MANAGEMENT OF COASTAL AND MARINE ECOSYSTEMS; WHERE ARE WE?

Oceans form incredible habitats that provide immense benefits in tourism, fisheries and coastal protection. Think about coral reefs, mangrove forests and other near-shore marine habitats, systems that are closely tied to people’s socio-economic and cultural values. However, over the last several decades, tremendous changes have taken place so fast that it has confused most of the people who have always depended on the oceans. From over-fishing, destructive fishing, pollution and climate change, the ocean systems are deteriorating so fast that predictions are towards functional extinction in the near future. It’s very evident that nobody wants to lose all these ocean values thus everybody is thinking of or looking for a way out.

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Looking at what has worked or not, is it important? Managing marine ecosystems is a challenge. First; the ocean is an open system and vast, which is very difficult to enforce or control. People will go out fishing and if they don’t get enough they will put more effort the following day and eventually the situation gets worse. Marine protected areas were widely acknowledged as an effective tool that would get us out. With the ability to act as a refugia and breeding ground where fish would grow in abundance and biomass and spill over to areas that are open to fishing, these come with their challenges-; their management. Initially most of them were centrally-managed, mainly designed and managed by central governments with limited or no engagement of the local communities. There are also limited perceived benefits to the communities and conflicting interests among the different users. These areas were closed for extractive activities and open to tourism. While anyone working in tourism will be happy to embrace the idea, since the better the condition, the better the business for them. But what about the fishermen? What would make them support these protected area that have pushed them away from their fishing ground without any meaningful incentive? While they have had their success stories, centrally-managed protected areas have never realized their full potential.

Over the last decade especially along the East African coast ­, there has been a rise of locally managed marine areas (LMMAs). This is where communities established an area with some kind of restrictions; completely no-take, gear restricted or periodic closure. LMMAs have solved some of the challenges faced by centrally-managed protected areas. Giving the communities direct dependent on the marine resource ownership and lead-role in their management. They have been greatly embraced as partly solution to the management of marine resources. They have their challenges which are; limited managerial capacity of the community members especially on issues such as financial management often causing conflicts among their members and limited funding. It is clear that these forms of management might offer a better solution than some of other strategies if communities are properly assisted.

The take home question would be what to do with already established centrally-managed marine areas. Case example, while no-take zone (parks) in Kenya has contributed significantly to the management of marine resources, reserves which are gear-restricted have not performed well. They are highly over exploited and there is no difference between them and complete open areas. Will it help if they are passed on to communities that have been properly trained to run them? Or can there be co-management with the government agencies?

NURTURING CHILDREN INTO CONSERVATION

Imagine, you are in a nature trail, sitting on a bench, under a tree completely immersed in a book, that absolute focus such that you feel you are in your own realm. In the background, you can hear the whistles and chirps of birds, the gushing wind brushing off your face and you feel it tickle your cheek bones, above you, the overlapping canopies of the trees cover you from the scorching sun and its unwavering rays and in the distant you can almost hear the trickling of a stream. “This must be nature at its best,” you whisper to yourself. Amidst all this your mind drifts into depths of your childhood, a childhood which reminds you of a curious mind, a mind that has that magical capacity to move among many eras of the earth, to see the land as an animal sees, to experience the sky from the perspective of a flower, a bee or even a snake, to feel the earth quiver and breath beneath you, to know hundred different smells of the earth and to listen to the rustling of leaves when the wind makes contact with them, as if to assert its arrival. Then, you realize you are in utter bliss.

Moving on to reality, there is need for the young children who are growing up to be educated on the environment so as to cultivate a positive curiosity that will drive them to conserve and protect their environment so that in reality they can witness the above imagination. Barlow, in Confluence of Streams, puts it nicely: “children are born with a sense of wonder and an affinity for nature. Properly cultivated, these values can turn into ecological literacy, and eventually into sustainable patterns of living.”

The previous year saw, A Rocha Kenya conduct environmental education lessons in various primary and secondary schools that saw them visit some around the Watamu Marine National Park, those adjacent to Dakatcha woodland and Arabuko Sokoke Forest and finally some in Bamba. All these activities culminated with the holding of a children festival at Mwamba Field Study center where a group of almost seventy were hosted taking part in rock pooling where they familiarized themselves with the intertidal rocky shores biodiversity and its significance, environmental education activities and eventually recreational activities such as swimming and beach games. An activity that the team has mentioned should be conducted on a regular basis.

Flash forward, to the New Year, 2016. The environmental education team has continued with its school outreach program. We have an ambitious plan where we aim to introduce birding into the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya which they normally conduct the lessons to, in different schools bordering Arabuko Sokoke Forest. In addition, they are developing a marine environmental education manual accompanied by several workshops for the club patrons of schools adjacent to the Watamu Marine National Park so as to encourage more awareness about the conservation of marine biodiversity which is rarely covered. Further, they are still going to cover schools adjacent to Dakatcha Woodland and Bamba. A busy year it seems.

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The past weeks has seen the team visit a total of seven schools. Beginning with marine environmental education (Coral Reefs) at Chipande Primary School. A visit that harshly welcomed the team back to the year and the reality of work -you might wonder what I mean- Let me digress and indulge you; the team had a new driver, actually a member of the team had got his driving license at the end of the last year and apparently Stanley who was supposed to be driving forgot his license. Anyway, moving on, under the strict guidance of Stanley he successfully managed to drive the team to the school albeit slowly, at least they reached on time and getting to the destination it is what always matters, right? The lesson went well followed by a quick visit to the nearby Uyombo beach and the team embarked on their journey back- filled with hope and satisfaction of a job well done and having set a good precedent for the start of the year.

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The team has since visited Mida, Kahingoni, Vitengeni, Kanani, Jacaranda and Mzizima primary schools where the lessons have been about ornithology and marine biodiversity depending on where the school is located.

The team has now fully gotten immersed in their work, oozing the aura of an unwavering spirit ready to see the next generation take action after knowing the significance and consequences of caring for their environment.

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.

CELEBRATING A HARD-WORKING CONSERVATIONIST-GABRIEL KATANA

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“I was introduced to Gabriel Katana in 1998 by his brother Safari as someone who would be good to take over the House Crow control fieldwork that Safari was no longer able to do. A tall, quiet and very respectful young man, Katana quickly proved himself to be a very dependable, honest and hard-working conservationist who, despite not having completed primary school, was easily able to understand and carry out the important work of surveying crow numbers together with careful and proper use of a highly toxic avicide to control the alien pest species of crow in Malindi and Watamu. Known to many as ‘bwana Kunguru’ and regularly seen riding his bike through Malindi or Watamu with his binoculars and note book, Katana was single-handedly responsible for reducing numbers of the pest House Crow to five or six birds in Watamu and c.25 in the larger Malindi (which, since the programme was forced to stop, have risen to over 5,000 crows between them). This was achieved by Katana to his credit with no record of any death of other non-target species.

With the ending of the crow control work and at the same time a greater interest being shown in the conservation of the Dakatcha Woodlands which was Katana’s home area and given his clear integrity and passion for conservation, it made total sense to employ him as A Rocha Kenya’s field staff member of our science and conservation team in Dakatcha. Initially he directly assisted the Nature Kenya conservation officer stationed in Dakatcha and was involved in the start up of the Dakatcha Conservation Group. He then expanded his birding from just House Crows to all birds and became a key member of the Conservation Group bird monitoring team and more recently was almost solely responsible for mapping the birds of Dakatcha through the Kenya Bird Map project submitting no less than 45 species lists to the project. Katana furthermore became a key reference person for me to discuss Dakatcha conservation issues with and it was a result of these talks highlighting that people living in Dakatcha primarily needed to be able to feed themselves if they were to stop cutting trees down that led to A Rocha Kenya introducing Farming God’s Way into the area to help boost food production and reduce forest destruction. Katana took to FGW like a duck to water and was incredibly enthusiastic, implementing it in his own shamba and demonstrating just how well it worked – as described and shown in this blog post in 2011.

When a small but critical population of the Globally Endangered Sokoke Scops Owl was discovered literally just down the road from Katana’s village – Africa’s smallest owl and previously only known from Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and a few in northern Tanzania – then Katana went all out to see how to protect the Cynometra forest thicket they depended on. It was he who came to me saying 200 acres of this thicket were for sale and could A Rocha Kenya either buy it – or help him buy it to protect it from destruction. This eventually led to the purchase of the block of forest which Katana took a crucial lead in the negotiations, mapping, discussing with local community members that resulted in the successful formation of the Kirosa Scott Reserve (funded by a kind donation from the Bob Scott Appeal).

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Katana was a unique man in his ability to understand the real issues at stake in the local community and conservation scene – understanding that throwing large amounts of cash at people does no good in the long term and rather knowing the benefits of working alongside people to grow in their appreciation of God’s creation and how to care for it. Katana also had a remarkable thirst for knowing God better and a deep passion for Jesus and all that he had done for him over the years and for studying the bible to learn more about him. His quiet, respectful character of real integrity was something we really appreciated and his love and concern for his family of five was very evident whenever we visited him at home. It is therefore with deep regret that we have lost a treasured and key member of our A Rocha Kenya team but rejoice to know that he is with his Lord Jesus who gave him purpose for living and hope for the future. We are grateful to God for the privilege of being able to know Katana and become his friends and colleagues and give our sincere condolences to his wife Elizabeth, their five children and the wider family.”

By Colin Jackson

STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT OF INTERTIDAL ZONES

People and nature are interlinked. We have always been dependent and interacted with the environment for centuries, obtaining both economic and ecological benefits. Within the marine environments, the Inter tidal zone stands out as among the areas with the most interaction with humans and human activities. While the other habitats are very vital providing fishing grounds and sea routes, the Inter tidal zone is where all the action begins. The zone is easily accessible for multiple human use, such as Inter tidal fisheries harvesting, harbor and recreational activities. These areas have been endowed with rich diversity of species that contribute to the provision of these ecological and economic benefits. However when it comes to their management, the coin turns and they seldom receive the same attention. The multiple human uses and their location at the transition between the land and the sea suggest that, these areas might be facing more pressure originating from both the sea and land. A closer look around, points to probably a higher rate of declining biodiversity in these areas than other areas due to over-exploitation of resources, pollution and other natural pressure such as the rising sea level. This calls for urgent re-look at the management of strategies currently being used in these areas.

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We start by asking a few questions; are the current threats facing this zone too obvious or do we need to understand them better? A recent report on natural resources management pointed out that one of the hindrance to ecosystem-based management is lack of proper understanding of cumulative human impacts on the environment. This sounds a familiar case in the Inter tidal zone. They have been used for many years but never seemed to be perturbed by these disturbances at least in the short term. And that’s where we should start.

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For effective management of these areas, we need to understand how they are working. For example; them being a transition between land and sea makes it really difficult to point out a few sources of threats that are causing the pressure. With the multiple stresses and the shifting baseline trends in the state of ecosystems, it can be easily but wrongly concluded that particular drivers are responsible. Additionally, emerging threats that are threatening the environment globally are also contributing to the decline of these systems. So do all these factors act synergistic-ally or are they additive? A clear understanding of these factors will provide an effective evidence-based management strategy.

This year the ARK marine team will be studying some of these issues and try to suggest management measures for the Inter tidal zone of Watamu Marine National Park and reserve. Join us as we seek to better understand this zone in one of the oldest marine protected areas in the world.

THE YEAR 2015, THE HOPE AND PROMISE OF 2016

Conservationists of all persuasions have embarked on a quest for environmental sustainability but in the face of an acutely difficult task we all need to consider what would motivate us to achieve it”- Peter Harris (Kingfisher’s Fire).

In retrospect, the motivation for the previous year for the A Rocha Kenya team can certainly be traced to the reinforcement of the Christian principles already upheld by the staff. This was instilled and fueled by the bible studies conducted every Monday morning which inspired and rallied the team to take care of God’s creation as alluded to in the book of Genesis, despite their job descriptions. It was further propelled by the visit of the A Rocha Founder- Peter Harris and his wife, Miranda Harris. They were able to be involved in the A Rocha Kenya’s activities and in turn they motivated the team and inspired many more in churches at Nairobi and Malindi through preaching the gospel of care for creation, by emphasizing the need for Christians to reconcile with God and his creation and ensuring restoration of God’s creation

Focusing on the Science and Conservation team, they were able to get a lot of research work going on. Despite being a team of two, they still soldiered on with support from numerous volunteers, interns and even the rest of the staff members. The terrestrial research team was able to conduct several bird ringing exercises held at Mwamba, Gede Ruins, Arabuko Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek. The annual water fowl counts were successfully carried out followed by many others at Mida Creek. One of the major highlights was mapping of the newly acquired Kirosa Scott Reserve and the monitoring of the endangered Clarke’s weaver breeding sites in Dakatcha Woodland. The team was also able to host several researchers.

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Moving on to the marine side of things, the year marked a beehive of activities for the team ranging from research in the intertidal rock pools to the coral gardens of Watamu Marine Park. The major highlight of the year was the presentation of marine research work that has been conducted by A Rocha Kenya since the year 2010 until the end of 2014 in the Watamu Marine Park. This was spearheaded by Benjamin Cowburn and Peter Musembi. They organized workshops at Watamu, Mombasa and Nairobi where several stakeholders were invited including Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, National Museums of Kenya, Watamu Marine Association, Watamu Turtle Watch and boat operators. However, it was not all hard work and no play for the marine team, there was always the occasional recreational snorkeling and swimming for anyone willing to join.

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The larger Community and Conservation team worked to bridge the gap between the research team and the community at large, getting them to understand the need to restore the threatened habitats and ecosystems. The team was able to oversee the implementation of two projects into fruition, with one targeting empowerment of community forest associations (community groups who are actively involved in management and conservation of forests) through building their capacities and the other targeted empowering communities in Dakatcha Woodland through a livelihood project that promoted the adoption of Farming God’s Way (a conservation agriculture model). On the other hand, the pioneer program of the department-ASSETS, which has stood the test of time, was able to disburse scholarships to the many bright and needy students that come from the villages adjacent to Arabuko Sokoke Forest, amid a difficult year for the tourism industry since most of the funds are sourced from the ecotourism facilities at Mida Creek and Gede Ruins. Lastly, the vibrant environmental education team was able to conduct many lessons that were taught in schools around Dakatcha Woodland, Arabuko Sokoke Forest, Watamu Marine Park and Bamba.

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The mother of all- Mwamba Field Study Center, was able to host numerous guests throughout the year. They included researchers, volunteers, holiday makers, kite surfers and honeymooners. The year saw the center introduce a restaurant which is up and running, offer accommodation to water sports enthusiasts, host numerous workshops and to crown it all hold a kids festival followed by a successful fundraising dinner for the ASSETS program.

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Karara Field Study Center-which acts as the national base of A Rocha Kenya at Karen in Nairobi did not lag behind. The team was able to conduct numerous Farming God’s Way training, host several schools for environmental education lessons plus carry out various outreach activities to various community groups and churches.

presention on how to increase waste control through recycling and awareness creation

In order to instill and reinforce the spirit of team effort. The two teams from Nairobi and Watamu were able to participate in a team building exercise that saw them go on a blue safari that involved snorkeling at the Watamu coral gardens, lunch at the pristine Sudi Island and participate in beach games thereafter.

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It is my belief that there is no blueprint for a perfect course of action, since it is our job to identify it. The idea that there is such a blueprint reduces the whole business to a kind of a celestial game show with dire consequences for wrong guesses, but sadly it seems to be widely believed. However, this demonstrates our path for the New Year filled with uncertainty but promising with hope as written in Jeremiah 29:11 and Mathew 6:23-33. Certainly, I am convinced, the team will able to achieve even more than the previous year and continue ensuring nature is conserved while people’s lives are transformed.

NOTE THE RESULTS; THE HARD WORK PUT IN SPITE THE HARDSHIP TO BE ENDURED IS WHAT COUNTS…2016 WATERFOWL COUNTS

Our just concluded waterfowl counts for 2016 saw us record sixty one species. The 23rd and 24th January 2016 started on a high note when we started off with Malindi harbor, Gongoni, and Sabaki River Mouth. Day 2 covered counts in Lake Jilore, Lake Mbaratum and Lake Chemchem. We endured long moments of standing under the heat and on the tiresome but fun mud in Sabaki. Climbing up and down the steep mountains in Lake Mbaratum and Lake Chemchem did not make us stop at anything rather we diligently counted the birds, with a dedication that can only emanate from the heart. However, the difficulties were nothing compared to the electrifying moments that characterized the spotting of rare bird species, among them Green Sandpiper, Osprey and a very rare species at the coast, the Grey-headed Gull.

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With a crew of 12 people on day one and 7 people on the second day, 5 species with the largest numbers were counted. They were Curlew sandpiper-3751, Common ringed plover-921, Greater sand plover-540, lesser sand plover-773 and Crab plover-656.

A whole year has completely changed Lake Mbaratum and Lake Chemchem. It was sad to notice how population growth and effects of global warming have dried up the two lakes and chased away the birds. The communities have taken over by firing up the grass that was grown around the lakes with reasons of farming, and the too much hot weather has dried up the lakes. The places look like deserts now and it’s sad to say that not unless we experience very long and heavy rains in the near future, there is nothing that can be done to them.

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All in all, the exercise was completed on 24th evening and as we left Lake Chemchem very tired and worn out, we still were very happy that we recorded a good number of species. We thank the whole crew that joined us during the exercise, including Kenya Wildlife Service (Gede Station) Mida Creek Guides, Arabuko Sokoke Forest Guides Association and Turble Bay who supported us with means of transport and providing us with snacks and water.

LEARNING AND EXPLORING THE UNIQUE BIODIVERSITY OF ARABUKO SOKOKE FOREST

Arabuko Sokoke forest reserve lies between Kilifi and Malindi on Kenya’s North Coast. It was gazetted in 1932 as a crown forest and in 1943 as a forest reserve. Within the forest area 2,699 hectares were designated as a strict nature reserve in 1977 and extended by 1,635 hectares in 1979. Arabuko Sokoke forest covers an area of 420 km2 with 382 km2 being constituted of indigenous forest. There are over 230 birds’ species and over 50 mammal species in the forest reserve. Six birds’ species are considered globally endangered while others are endemic to the forest and six mammal species are endangered. A Rocha Kenya together with Kenya wildlife Service (KFS) and other forest stakeholders like Nature Kenya have identified a knowledge gap where most of the KFS staffs are not able to positively identify some important wildlife species and habitats found in the forest reserve. In collaboration with these stakeholders a program was developed to build capacity among the interested staff members and stakeholders. The program has three volunteer guides and is open to all the staff and any other people willing to gain general knowledge of the Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve habitats and species. The first session was conducted in the plantation area (an area approximately 500m from the forest office with a group of eight participants. The group gathered at Arabuko Sokoke Forest reserve education hall at 0615 hrs and proceeded to the plantation area. The session lasted for approximately four hours ending at 1030 hrs.

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The participants walked for 2kms recording the bird species seen or heard along the way and they were given a lecture on the general habitat and other species such as butterflies, beetles and ant lion. The group rested at the 500m stretch to make birds’ observation and references from the guide books.

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These were the major observations: Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul, Yellow-fronted canary, Chestnut fronted helmeted shrike, White-browed coucal, Black-bellied starling, Black-headed oriole, Eastern Bearded shrub-robin, Yellow bill, Collared sunbird, Common drongo, Trumpeter hornbill, Ashy fly catcher, Scaly Babbler, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, One cut stump, One bushbuck and several families of Sykes monkey. Butterflies observed were: diadem, Dark blue pansy, African queen and Junonia, Apart from the species observed 31 birds’call were recorded.

The session ended at 1030 hrs and the participants gathered at Arabuko Sokoke Education hall for brief discussions and every participant was given a chance to give their observations. The next session will be on 19th December 2015 and the participants will meet at the ASF education hall at 0615 hrs and proceed to the mixed forest area. The group will like to express special gratitude to Mzee Ngala, Albert Baya and Kirao Lennox for volunteering to teach the group and also A Rocha Kenya for providing binoculars for use to all the participants.

A FARMER WAKES UP FROM DREAMLAND!

On a chilly Thursday December morning, individuals with passion in farming start streaming in at Karara- A Rocha Kenya’s (ARK) Nairobi office. With excitement and curiosity expressed on their faces, they are all eager to learn this new concept of faming; Conservation Agriculture (Farming God’s Way). Having held a series of Farming God’s Way trainings in 2015, this was therefore the last training this year.

As A Rocha Kenya, we are dedicated to conservation and restoration of biodiversity and for this fact, agriculture is one of the key critical sectors of interest. Being the mainstay and the most important economic activity in Kenya, agricultural productivity is however stagnating due to climate change (because Kenya’s agriculture is mainly rain-fed), pests and diseases and soil-nutrient deterioration, among others. Consequently, these pose critical challenges like food insecurity, environmental degradation and in the long run demoralization in farming. Due to the challenges mentioned above, ARK’s driving force is restoring the lost hope to farmers through organizing farmers training’s that seek to address biodiversity conservation and increase food production. Is this not everyone’s wish?

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As the training progressed, farmers were keen, inquisitive and excited throughout the whole process. Taking notes, getting their hands dirty through practical demonstrations and learning how to use fire less cookers are some of the activities they engaged in. ‘Cooking God’s Way!’ is one of their exclamations as they get to learn on energy conservation practices.

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Evidently, the farmers were satisfied at the end of the training. Their hope was renewed in farming by the use of natural ways to boost soil fertility, controlling crop pests and diseases as well as incorporating agro-forestry trees. This was a clear indication of low farm inputs and increased productivity which every farmer is yearning for.  One participant commented, “This training just woke me up from dreamland. All along I have not been farming correctly. I will do a total change in my farming ways” All in all, as A Rocha, we were convinced that the message was home and our sole purpose of CONSERVATION and HOPE was achieved.

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We are grateful for all the 2015 farming trainees and wish them all the best in their farms.

 

CORAL REEFS AND CLIMATE CHANGE

As world leaders gather 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.

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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.

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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.

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Remarking permanent quadrant in October 2015

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In a workshop explaining bleaching