Category Archives: Marine

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

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

Hawkfish and Sandperch!!

Many of us may have had or still do have aquariums in our houses or in our work places. Hawkfish are one of the groups which are collected for such tanks despite their slightly aggressive, territorial behaviour. Other than the details of keeping the species in an aquarium, not much is known about them. Hawkfish and Sandperch families are currently being assessed for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The IUCN Red List categorises each species depending on their threats, habitat and ecology and geographical range. Each species is then placed on a scale ranging from Least Concern to Extinct.
The A Rocha Kenya marine team are conducting field work to determine each species abundance and distribution across the Watamu Marine National Park which will contribute to this assessment. Additional research into habitat association of hawkfish will be conducted by one of the current marine volunteers, Hannah, as part of her Batchelor thesis.
Hawkfish and Sandperch

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 Day in the Life

Ever wondered what it’s like to be on the Marine Team at A Rocha Kenya? Well here’s how I spent one day last week here at Mwamba:

7:00 – Wake up to monkeys jumping on my roof, always entertaining
7:30 – Breakfast
8:15 – Data sheet prep: I filled up my old sheet yesterday, so I have to make another one
8:45 – Collect gear for rock pooling fieldwork: I’m looking for Anomastrea irregularis, and rare coral, and Hannah is looking at ghost crabs on the beach
9:00 – Walk down to the south end of the park to collect data on rock pool corals and ghost crabs


10:10 – Caught in a rainstorm: Luckily, since we study the ocean, our data sheets are waterproof!
11:30 – Back to Mwamba loaded with lots of good data and plans to head back to the site another day
12:00 – Quick swim to cool off before lunch, and the water is beautiful, as always
13:00 – Lunch at Mwamba, delicious!
14:00 – Data entry
15:30 – 18:00 – Coral photo analysis: hopefully soon we’ll have a complete list of coral species present in the rock pools

coral again

18:00 – Break before dinner
19:00 – Dinner at Mwamba: six different countries represented!
21:00 – Late night rock pooling to look at glowing coral under the UV light: magical

And there you have it, an “average” day! Stay tuned for more updates on our marine research and everything else happening at A Rocha Kenya!