Category Archives: Volunteers

Catching Crab Plovers, avoiding ants and ringing zombies in Kenya!

Conservation and Research volunteer Ben Porter spent an amazing time birding and ringing with A Rocha Kenya. For you interested in volunteering with the team here are a few tips, tricks and eye-fizzling photography…

Looking out towards the south end of Bardsey Island as I write this, with winds gusting 104 mph and lashing rain, it is hard to believe that Kenya even exists, let along think of the warm climate and number of birds that I remember experiencing. However, I will attempt to give a bit of an idea of the birding on offer in the area, and some (hopefully) useful details about volunteering and staying with A Rocha Kenya.
Whether other members of the party would say the same as myself I am not sure, but for me, wandering aimlessly around in the forest in a state of severe dehydration for eight hours was definitely worth it for this…

Ben porter 1

A short way inland from the the Mwamba Field Study Centre is the Arabuko Sokoke Forest. Some 420 square kilometres in size, this mix of ancient coastal forest is home to the most threatened inhabitants of the area. It is the largest stretch of coastal dry forest remaining in East Africa, and so it is perhaps no surprise that six globally-threatened species depend on the forest, namely the Sokoke Scops Owl, Sokoke Pipit, Amani Sunbird, Clarke’s Weaver (Endemic to the forest), East Coast Akalat and Spotted Ground Thrush. On top of these, over 260 species have been recorded within the confines of the forest, including such superb birds as the Narina Trogon, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Fischer’s Turaco, BÖhm’s Spinetail, Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill and Blue-mantled Crested-flycatcher to name but a few…

Ben porter 2

Keen to read more about Ben’s adventures with A Rocha? Follow the link below and see some of his amazing pictures of local wildlife, read how the team got lost in the forest for eight hours, walked long distances through knee deep mud and spend the whole night netting and ringing waders …

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

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!


The Marine Research Programme Has Expanded!

Above: Doro getting really excited about this particular mat of seagrass!, left: Benjo, Peter and Hannah (left to right) and Cassie (right) on the boat, off on a snorkelling trip :D, we found loads of fish!! ... and seagrass and seeweed too!

Above: Doro getting really excited about this particular mat of seagrass!, left: Benjo, Peter and Hannah (left to right) and Cassie (right) on the boat, off on a snorkelling trip :D, we found loads of fish!! … and seagrass and seeweed too!

Over the last 6 months many volunteers have joined the A Rocha Kenya (ARK) marine team, researching a variety of different species and topics. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) are partnering with ARK in order to provide the volunteer’s access to the Watamu Marine National Park and KWS with data for management and reports. This provides a unique opportunity for volunteers to study their particular and hopefully produce peer review papers within the conservation, wildlife and marine sectors.

The main topics are Benjo’s work on coral cover, the impact of tourists on the coral reef and reef resilience and Peter’s joint work with Sophie on the fish  associated with two different genus’ of coral.

Past volunteers have been researching: fishing communities and their livelihoods, intertidal pool fish and echinoderms (meaning spiky skin in Latin, including: sea urchins, starfish and sea cucumbers), shallow water corals and fish predation on juvenile corals.


The latest batch of volunteers and their projects are…

– Cassie, from US, Environmental Science (BA) graduate here to gain more practical experience, before further study – looking at a species of rock pool coral (Anomastrea irregularis) distribution and abundance

– Doro, from Germany, PhD student, here to gain hands on experience with A Rocha’s work and to add the botanical aspect to the marine programme – seagrass and seaweed biodiversity, distribution and possible threats

– Hannah, from UK, undergraduate student on a placement year – hawkfish, sandperch and ghost crab abundance and diversity

So be on the lookout for more posts about: corals, seagrass, seaweeds, hawkfish, sandperch and ghost crabs!






Community Rockpooling

Over the past week our marine team has been spending quite a lot of time around our various rockpool areas. These little windows to the sea are a great way to introduce people to marine life, as well as fascinating, understudied habitats.

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Saturday, June 8th, we celebrated World Ocean’s Day by getting all of our volunteers together and hosting a rockpooling party in front of the Turtle Bay Beach Club. Several local people saw advertisements on facebook and around town and came to join in the fun, along with guests at the various resorts and many beach operators. Everyone had a great time exploring the pools and learning about sea urchins, corals, sea anemones, sea cucumbers, starfish, crabs, sponges, etc. It was particularly rewarding  to see the amount of interest many of the beach operators had in learning proper names and asking intelligent questions about the ecology of various organisms. It was a very rewarding, enjoyable trip and on top of it all, we added two new fish species to our park list!

Untitled 7Untitled 6 This week also brought quite a bit of rockpool field work as marine volunteer, Tori Sindorf, is working on putting together a fish biodiversity estimate for the rocky intertidal areas of the park. We enjoyed bringing various people out to act as scribes and get a feel for what we were doing, and were honoured to have national director, Raphael Magambo join us for one of the days.

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We ended the week of spring tides (times when the low tides are extra low) by taking a trip across the creek to Uyombo, to Chipande Primary School, to do some environmental education with the kiddos out there. It was great traipsing around intertidal areas with kids pointing excitedly to everything they saw, asking for an explanation, and trying to ID creatures with our tidepool field guide sheets. It was especially fun encouraging a group of girls to try gently touching sea cucumbers and sea urchins, watching them squeal with delight at the new sensations!

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John Gitiri – volunteering with A Rocha Kenya

My name is John Gitiri and my home is the Kinangop plateau in central Kenya and I am currently an intern with the Ornithology Section of the National Museums of Kenya. I have always developed my interest in conservation and in particular I have focused in learning more about birds and wetlands areas.

A Rocha Kenya is a Christian organisation which has been involved with conservation for more than decade in Kenya with its offices in Watamu on the north Kenya coast. I was introduced to ARK through Nature Kenya’s coast manager, Francis Kagema, based at Gede Ruins in October 2011, which after a few weeks they accepted me as an intern and I stayed until April 2012.

I found my internship to be very worthwhile – particularly since I had not much not to do by then. My stay at Mwamba was helpful and wonderful and included activities ranging from Bible study, fieldwork, office work and other volunteer tasks – I liked it!

My goals while interning with ARK were to learn more about birds as a major tool of conservation as well as improve my interaction with different people from different cultures and from different parts of the world – and most of all to grow in my Christian life.

Experience with a well-known Kenyan scientist/ ringer, Colin Jackson, as well as with other experienced ARK staff, volunteers and guests opened mental and physical doors for me. It expanded my knowledge in different working fields.

…me with an Emerald-spotted Wood Dove on my shoulder after it has been ringed

While volunteering I developed a strong interest in bird ringing after watching CJ ring and after sometime he started teaching me more about it.  After getting some ringing exposure at Mwamba, I was blessed to get a sponsorship to do the Introductory Bird Ringing Course that was being run at Mwamba with CJ after my internship ended. With the completion of my internship, I had some time to go back home to the Kinangop and do a couple of things with the conservation site support group back at home (Friends of Kinangop Plateau) before I got another internship opportunity with National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi.

The group of trainee ringers (I’m at the front next to Andrew) in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest on one of the drier days.

At the Nairobi Museum I am involved with bird ringing every Tuesday morning with the Nairobi Ringing Group and I had heard about the annual ringing of thousands of migrants at Ngulia in Tsavo West National Park and I thought of  requesting for a chance to participate and contribute where I could. Through A Rocha Kenya / National Museums of Kenya I got the chance which was very educational and I learnt more about migration as well as meeting with famous author/ ringer David. J. Pearson author of Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania. I am looking forward to do a lot more ringing in future!! I sincerely appreciate ARK for their endless support and following how am doing from what I gained from them. If you have a chance to volunteer with ARK, from my experience, I recommend it’s worth it.

Gede Ruins Forest Regeneration Study is Under Way

In April of this year we at A Rocha Kenya have had the opportunity to resume/restart an exciting project in the Gede Ruins, a thirteenth-seventeenth century stone city, which is surrounded by a 44 hectare patch of forest (Robertson et al 2002). In the 1980’s the Gede village, surrounding the ruins, was expanding, and the forest surrounding the ruins was being cleared for cultivation, poles, and firewood (Robertson et al 2002), which stopped in 1991 once the Museum constructed a fence around the forest to protect it. A botanist living in Malinidi, Ann Robertson, worked with a curator at the museum, Mathias Ngonyo to replant a 5 hectare patch of the heavily degraded land with indigenous trees, with the end goal of restoring the land back to a healthy tropical dry forest.

After planting, the heights of the trees and the diameter at breast height of trees where d > 1 cm, were measured with the idea of obtaining valuable growth rate data, as nobody had previously studied growth rates of indigenous tropical dry forest tree species. These measurements were gathered annually each year after planting, starting in 1992  up through 1997.

Enter A Rocha Kenya….The project we are now involved in is a continuation of the project started by Ann and Mathias 20 years ago. The location of each planted tree was mapped, and with Mathias’ help a team from ARK has been able to go back through and re-label all of the trees, and thanks to Professor David MacFarlane (Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution from Rutgers University 2001, and current Associate Professor of Foresty at Michigan State University) take tree height and DBH measurements for all of the surviving trees which were planted.  With support from the National Museums of Kenya, partnering with KEFRI (Kenya Forestry Research Institute), a team of entomologists led by Professor John Banks Ph.D. (Director of international programs and Director, Office of Undergraduate Education) and Professor David MacFarlane, we are hoping to gain a valuable data set on tropical dry forest growth rates, regrowth, and recruitment success of the trees, as well as examining the insect and bird species richness and biodiversity. It is an exciting project to be involved in, as nothing like his has been been done in tropical dry forests at least in Kenya, possibly all of East Africa. In the immediate are we have traditional slash and burn farms, we have our plot of regenerated forest, and we have the 400 year old forest surrounding the ruins to compare with each other.

Currently, Phase I of the project has been completed, basically re-labeling, recording, and measuring the status, height, and DBH of all the planted trees. The next phase, Phase II is going to be going back through the plot and measuring the recruits which have come in naturally, as well as assigning a competition index to each tree, both planted and recruit, to gain a better understanding of what could potentially be affecting growth rates across the study site.


It is true that when you plant a tree, you are blessing generations to come. Thanks to Ann and Mathias and their hard work we regularly encounter Suni, Fischer’s Turaco, Hadada Ibis, African Goshawks, Little Sparrowhawks, the occasional Bush-buck, and the endangered Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew while doing field work in the regenerated plot. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now…

Ann and her husband, Ian, came and visited the plot last month for the first time in close to 15 years. It was incredibly special to see her eyes light up, and listen to her tell stories about how the plot used to be, and to see her stand next to trees she planted years ago, enjoying their shade and relaxing out of the hot sun. Their way of saying “Thank You” to a woman with vision and conviction.



Robertson, A. Hankamer, C. Ngonyo, M. “Restoration of a Small Tropical Coastal Forest in Kenya: Gede National Monument Forest Restoration Project.” in: Plant Conservation in the Tropics: perspectives and practice. The Royal Botanical Gardens. 2002.





Beach Clean-Up!

This morning, A Rocha Kenya staff and volunteers teamed up with Watamu Turtle Watch to clean up the trash on almost 3km of beach. It was warm work, but very satisfying to look back along what we had done and see only sand and seaweed instead of plastic glinting in the sun!

A Rocha Kenya staff team members

A Rocha Kenya team members

At the end of it all, we had a lot of trash to show for our efforts:

Not bad for 2.5 hours work!

Not bad for 3 hours work!

As usual, the main type of waste we collected was footwear, especially flip-flops. However, sometimes we’d find something a little more interesting, like the glasses that Henry (Mwamba Center Manager) is modelling below!

Henry looking stylish and having fun

Henry looking stylish and having fun

Beach clean ups are a fun way to help improve our local environment, though of course its always sad to see what people think is OK to toss away. We all need to work together to keep our oceans clean!

– Hannah (A Rocha Kenya volunteer from Canada)

Team Day for the A Rocha Kenya Team!

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

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

Alex explaining the different species of mangroves

Alex explaining the different species of mangroves



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


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

The whole team on the pier

The whole team on the pier

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

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

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

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

trekking across the Mambrui sand dunes

trekking across the Mambrui sand dunes

Bimbo and Mwaboza giving a water relay game their all!

Bimbo and Mwaboza giving a water relay game their all!

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

-Hannah (A Rocha Kenya volunteer from Canada)

Watamu Beach Clean Up!

On Friday June 27, A Rocha Kenya teamed up with guests from the Minnesota Zoo, local primary schools, and several local homeowners and businesses to do a beach cleanup in the Watamu area. Lasting from 8am until noon, this cleanup stretched over 10km, covering Watamu and Temple point, and collected 3205 kg of trash! Most of the garbage was plastic, and was crushed in the Turtle Bay Beach Club plastic crusher at the end of the day. Amazingly, in our section of the beach, the vast majority of the waste collected was lost/damaged sandals and flip flops!

Garbage collected by A Rocha Kenya and Dongokondu Primary School

Garbage collected by A Rocha Kenya and Dongokondu Primary School

Many thanks to the A Rocha staff, volunteers and guests from the Minnesota Zoo who put in a lot of hard work!

Dongokondu students relaxing after collecting many bags of garbage

Dongokondu students relaxing after collecting many bags of garbage

We are glad to have our beach looking nicer again, but sad at the mentality that causes this kind of trash buildup. Plastic takes decades to biodegrade, and having so much of it around causes a lot of problems for all the wildlife in the area, especially for the sea turtles who mistake plastic bags for jellyfish. We all need to work together to steward our resources and our garbage properly.