Category Archives: Tana River Delta

THE TRIP TO TANA DELTA; THE UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE!

On Tuesday morning of the 9th of February, our team of four set out on the journey to Tana Delta for the annual water bird count. We drove north from Watamu for about four and a half hours, reaching the end of the road mid-afternoon.  There, we boarded a small boat that took us down the river to the lodge where we were to stay for our two nights, right on the mouth of the river. It was a really amazing experience, travelling by boat through beautiful mangroves and sand dunes to reach our destination. We were the only people staying at the lodge at that time and it felt very isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. On our arrival we quickly put our bags down, grabbed our binoculars and headed for the beach to see what birds we could count before sundown. This was my very first time conducting a bird count, and I quickly saw how knowledgeable and experienced Kirao, Juma, and Albert were, as I watched them identify and count the different species we saw with ease.

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The next day was even more successful as we got up early and headed out to count water birds in the fresh water channels of the river. We had to go back and travel by car through thick bush and bumpy roads to where the boat would pick us up. We commenced day two of our counting in the morning, and we didn’t stop until past fourteen hours for snacks; just to refuel our system for the remaining portion. Never before had I seen such an abundance of birds in one area and in such a diverse range of species as well. Before we had been in the boat for long, we were already counting great and Cattle egrets, White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Open-billed Storks, Black-crowned Night Herons, Pied Kingfishers and Water Thicknees in hundreds. Not to mention the endless number of Spur-winged Plovers! There seemed to be a pair or flock of them around every corner we turned. Other great sightings we had that day included Long-toed Lapwing, African Darter, Goliath Heron, Little Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Collared Pratincole, and African Skimmer.

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We even came across a very large group of hippos, watching us curiously as we peered at some birds through our scope. So, after a very successful day we headed back to the lodge, tired from the long hours spent in the sun, for a well-earned rest.

On our last morning came with lots of high hopes as we wade through the mangrove channels of the salt water areas in the delta. This took us through more mangrove areas and even out onto some mudflats. Like the day before, there was no shortage of birds for us to count. Terek Sandpiper, Caspian Tern, Grey Plover and many more were seen in abundance over the course of the morning. We even managed to spot a Western Reef Egret, a very uncommon species at the coast! When we got to the mudflats, we couldn’t resist hoping out of the boat for a while to try and catch a better glimpse of a group of gulls. It really was a lot of fun trudging through deep mud with our scope and binoculars counting birds as we went! By then, I had had around thirty lifers as I had no more space on my personal list of birds! After washing our feet off in the river we rushed back to the lodge and grabbed our things before taking the long drive back down to Watamu, thus concluding an extremely successful trip to the Tana Delta.

Prepared by,

Tim Curie,

Science & Conservation Volunteer.

New Ramsar site for Kenya – Tana River Delta

The wildlife-rich Tana River Delta has been the focus of a lot of controversy over the past five years or so with major (and continuing) threats of sugarcane and Jatropha plantations for biofuels, oil exploration and other developments. Most recently there has been some serious violence linked to land ownership and use issues with many people displaced and a number killed. For many years there has been a plan to have the delta recognised as a Ramsar site which gives it additional high level recognition that it is an internationally important wetland for both biodiversity and as a resource for humans and thus should be conserved – or rather, in the words of the Ramsar Convention, it should be conserved and used wisely “through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”

On 12th October the Tana Delta Ramsar Site was announced as Kenya’s 6th Ramsar site. This comes as a result of a lot of hard work by Kenya Wildlife Service who took the lead in the process with significant support from KenWeb and the Kenya Wetlands Forum amongst others.

The email that was circulated read as follows:

“The Secretariat is very pleased to announce that Kenya has designated the Tana River Delta as a Wetland of International Importance. As summarized by Ramsar’s MS Ako Charlotte Eyong, from the accompanying RIS, the Tana River Delta Ramsar Site (163,600 hectares, 02°27’S  040°17’E), an Important Bird Area (IBA) in Coast Province, is the second most important estuarine and deltaic ecosystem in Eastern Africa, comprising a variety of freshwater, floodplain, estuarine and coastal habitats with extensive and diverse mangrove systems, marine brackish and freshwater intertidal areas, pristine beaches and shallow marine areas, forming productive and functionally interconnected ecosystems.

This diversity in habitats permits diverse hydrological functions and a rich biodiversity including coastal and marine prawns, shrimps, bivalves and fish, five species of threatened marine turtles and IUCN red-listed African elephant (Loxodonta africana), Tana Mangabey (Cercocebus galeritus), Tana River Red Colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus rufomitratus) and White-collared Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis albotorquatus). Over 600 plant species have been identified, including the endangered Cynometra lukei and Gonatopus marattioides.

As one of the only estuarine staging posts on the West Asia – Eastern Africa coastal flyway, it is a critical feeding and wintering ground for several migratory waterbirds such as waders, gulls and terns. The main human activities include fishing, small-scale family-oriented agriculture, mangrove wood exploitation, grazing, water supply, tourism and research (ongoing research on the protection and monitoring of breeding turtles and the conservation of dugongs).

Kenya presently has six Ramsar Sites, covering an area of 265,449 hectares.”

 A map of the new Ramsar site is given below (taken from the Ramsar website):

 

KTN documentary on Tana River Delta

Thanks to Bryan for pointing out the link was missing for the first KTN documentary on the Tana River Delta – hopefully this should work:

ktnkenya# part I

The second part has also been posted online and can be found at:

ktnkenya# part II

thanks again to KTN for doing this good job.

KTN broadcast on Tana River Delta

Following the high-level inter-ministerial government and partners team visit to the delta last month, KTN made a short documentary which nicely outlines some of the key issues that the delta is facing. View it here.

THe interviews of the local community members are all in Kiswahili but you can tell a lot from the body language as to what the sentiments are and what is said is picked up on accurately in the ensuing commentary.

There are also some excellent blog posts about the Tana River Delta issue from the RSPB and BirdLife International which are worth reading:

Saving Special Places

Planning process for delta underway

and the RSPB page on the Tana Delta is also very worthwhile reading.

Colin Jackson

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Great potential from high-level government planning team visit to Tana River Delta

On Thursday and Friday last week the Inter-Ministerial Consultative Team met for an all day meeting that included most of the relevant governmental ministeries: Water & Irrigation, Agriculture, Env & Mineral Resources, Information & Communication, Fisheries, Finance, and Lands together with NEMA, a large delegation from the Office of the Prime Minister, KWS, Kenya Forest Service and then NGO’s including NatureKenya (who catalysed the whole thing) together with RSPB and BirdLife International and some Dutch delta management expert consultants in particular from Deltares (a not-for-profit knowledge institute). It was hugely encouraging to see and hear the positive take from the government regarding developing a national Board to deal with deltas nation-wide starting with the Tana River Delta. An introduction was given to the SEA process (Strategic Environmental Assessment) which would appear to be an excellent approach to major developments in assessing the overarching impact it might have on the environment, economy and local communities.

The full day of meeting was followed by yesterday – a field trip right into the heart of the delta to actually get to see what it looks like and especially to meet some of the community groups and hear their issues. Strict instructions were given on what time we were leaving, 7:30am – and anyone not there then would be left behind – so I got up early & left in a hurry… forgetting hat and sunglasses… and of course got there to end up waiting for over an hour! A good chance to talk with Kristy who is employed by the Delta Dunes Camp to work with the Lower Tana River Delta Conservation Trust that is trying to set up a conservancy that can be used for tourism as well as protect and conserve some of the remaining wildlife – especially the elephant, lion, topi, hippo and birdlife.

We piled into three buses and headed for Garsen on the Tana River where the road for Lamu crosses the river. After a stop to greet and brief the District Commissioner for Tana River District, we headed to the TARDA guest house for tea before being divided into groups for visiting three different sites and community groups.

stopping by the DC’s office

Serah Munguti organising participants

I ended up in the group that went to meet with the Lower Tana Delta Conservancy Trust. This was a very interesting meeting with about 200 community members where the key issues raised were firstly getting the land back that had been grabbed by outsiders – the ranch was put up for auction earlier in the year.

Welcome committee from the ladies at Marafa

Another issue was getting rid of the squatters that the MP had brought onto the southern area of the land in order to get votes (I was told this from two different sources that same day). They are clearing forest and killing the wildlife and basically destroying the area. Another issue was the huge number of cattle being brought in from outside the delta and finishing off the grass and adding massive pressure to the already stretched resources of grass and water. They were also keen that the river be re-routed to it’s original channel that flowed past where they are based – it now flows c.10kms away and they no longer experience the regular flooding that would happen annually.

Peter Odhengo, Office of the PM speaking to LTDC Trust
It was excellent to hear their views and I hope the government ministries heard what was being said and that action will be taken. The other groups had a very different experience, especially the group that went to Dida Waride – where the people had been primed beforehand by those against the planning initiative to condemn and reject the whole process. It’s a little uncertain quite what their problem was though one thing for sure was they wanted TARDA, the sugar-cane project, to give back their land and to hand back the actual title deed – and to have it now, not next week! It’s hugely short-sighted of those behind the stirring as this process is fully intending to ensure the local community benefit suggesting there are personal benefits to gain from those doing it… Anyone out there who prays… we need to pray that  these people would see the sense of the planning initiative and would support it whole heartedly. There’s a lot of potential for real good to happen, but if a small faction is against it, in time they can cause a lot of problems.

Paul Matiku of NatureKenya addressing the group
As should have been expected, we got back to the place we were to have lunch, not by 2pm but 4:30pm and ended up leaving nearer 6 and I got home just after 10pm in the end…! A communique was put together to make a statement about the intention of the team gathering. I’ll try and get this onto the tanariverdelta.org website in due course.

Inter-Ministerial Consultative Team for Sustainable Management of Deltas in Kenya to visit Tana River Delta

On 3rd August there was an  Inter-Ministerial Consultative meeting that took place on the Sustainable Management of Deltas in Kenya at which it was resolved for the team to make a site visit to the Tana River Delta on 13th – 17th September, 2011. This is a very welcome move by the government and is encouraging to see the positive action being taken to address the issue of managing deltas effectively. The rationale behind the team’s visit is that with the delta being such an important biodiversity, tourist, bird, mangrove forest, farming and oil exploration hotspot, it “requires an integrated approach that enables comprehensive and objective planning of the competing development needs, an ecosystem-based management approach for sustainable development and a coordinated, integrated and co-management strategy for livelihood support”.

The site visit will start with a full day of stakeholder input and discussions in Malindi on the 15th and is intended to “give the members and stakeholders an opportunity to appreciate the challenges facing the delta and chart a common way forward with all resource users such as farmers, fishermen, pastoralists, and tourists among others”.

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A Rocha Kenya welcomes this initiative and recognises NatureKenya and the RSPB’s role in encouraging this to happen. I will be attending the stakeholder meeting and hope to be able to give some good input to it.

Anyone reading this has, I hope, visited the www.tanariverdelta.org website where there is a lot more information on the delta. We would welcome any comments and input on how the website could be improved and if anyone has further relevant information about the delta which could be posted on the site as well.

Colin Jackson


Forest land in Tana River Delta clarified as protected under KFS & not for sale

Another of the majorly contentious issues in the Tana River Delta over the past year or more has been the sale of land in a pretty underhand sort of way – ‘public’ auction of ranches yet behind closed doors and with the prerequisite that you had already paid something in the region of Ksh 1 million in advance. Many of the actual community members on the ground in the delta are furious that their leaders on some of the committees etc have been selling the land to big investors for biofuels and other crops without consulting them. 

The following notice was published in the Daily Nation recently which indicates clearly that land that actually falls under the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) has been included in this scam. Here KFS is clarifying the situation and making a statement regarding the sale and purchase of any of this land. This can only be a good thing for the preservation of the forests on Tana River Delta.

British farming industry, G4 Industries, pulls out of the Tana River Delta

Yes, it’s true. Hard to believe in many ways given the feeling of hitting your head against a brick wall when trying to motivate Government to see the long term madness of clear-felling or draining natural wildlife-rich woodland and wetlands to plant 1000s of hectares of crops either for biofuel or for selling to industry in an area where the climate, soils and overall prospect are extremely marginal anyway. Yet it has happened. G4 Industries have pulled out of their plans to put in 28,000ha of oil seed such as castor and sunflower in the southern section of the delta stating reasons as ‘technical reasons with regard to soil types and chemical compounds’ as well as issues with mismanagement of delta resources by local authorities.They also state that calculations of the long-term effect of climate change on the climate of area has led to the risks being too high for sensible investment.

It is very interesting that they state very clearly that poor soil quality and an uncertain climate as some of the main reasons for pulling out. Reading their Environmental Impact Assessment, they state one of the reasons for going ahead with the project is:

“..to gain the benefits of extremely fertile soil areas and a year round growing climate”. (p.5, Annexe A – project feasibility).

Poor soils and a drying climate have been some of the foremost reasons we have been quoting all along as being why none of these large-scale developments in the Tana River Delta (or Dakatcha for that matter) should be allowed to go ahead. It is pretty much 99% certain that they will not succeed and we are thanking God that G4 Industries have ‘seen the light’ and realised the truth of the low quality of farming land and its significance for large scale agriculture.

aeiral view of heart of TRD Aerial view of the heart of the delta – when flooded like this, it is intensely alive with birdlife and fish and other wildlife…

Points go to our partners NatureKenya and RSPB for their lobbying and on-the-ground effort to show where these ideas of large-scale farming are going wrong. Also to the local community members who have stood and shouted that it is wrong what is going on – together with other partners like Tana Dunes Camp who work closely with the community – and in fact have the community where they are based as partners in the company and therefore benefiting directly from every guest that stays at the lodge.

However we can’t rest on our laurels – there are bigger and more serious threats to the delta in the form of Bedford Biofuels still planning to put in 64,000ha of jatropha biofuel and Mumias and Mat International wanting to put in tens of thousands of hectares of sugarcane. But it is encouraging to know that at least a small part of the delta is, for now, safe from immediate destruction. It would be awesome to get in there and do some thorough wildlife studies to see what birds, insects, reptiles, mammals etc really are there – and to put together a plan for turning it into a wilderness zone for tourism – to both provide a sustainable income for the communities that will continue into many years to come whilst at the same time protecting some of Kenya’s last remaining wilderness areas with amazing wildlife.

Tana Red Colobus by Olivier Hamerlynk

The newly discovered population of rare and endangered Red Colobus – in a small forest patch in the heart of the delta which would be threatened by the sugarcane plantations – image taken in 2010 by Olivier Hamerlynk.

 

Unproven biofuel projects given clearance in unique wetlands and forest areas

News has just come through that the Provincial Commissioner for Coast has apparently ordered that the jatropha plantation project for the Dakatcha Woodlands that has been fought for over two years (see other blogs on this) should “start on Monday” – since “the MP and the local people want it”…

In fact there is a significant proportion of the local population who do not want the project and there is plenty of evidence that the crop will fail to produce an economic output that will improve the livelihoods of the people and not damage the environment.

All this comes in the light of the Minister of the Environment, Michuki, who helicoptered into the site last year September for a public meeting and said that “before he would give any go ahead, if Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd want to implement their project, they must furnish his office with scientific evidence that Jatropha is commercially viable in Dakatcha and that it is not harmful to people and the environment.”

He gave an example of a failed “development project” that took place in Tanzania where the proponent clear felled an indigenous forest to cultivate groundnuts. The project failed because by clearing all trees the proponent eliminated all pollinators.

As it is, the Italian company who is behind this project have yet to even address or speak out in support of the economical viability of the crop even when challenged on it. There has been no scientific / solid evidence given publicly about the actual potential of the crop and all the reports we hear are that it doesn’t work here. I have just spoken a few minutes ago with a farmer from Mpeketoni near Lamu who tells me that jatropha has been tried around his area… and totally failed.

He further asked the County Council of Malindi to develop a multiple land use plan and zone all forested areas for conservation. This was agreed that it should be a collaborative effort including the main stakeholders such as NatureKenya and local community.

As it happened, the zonation map has been produced without any input other than from the County Council and done basically behind closed doors and presenting effectively a fait accompli which only those supporting the jatropha project had any input to. The map was produced in a very ‘jua kali‘ (Swahili for rough and ready, unprofessional) way and pretty much sketched by hand – as you can see from an image of it below:

The larger cross-hatch patterned area is the original area that they wanted to put under jatropha but which thankfully has been turned down – at least for now. I’m sure they’ll push for it in due course. The area they are apparently being ‘given’ to do the project is the smaller bold bordered area. Unlike what the project proponents have been saying, the area takes in a significant portion of the Brachystegia woodland habitat – the habitat that the endemic Clarke’s Weaver, found worldwide only in Dakatcha and Arabuko-Sokoke Forest 20kms to the south.

So it is that we are still fighting local government who are insisting in the light of evidence against the cause that it should in fact go ahead. There has been no word to my knowledge from the Minister of Environment’s office that it should go ahead and it would therefore appear that local government officers are being compromised in order for the project to happen.
WHEN will we have anything happening here by government which really benefits the local people and environment?? Those who read this and who pray – please pray that we can stop this project completely and instead bring alternatives for the people which will make a real difference to them and in doing so protect this amazingly precious part of God’s creation.

Tana River Delta threats continue

The Tana River Delta is still under significant threat of major destruction by investors and individuals who seem bent on their own short-term interests and not the long-term survival of the delta and its sustainable use. The threat of the 65,000ha jatropha plantations is still very much there though thankfully NEMA have decided to look more seriously into the actual effectiveness of jatropha as an economic plantation crop. This is good because all evidence from East Africa and further afield points very strongly at it being a total disaster for a viable biofuel crop.


Fishermen on the Tana River Delta – by Cheryl-Samantha Owen

There are other threats, however to the Delta including insidious charcoal burning which is creeping into every corner of habitat that has any sort of biodiversity value and degrading sometimes entirely. There are also a number of squatters moving into the southern end of the delta coming from further south where they hear stories of land being offered for dirt cheap, will pay someone – the ‘owner’ – for the land and move on and clear the forest and bush while all the time the ‘owner’ was just someone pretending to be owner making money from people who don’t know better. Meanwhile they then go ahead and slash, burn and destroy precious habitat and kill wildlife.

Probably the largest threat now to the delta as well is that of plans by the government to build another huge dam on the Tana River upstream – the High Falls Dam – which apparently has been given the go ahead even though to my knowledge noone has seen an EIA for it, nor has there been any stakeholder involvement or consideration of its impact on the delta and its inhabitants, both human and wildlife. Dams seem to be one of the other major curses on our planet, in fact – there’s another I just heard about that the government has also given the go ahead for in prime indigenous forest in western Kenya – Nandi South – where over 1,500ha of pure forest will be flooded in the name of irrigation of land. This, in the light of grand government statements about protecting forest and making every effort to stem the destruction of forest and instead plant trees and increase forest cover!!


A homestead with cattle in the Tana River Delta – by Cheryl-Samantha Owen

NatureKenya continues to do an excellent job in the Tana River Delta and are looking to procure funding to extend further the livelihood improvement projects that they have already started and increase capacity building for communities living in the delta. The Delta Dunes Camp are also doing what they can to support the community and help them to make decisions that will protect and sustain the wilderness of the delta that will attract tourists who can bring income to the communities. One of the local community groups is in fact one of the partners in the Delta Dunes Camp and therefore benefits directly every time a guest visits.


Tourists on a boat trip through the delta – by Cheryl-Samantha Owen

All of these initiatives are only good for the delta and it is our prayer that somehow we can stop the outright destruction of habitat, water courses and livelihoods by the projects like the sugar cane and jatropha, and instead have conservancies set up that are professionally and efficiently operated that can really bring good benefits to the people.


Riverside village, Tana River Delta – by Cheryl-Samantha Owen


Baby crocodile amongst mangrove breather roots, TRD – by Cheryl-Samantha Owen

There is a case in court that the communities have taken action on to try and stop the large destructive projects. As all of these things it is a long slow process and we’re just praying that it will succeed and the delta will be protected.

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