between the research team and the community at large, getting them to understand the need to restore the threatened habitats and ecosystems. The team was able to oversee the implementation of two projects into fruition, with one targeting empowerment of community forest associations (community groups who are actively involved in management and conservation of forests) through building their capacities and the other targeted empowering communities in Dakatcha Woodland through a livelihood project that promoted the adoption of Farming God’s Way (a conservation agriculture model). On the other hand, the pioneer program of the department-ASSETS, which has stood the test of time, was able to disburse scholarships to the many bright and needy students that come from the villages adjacent to Arabuko Sokoke Forest, amid a difficult year for the tourism industry since most of the funds are sourced from the ecotourism facilities at Mida Creek and Gede Ruins. Lastly, the vibrant environmental education team was able to conduct many lessons that were taught in schools around Dakatcha Woodland, Arabuko Sokoke Forest, Watamu Marine Park and Bamba.

ngon

The mother of all- Mwamba Field Study Center, was able to host numerous guests throughout the year. They included researchers, volunteers, holiday makers, kite surfers and honeymooners. The year saw the center introduce a restaurant which is up and running, offer accommodation to water sports enthusiasts, host numerous workshops and to crown it all hold a kids festival followed by a successful fundraising dinner for the ASSETS program.

IMG_4820

Karara Field Study Center-which acts as the national base of A Rocha Kenya at Karen in Nairobi did not lag behind. The team was able to conduct numerous Farming God’s Way training, host several schools for environmental education lessons plus carry out various outreach activities to various community groups and churches.

presention on how to increase waste control through recycling and awareness creation

In order to instill and reinforce the spirit of team effort. The two teams from Nairobi and Watamu were able to participate in a team building exercise that saw them go on a blue safari that involved snorkeling at the Watamu coral gardens, lunch at the pristine Sudi Island and participate in beach games thereafter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is my belief that there is no blueprint for a perfect course of action, since it is our job to identify it. The idea that there is such a blueprint reduces the whole business to a kind of a celestial game show with dire consequences for wrong guesses, but sadly it seems to be widely believed. However, this demonstrates our path for the New Year filled with uncertainty but promising with hope as written in Jeremiah 29:11 and Mathew 6:23-33. Certainly, I am convinced, the team will able to achieve even more than the previous year and continue ensuring nature is conserved while people’s lives are transformed.

Mwamba Field Study Centre.

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

1960937_10153108176698524_1042250308041323587_o

Mwamba office block.

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A student doing research in the nature trail.

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

ark_394

A guest room at Mwamba.

1-6(1)

A view of the Mwamba beach from a rooftop.

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Website Copy

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).

2005_1016Kenya08050049.JPG
• 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)

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.

Glowing Coral!

Did you know that some corals GLOW under ultra-violet light? Well they do! And last night some of us at A Rocha Kenya set out to see the amazing phenomenon for ourselves.

 

Conditions were perfect for some late-night rock pooling, so we headed out to the pools we knew had a lot of coral, and armed with torches and a small UV light. We were not disappointed! The corals glowed spectacularly, and we even saw some moray eels and a Spanish Dancer nudibranch as well!

glowing coral 1   glowing coral 2   glowing coral 3

 

To be truly accurate, it’s not actually the coral itself that is fluorescing (giving off light), it is the zooxanthellae living IN the coral! Tiny little algae live with coral and give it its color during the day, and some re-emit light to get spectacular displays like this. The coral and the zooxanthellae rely on each other to live: essentially, the zooxanthellae provides food and the coral provides shelter. Without that relationship, we wouldn’t have beautiful coral reefs, or nighttime displays like this!

 

People don’t know exactly why this “glowing coral” phenomenon happens, but there are a lot of interesting theories. One theory is that the fluorescent molecules work sort of like sunscreen!

 

Whatever the reason, we certainly are lucky at Mwamba that all of this is right in our own back yard.

 

A Rocha Kenya needs a wet lab

Our fledgling marine project is expanding, with more and more people interested in our work and coming to the Mwamba Field Study Centre here on the shores of Watamu Marine National Park to conduct research. As we expand, so we need more resources and facilities. In particular we need a space to store and take care of equipment, a place to look at biological samples and an area which can get sandy and wet without upsetting the rest of the A Rocha Kenya family! We need a wet lab.

Currently we have been using a semi-converted garage, where we can rinse and store some of the equipment, but it is not effective in the long-term. In order to raise funds for this new facility, three A Rocha Kenya members, Benjo, Stanley and Jonathon are going to compete in the annual Turtle Bay triathlon. We are going run, bike and swim in order to raise money for the following items below.

–          A secure metal door:                      18,500KSH           £145       $215

–          Electricity connection:                    7,000KSH             £55         $85

–          Water connection:                          10,000KSH           £80         $115

–          Constructing a rinse tank:             5,000KSH             £40         $60

–          Furniture and fixings:                     6,000KSH             £47         $70

–          Total:                                                    46,500KSH           £367       $545

The event is on the 14th of April starting from Turtle Bay Beach Club with a 10km cycle, 5km run and 750m swim. To donate you can give on our ASSETS fundraising page stating it is for the marine lab; https://my.give.net/arochakenya_assets. Thanks for your support and wish us luck!

Benjo

The Current Wet Lab The Triathalon Team

Recycling for Research

Its really astounding how much stuff one needs when starting something new. From seaweed books to snorkelling bags all the little items necessary for effective research add up to a lot of new equipment. Africans are well known for their resourcefulness and being able adapt and reuse items for novel tasks and its no different here at A Rocha Kenya. When I told Henry (the Centre Manager) I needed a clip board for my underwater paper we looked around what scrap material we had here at Mwamba and settled on an old plastic toilet cistern as being the perfect tool for my new clipboard.

Henry and the Cistern

Clipboard in Action

Beach Clean-Up!

This morning, A Rocha Kenya staff and volunteers teamed up with Watamu Turtle Watch to clean up the trash on almost 3km of beach. It was warm work, but very satisfying to look back along what we had done and see only sand and seaweed instead of plastic glinting in the sun!

A Rocha Kenya staff team members

A Rocha Kenya team members

At the end of it all, we had a lot of trash to show for our efforts:

Not bad for 2.5 hours work!

Not bad for 3 hours work!

As usual, the main type of waste we collected was footwear, especially flip-flops. However, sometimes we’d find something a little more interesting, like the glasses that Henry (Mwamba Center Manager) is modelling below!

Henry looking stylish and having fun

Henry looking stylish and having fun

Beach clean ups are a fun way to help improve our local environment, though of course its always sad to see what people think is OK to toss away. We all need to work together to keep our oceans clean!

– Hannah (A Rocha Kenya volunteer from Canada)

Watamu Beach Clean Up!

On Friday June 27, A Rocha Kenya teamed up with guests from the Minnesota Zoo, local primary schools, and several local homeowners and businesses to do a beach cleanup in the Watamu area. Lasting from 8am until noon, this cleanup stretched over 10km, covering Watamu and Temple point, and collected 3205 kg of trash! Most of the garbage was plastic, and was crushed in the Turtle Bay Beach Club plastic crusher at the end of the day. Amazingly, in our section of the beach, the vast majority of the waste collected was lost/damaged sandals and flip flops!

Garbage collected by A Rocha Kenya and Dongokondu Primary School

Garbage collected by A Rocha Kenya and Dongokondu Primary School

Many thanks to the A Rocha staff, volunteers and guests from the Minnesota Zoo who put in a lot of hard work!

Dongokondu students relaxing after collecting many bags of garbage

Dongokondu students relaxing after collecting many bags of garbage

We are glad to have our beach looking nicer again, but sad at the mentality that causes this kind of trash buildup. Plastic takes decades to biodegrade, and having so much of it around causes a lot of problems for all the wildlife in the area, especially for the sea turtles who mistake plastic bags for jellyfish. We all need to work together to steward our resources and our garbage properly.