Category Archives: Marine


In the next few days world leaders will be gathering in Paris, France for the #COP21 to discuss on climate change and hopeful come up with a new deal to address the climate change challenge. Many agree that we have had enough science and research pointing at climate change not happening in the next few years, but now it is happening and though a bit too late, it’s time to act.

The impacts of climate change are well known and it’s not something to smile about. Among the habitats where climate change has had the most impact is the ocean ecosystem especially the near-shore habitats which have direct benefit to millions of people. Release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases through burning of fossil fuels are causing global warming. Global warming results to increased sea surface temperature that causes coral bleaching in tropical areas where coral reefs occur. Corals thrive near their upper temperature tolerance and therefore any slight increase in temperature breaks down the symbiotic relationship between corals and microalgae and hence bleaching. Coral bleaching affect not only the corals but if it persists and corals die all the biodiversity depending on them for survival will perish.

UY5 April

Bleaching in April 2013 on a permanent quadrant

The Ocean plays a role in reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere but this also comes at a cost further threatening these systems. The ocean absorbs the CO2 from the atmosphere but the increased amount of CO2 in the atmosphere means more is or has to be absorbed than the ocean can take causing ocean acidification.

Coral bleaching and ocean acidification are deteriorating coral reefs conditions all over the world and jeopardizing all ecological and socio-economic values that they provide to millions of people depending on them directly or indirectly. Global warming is also causing rise in sea-level damaging coastal states and people’s livelihoods. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its recent (2013) report had predicted that there will be 26 to 82cm rise in the sea level in the next a hundred years. What does this mean for islands states such as Maldives?

The impacts of climate change and their associated consequences are already being felt both at global, regional and local level and paint a bleak picture to people and livelihoods. We are hopeful that all leaders and nations present at the COP21 meeting will come up with a deal for climate change and a commitment that will reduce carbon emissions. While this is very important, what can we do at a local level? How do we build the ability of both society and ecological system to adapt to climate change as we buy time for recovery of these systems with low carbon emissions?

In a small town in the North coast of Kenya, Watamu, we are working in a small marine protected area to try to understand and build the resilience of the coral reefs and the communities here. Watamu Marine National Park is one of the oldest marine park in the world and was seriously impacted by the 1998 El Nino event that caused up to 80% coral loss, and has experienced slow rates of recovery ever since. There was a minor bleaching event in 2013 which we recorded relatively good recovery. Some coral reefs have been reported to develop tolerance to thermal stress. The good recovery in 2013 could be argued that the corals are adapting to thermal stress but a more weighted argument could be that the thermal stress was not as intense as that one in 1998. Whichever scenario is correct, we are working to have a better understanding on this at a local level.

Scientific predictions are pointing at a stronger El nino event, that might cause bleaching early next year, we are preparing to monitor the bleaching event within the protected area and surrounding areas. With marked quadrats and corals that we used in 2013, we will be going back to the same spots and checking the response of the corals in the event of bleaching. This will give us an understanding of whether these corals are adapting to thermal stress and which sites are more resilient and hence need more protection.


UY5 October

Recovery in October 2013 on a permanent quadrant

We are also working with local reef users and the government agencies to raise awareness on coral reefs and climate change and influence reduction of local stressors. Our overall goal is to ensure everybody understands these threats and come up with appropriate management strategies for continued structural and functional existence of the coral reefs.


Remarking permanent quadrant in October 2015


In a workshop explaining bleaching


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.


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


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.

blog 2


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