Category Archives: Eco-tourism


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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Maybe it’s the clear blue waters, maybe it’s the sunshine, maybe it’s the brilliant instructor or it’s probably just the thrill of the ride; but there is a brand new hot sport in Watamu- Kite surfing. One avid surfer I talked to called it the sport of Kings and queens.   This has gotten the better of my curiosity in the last few months as tens of kites surfers rolled in to surf the waters just in my backyard at Mwamba field study centre.

Recently, the near shore has been dotted with colourful kites as avid surfers glide away on the water. The surfers can be easily spotted in nicely tanned skin courtesy of the hours they spend in the sun and harnesses that attach their kites as they blissfully give themselves to the mercy of the wind. Did you know there are all kinds of tricks that you could do when kite surfing from basic jumps and back rolls, to kite loops? And that is not all; there are all sorts of fancy gadgets to record your speed, height of jumps and other interesting data that you can compare with your friends. Kite surfers lean on each other just as much as they lean on the wind. They have buddies/partners looking out for each other in the water just in case you need a hand.


It is always a little comical to see a surfer in his beginner lesson; struggling to control the kite getting used to the harness, crashing into the water unceremoniously or basically trying and failing a hundred times  just to stand on his board. But worry not; I hear that it is not a very difficult sport to pick up. With good weather and consistent training you could surf in just a week! And once you got your feet steady and the wind in your kite, off you glide to your very own adventure in the waves.



“Mwamba Field study Centre is the ultimate place to stay if you ever want to catch the waves either for a long holiday or maybe just a weekend,” Say Angela and Dan who stayed at Mwamba for a month just for kite surfing.  The accommodation is pocket friendly with a laid back atmosphere and terrific meals to complete the picture. The kite surfing school is also a walking distance from Mwamba.  And better yet, the best spot for kite surfing is right in our back yard.  Watamu offers a terrific place for flat water and wave surfing so it is a thrill for both beginners and advanced kite surfers. You could also catch the crazy downwind and surf beyond the reef crest to Malindi from Watamu like a group of kite surfers did recently and there is always the pleasure of watch turtles swim by.  Besides the kite surfing you also contribute to environmental conservation by staying with us as all proceeds are used in conservation activities. So come down to Watamu, relax, give back to nature and of course bring your kite along and KITE SURF!!

By Marxine Waite

Beginnings of a new chapter

Hi this is Benjo. I am A Rocha Kenya’s new marine volunteer, starting an exciting new branch of A Rocha Kenya’s work in the marine park just off the beach in front of Mwamba. I have spent time in A Rocha Kenya before working with David Ngala in Arabuko-Sokoke forest, but now I have turned my attention to my true passion in life which is all things marine.

Watamu Marine Park and the larger Marine Reserve combined are one of the oldest Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the world, being gazetted in 1968. They have successfully protected the amazing coral reefs and seagrass beds found on this coast ever since. However, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) have highlighted the need for research in order to manage this incredible wildlife sanctuary in a dynamic and changing world. For example in 1997 coral across the whole Indian Ocean suffered a mass bleaching event, where unusually hot water caused by an extreme El Nino event, overheated the coral and caused it to die. It is increasingly believed that bleaching events are a result of climate change and create difficult management task of how to help the coral persist and recolonise when these extreme events occur. I will hopefully be looking into some of these issues and other conservation threats concerning the MPA and joining together with the international community of coral conservationists, trying to find the best solutions for maintaining healthy colourful reefs.

So far I’ve been working on this project for three months, and there has been some great progress with all areas of the project. Each week I will try and update the blog with a new story and photo from the park so you can see what is happening. Stay posted and I’m sure there will be lots more exciting discoveries and updates about this new branch of A Rocha’s work.


Team Day for the A Rocha Kenya Team!

Tuesday August 16 was a quiet day around Mwamba… because we were all out! Carol and Belinda had been planning this day for a few weeks, and wouldn’t tell us what was coming until the day arrived. So we were instructed to be ready to leave Mwamba at 7 (!) for the start of the activities. Once the morning arrived, we saw that our transportation for the day took the form of two matatus, a minibus that is the local form of transportation, that we had hired for the day.

Still yawning, we arrived at Mida Creek by 7:45 and were struck by the beauty of the place when it was so fresh and quiet. We went on a tour of the mangroves and boardwalk, led by other knowledgeable A Rocha Staff. Afterwards, we had a fantastic picnic breakfast! Before departing, we took time to pray for the work being done in the Mida Creek area and the staff who spend most of their time there.

Alex explaining the different species of mangroves

Alex explaining the different species of mangroves



From there, we were taken to the Gede Ruins National Monument, to tour the ruins and climb up to the ASSETS Tree Platform. Mwaboza, the current ASSETS graduate who is currently working there, told us about his work there and we took turns climbing. Afterwards, Colin led us on a tour of the ruins (and of course, the birds that live there!). Again, we prayed for the site and the work that A Rocha does in the area.


Next stop was Malindi. Before lunch, we walked out on a pier that overlooks the ocean. It was a beautiful view, and Belinda admitted that in almost 5 years on the coast she had never been out there! Similar sentiments had been expressed by other staff about some of the A Rocha facilities that we visited, so we knew that Belinda and Carol had planned well.

The whole team on the pier

The whole team on the pier

Afterwards, we had lunch at a wonderful cafe where nobody left hungry!

There were over 30 of us, and we used up most of the tables

There were over 30 of us, and we used up most of the tables

This was good, because we found out that the final activity of the day was a trip to Mambrui town, to have a hike out through the amazing sand dunes found along the ocean and then play some beach games!

trekking across the Mambrui sand dunes

trekking across the Mambrui sand dunes

Bimbo and Mwaboza giving a water relay game their all!

Bimbo and Mwaboza giving a water relay game their all!

After all this fun, it was time to head home. We stopped for sodas and snacks in an area overlooking Sabaki River, and shared the best parts of our days. It was great to get a chance to hang out with everyone outside of work, get to know each other better, and have a lot of fun together. The staff at A Rocha Kenya are a wonderful community to spend some time with, and I highly recommend visiting or volunteering if you get the chance!

-Hannah (A Rocha Kenya volunteer from Canada)

Integrated Conservation Research at Sabaki – the results are in!

It’s been 4 months since I departed Sabaki with armloads of data and a head-full of how to get at the core of conservation issues at this charismatic, unique, and under-valued estuary. Now, it’s more clear than ever, Sabaki River Mouth is a vital shared resource for people and waterbirds. Research to quantify the actual economic, social, and ecological value of wetlands enables us, as conservationists, to put conservation issues on the map of politicians, policy-makers, and civil society.

White-faced Whistling Ducks coming in to roost on the Sabaki River - photo Kate England

White-faced Whistling Ducks coming in to roost on the Sabaki River - photo Kate England

The illegal land-grabbing which occurred in 2010 at Sabaki (see previous blogs) and the proposed biofuel developments in neighboring Important Bird Areas (IBAs, Dakatcha Woodlands and Tana River Delta – see blog below) highlight the imminent need for policy-informing research and progressive conservation of these and other Kenyan IBAs. Nearby IBAs, Arabuko-Sokoke and Mida Creek, have been host of highly successful community-integrated conservation programs (ASSETS, the Mida Creek Boardwalk) – and more good news – Stipulations in Kenya’s new constitution (ratified 2010) include the need to redress unfair land allocations. Now, more than ever, is there promise for community-based conservation initiatives on the Kenyan coast.

Local guide Michael Kadenge carrying the scope along the banks of Sabaki at high-tide - photo Beccy Johnson
Local guide Michael Kadenge carrying the scope along the banks of Sabaki at high-tide – photo Beccy Johnson

As a master’s student from the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town (South Africa), I worked in partnership with A Rocha Kenya, the (52-member strong) Sabaki River Estuary Youth Group (SREYG), the local community, tourists and visiting students at Sabaki to collect baseline data on estuary use, ecotourism potential and threats to Sabaki’s waterbirds. My dedicated and highly driven research assistants included active SREYG members Joseph Mangi and Michael Kadenge. Further support was provided by the village mzee Sammy, Samuel Mweni, and Patrick Charo. Two volunteers (Gus Keys and Beccy Johnson) joined us for the final week of field-work, helping to collect data and taking plenty of beautiful photos (seen here!).  I spent ten wonderful (and action-packed) weeks at Sabaki River Mouth surveying waterbird/human use of the estuary and mapping the intertidal area.

Household surveys showed that the livelihoods of local people are heavily dependent upon natural resources from the estuary and adjacent bush & sand dunes. Natural resources constituted a mean 70% of household income in the village, of which 80 to 96% of resources were collected inside the boundaries of the IBA. Even further still, households interviewed cited that areas for livestock watering, fishing, and water collection are unavailable outside of the estuary. No households in Sabaki receive financial or social support from the Kenyan government, so the estuary’s resources provide a safety net against shocks and stresses to more than 2000 people in the Coast Province!

Conducting household surveys in Sabaki Village - photo Beccy Johnson
Conducting household surveys in Sabaki Village – photo Beccy Johnson

The intertidal areas, which are used for tourism, fishing, and livestock watering, are also important for huge populations of roosting terns and gulls and massive flocks of Palaearctic migrant waders. Protecting the area from land-grabbing and converting the area into a community-run reserve would achieve the end of securing livelihood resources and securing important habitats for migratory waterbirds. However, in order for conservation to operate successfully in a community-based manner, the community must realize benefits of conservation, lest they lose the will and trust needed to carry on community-based ventures.

A Rocha Kenya waterbird counts at Sabaki - photo Kate England

A Rocha Kenya and SREYG waterbird counts at Sabaki - photo Kate England

Our tourist interviews showed that a whopping 96.8% of tourists were willing to pay entry fees to visit the estuary. We also asked tourists how much they would be willing to pay to visit the estuary. By counting visitors every day for a month, we were able to calculate an average 5 foreign and 5 Kenyan tourists visit the estuary per day, and huge numbers of students from Voi, Nairobi, Mombasa, and other cities visit the estuary. Overall, 837 visitors came to the estuary during the month of October 2010. Based on these numbers, we calculated a rough estimate of the unrealized potential revenue from  ecotourism – which equates to $7500 USD per year. If improvements in infrastructure were made (the most preffered by visitors being implementation of a boardwalk and bird hide), aggregate willingness to pay would increase to $11 500 USD per year.

When local household heads were asked if they would like to see increased tourism and regulation of resource extraction activities, more than 90% of household responded positively on both issues. This unrealized revenue from ecotourism could substitute income which may be impacted by restricting activities (e.g. fishing) in the estuary. Further still, this unrealized revenue could contribute to the costs of provisioning piped water to the community. This venture would reduce the time and effort women in the community spend fetching water (currently they travel approx 4 km or more each day to fetch water), allowing them much more time to develop micro-enterprises, participate in education, or partake in other income-generating activities. Provision of piped water would also allow herders to water cattle outside of the intertidal area, where cattle represent a significant source of disturbance to waterbirds and churn up the intertidal substrate through trampling.

Local women carrying water from the dunes at Sabaki - photo Kate England
Local women carrying water from the dunes at Sabaki – photo Kate England

Experiments to determine the impacts of disturbance on waterbirds in the estuary highlighted the relative effects of disturbance on fourteen focal waterbird species (of the 71 waterbird species observed in surveys). Of these species, flamingos showed the highest vulnerability to disturbance. Both species which occur in the estuary, Greater and Lesser Flamingos, are subject to chasing when tourists pay local people to chase the birds into flight for photographs. Because these species are of economic value for tourism, conservation initiatives should aim at preventing flamingo-chasing and mitigating the effects of disturbance on these (and other vulnerable) species.

Greater Flamingos feeding in the Sabaki River - photo Gus Keys
Greater Flamingos feeding in the Sabaki River – photo Gus Keys

By gazetting the area as a community reserve, the community can inherit custodianship over the IBA and its precious resources. Regulating harmful activities in the IBA will help sustain biodiversity resources for local people, students, tourists, and biodiversity. Now, we’ve got the numbers to prove it…. the next step will be to attain the capacity and funding to get community-based conservation off the ground at Sabaki! Onward and upward…


On Monday our regular visit from ‘Earthwatch’ commenced with 9 visitors from Kenya, the USA, and the UK. The team, from a variety of professioEarthwatch Group.JPGns including teaching and zoo keeping are here to study Sykes Monkeys in the forest region around Gede Ruins. They have a particular interest in the difference in seed dispersion between those groups often fed by the tourists and those that are totally self sufficient and how this affects the sustainability of the forest itself. The group will stay with us for 10 days and are already making mealtimes more lively.