Category Archives: Marine

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.



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

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.


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.


A Rocha Kenya staff carrying out research in the intertidal zone.

Declining of Marine Resources;Uyombo Village.

In a typical early morning of January 2015, fishermen in small dug-out canoes head out to the sea. Occasionally, sail boats magnificently creep through the waters past the canoes that seem troubled even by weak waves. The mission is to bring food on the table.
Increasing populations and entry of more fishermen into artisanal fishing coupled with dwindling catches in the Indian Ocean has made life to be harder for every one here. Each day experiences less and less catches, sometimes nothing at all. The fishermen are poor and can only afford dug-out canoes and gillnets. Due to lack of effective equipment, it is not safe for them to explore the deep waters and heavily rely on shallow reef fishing. On some occasions they dare row their canoes deeper when the sea is calm. Stories of fishermen capsizing and perishing in the waters are not uncommon here.
At the shore, women are sitted under mangrove trees. Each of them has a bucket and vigilantly stares at the horizon, waiting for any sign of a vessel. Some few people own sail boats and usually sell the catch at any price they want. The tide is receding and vessels arrive at the shore in intervals of two to three hours, each with barely five kilos; a whole night`s catch. It is common to see women rushing to the canoe to scramble for fish and usually one or two can be lucky. Such lucky women hurriedly leave the shore and head home to prepare the fish for sale. The unlucky ones go back to where they were sitted and wait for their fate. A canoe arrives with ten juvenile back tip sharks and two women are lucky enough to share the catch. Today is worse, it is midday and only three canoes hit the shore with a cumulative catch of less than ten kilos.
According to the locals, migrant fishermen from Zanzibar have been camping here for a fortnight and own at least five big boats. The boats are known as Ngalawa. One of the boats is being repaired so that it can be used for a night fishing shift. The crack in the boat is attributed to its hitting a strong wave. The zanzibari men, at times, get no catch too. The situation is yet to worsen as the villagers anticipate arrival of another crew with controversial fishing gear. Other places have opposed such sophisticated fishermen but the Uyombo locals receive them, yearning for small business opportunities like offering them accommodation and meals.
The village borders a park managed by a state agency. Some of the locals whom we interviewed claimed that the locals have not benefitted from the thirty-year old park, citing a relationship between the agency and the community as one that has been plagued with mistrust. Some fishermen admit that they occasionally poach some octopus in the park. To iron out the rapport, the agency established an eco-tourism facility as an incentive for the locals but it unfortunately had to close down owing to declining tourism in the area and probably, limited marketing. Relatively flourishing tourism in Watamu area also contributed to the facility`s failure.

Predictions of global warming and climate change progressively are painting a hopeless picture and livelihoods are at stake. Stakeholders hence have the challenge to effectively link local socio-economic systems to management of the marine ecosystem.

Uyumbo fisheries catch monitoring with CORDIO- bringing back the catch

Fish customers rushing to a canoe.

Uyumbo fisheries catch monitoring with CORDIO- fish in a net

A fishing net.

Uyumbo fisheries catch monitoring with CORDIO- recording data

Monitoring the catch.


Marine biodiversity

The global oceans cover more than 70% of the earth’s surface providing numerous habitats and micro habitats which harbor ecologically and economically important species. In the oceans there are ecosystems and habitats such as coral reefs, sea grass beds, mangrove forests and so many other that are highly diverse.


Coral reefs for example have been reported as among the most diverse ecosystems in the planet. Occupying just less than one percent of the ocean floor, coral reefs are home to more than 25% of marine life. One of the most amazing experiences anyone can ever have is the diversity and abundance of a coral reef. From brightly colored fish swimming everywhere to almost immobile invertebrates and different colored corals. The coral reefs and many other ecosystems in the ocean provide various forms of goods and services that are vital for the well-being and survival of the large population inhabiting coastal areas such as food, regulating global climate, shoreline protection and many others.


Even though the magnitude of these ecosystems is great, the resources and services they provide are not infinite. In order to get more and bigger and because of technological advancement, man has ventured into intensive fishing, deep-sea mining and deep-sea oil and gas drilling. Industrialization and use of fossil fuels has produced greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere that have had a feedback effect to the ocean through global warming and ocean acidification. The magnitude of the ocean has made us to believe that they are beyond any harm and thus we made them dumping sites.


The result of this has been serious degradation of the ocean ecosystems and rapid decline in marine biodiversity. It has been reported that, currently 60% of world marine ecosystems; important sources of livelihood have been degraded or are being used unsustainably. This has and will continue put into jeopardy the ecological and economical goods and services that the ocean provide and therefore the negative impact on the livelihood of millions of population that live along the coast. The questions now are how far will this continue? Or is there hope for the Oceans?


Working in Watamu Marine Park and Reserve, the ARocha Kenya marine research and conservation programme seeks to answer these questions and emphasizing that there is indeed hope for the Ocean. Working with the communities and stakeholders around the park, we carry our ecological and social research to understand the community use and impacts to the marine resources, creating awareness to schools and communities, on the ocean and sustainable use of its resources as well as organizing and participating in beach clean ups.

Marine conservation through Marine Protected Areas.

With  the ever increasing threats to marine ecosystems, several strategies have been brought forward to help address this issue. One of them is the use of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the management and conservation of marine ecosystems. If well managed, MPAs can increase the ecological, aesthetic and social-economic values that marine ecosystems ought offer. DSCN6398

Within a no-take zone for example fish grow bigger and abundant eventually repopulating adjacent areas that are open to fishing and therefore increasing fish catches in the long run. The abundance and richness within the park also increases the aesthetic value of the area therefore attracting other opportunities of resource use such as tourism. These areas also act as  a refugio in the event of a destructive global disturbance providing seeds for the re-population of the impacted areas.

The management of an MPA is not easy especially with conflicting uses of the marine resources such as tourism and fishing. Some resource users may not fully understand the importance of these areas while others might not have alternative for the mostly slightly long term benefits. Two main important components for effective management of MPAs is the availability of information and the community. We need sound scientific information to set up conservation goals and monitoring the performance of the park. The community is also important to support the initiative and ultimately reap the benefit.


Peter A Rocha Kenya’s marine Researcher sharing information to local stakeholders
A Rocha Kenya’s marine programme work with other stakeholders and government agency in Watamu Marine National Park, one of the oldest marine protected areas in Africa to address these two issues. We carry out research within and outside the park that is informed by the management objectives of the park to obtain ecological information and the interaction between the ecological and human components. Through information sharing and community awareness we believe we are not only assisting in the management of the park but we also assist people to understand God’s creation and everybody’s responsible to take care of God’s creation.

Fishing among local communities

Fishing has been a long standing and important source of livelihood to many coastal communities. Various measures have always been set to control and sustain fisheries with success and failures in equal measures. In recent times numerous confounding factors from destructive fishing practices brought about by modernity to population growth and impacts of emerging global phenomenon such as climate change have made fisheries management even more complicated. Fisheries have become a sensitive topic in all aspects from political, commercial, social and even in scientific fronts. This has been especially more pronounced in vulnerable coastal communities from developing countries who normally have fishing as their sole source of livelihood.

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Strategies such as gear exchange and alternative sources of livelihood have always been employed to sustain these fisheries. Within and around Watamu Marine National Park and Reserves issues such as type of fishing, illegal fishing and illegal gears have been experienced. Local Beach Management Units (BMUs) and Fisheries Departments have been involved to bring order but more is still to be done. With all proposed management strategies, education and awareness is an important component of linking resource use and conservation. Through Education, communities have become more aware of their resources and their sustainable utilization. Through this understanding local conservation areas have been born which have beamed with biodiversity and added another sustainable source of livelihood, ecotourism.

A Rocha Kenya marine programme is involved in working with fishers and other Marine stakeholders around Watamu marine park and reserve to understand their work and challenges and raise awareness on how to sustainably use these resources. It’s quite amazing how enthusiastic and passionate local communities are about their resources.



Through education, awareness and collaboration with other stakeholders we can ensure sustainable use of these resources. We can have both; we can enjoy what God gave us and still have some left for our future generation; that is sustainability.

Photos courtesy of Melita Samoilys – CORDIO EA
Peter Musembi
Marine Research

Natural Resources

Exploitation of natural resources is an essential condition of the human existence. Throughout history, humans have manipulated natural resources to produce the materials they needed to sustain themselves. This refers primarily to food production, but many other entities from the natural environment have been extracted. Often the exploitation of nature has been done in a non-sustainable way, which is causing an increasing concern, as a non-sustainable exploitation of natural resource ultimately threatens the human existence.


Kirepwe Island

A Rocha Kenya’s Research work on natural resources is centred among four villages in Watamu namely Dabaso, Kirepwe, Mida-Majaoni and Uyombo.



Kirepwe Island

Why are we implementing a research in these particular areas? Well, the natural resources in this areas have decreased in the last couple of years and in particularly trees and marine creatures are under threat through illegal logging, poaching and the usage of illegal gears. Previous studies have also shown a tremendous decrease in fish population and the same applies to the amount of acres of Arabuko Sokoke Forest.


Resource mapping at Uyombo

This research aims to find out the livelihood practises carried out by the villagers and how these practises affect the natural resources from the reserves; in what extent they use the reserves and their attitude towards these areas. The four reserve areas included in the research are Mida Creek, Arabuko Sokoke Forest, Watamu Marine Park and Watamu Marine Reserve.


Mangroove Vegetation
In line with our vision nature conserved and people transformed we aim to achieve conservation of these unique areas and to educate the villagers on  sustainable use of natural resources as well as their conservation.


Tourism and marine ecosystems

As a Christian organization in conservation we believe we are called by God to take care of his creation (Gen 1:26). We thrive to promote sustainable use and care for God’s creation, in collaboration with Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) we aim to create awareness to beach operators and tourists to adopt environmentally practices in marine ecosystems.
A Rocha Kenya’s marine work is carried out in the rocky intertidal platforms among other areas in and around Watamu Marine National Park. Rocky intertidal platforms are uniquely rich and abundant with numerous species of fish, echinoderms, corals, sea grass, sea weeds and molluscs. It is amazing how these habitats are connected to the other adjacent and equally important habitats such as coral reefs. Their role in the provision of recreational, economic and ecological roles cannot therefore be overlooked.

Recently A Rocha Kenya marine team carried out a survey to study the various tourist activities carried out and their impacts on these habitats. Interaction of anthropogenic activities and the intertidal components has an impact on the well-being of these areas. It was evident that there are significant levels of tourist activities being carried out in these areas some of which have detrimental effects on their integrity. Activities such as pooling sea stars in a single pool, poking puffer fish, feeding moray eels and trampling as well as litter disposal in these areas are not environmentally friendly.


For long term well being of these areas and their continued provision of both ecological and recreational services, we all need to care for them by ensuring that we don’t engage in activities that cause harm to them and we take time to redeem part of those already disturbed. Take the initiative today; pick litter you see on the rock pools. Don’t poke clams and don’t take beautiful creatures as souvenirs. Let’s take care of God’s creation.
Marine Research


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