Tag Archives: A Rocha Kenya

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

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.

Coral tourism stakeholder meeting

Hi, Benjo here. Apologies for the lack of photos for the last few weeks my camera broke and I have been land-bound with a nasty infection. However during the time in the office I managed to finalise the results of a study conducted this year on coral reef tourism and its impact on the reef. Like many reefs around the world near tourist centres Watamu receives many visitors each year, which on the whole is good for the reef because it brings income to pay for their protection, but can have negative impacts as well. Often careless or uninformed visitors will damage coral and the habitat as a whole by trampling on the coral heads, breaking and killing the fragile coral. The impacts of tourism at Watamu had never been studied and so we set out to find out how tourists were behaving at the reef and if this was affecting the habitat. We found that, unfortunately, people were affecting the reef by trampling and saw a lot of broken corals in Coral Gardens, the main area where people swim.

This week we arranged a meeting for all the boat owners and those who work on the boats in Watamu to show the results of the study and plan the way forward. The boat operators were very receptive to the project results and suggested some good ideas for how to improve the situation out at Coral Gardens. It was rather nerve racking, but satisfying to present on the first completed research project for the marine programme.

Benjo presenting results

Assistant Warden Chula of Kenya Wildlife Service presenting

Audience of Boat Operators

Snapped coral at Coral Gardens

Marine Photo of the Week

This week I have been exploring areas of the park which up to date I have not visited. Last year we limited our research to a few key sites and now we need to expand to include all areas of the park. I had presumed that many of these areas were dominated by rocky, sandy and seagrass habitats, but while exploring a stretch of the park to the south I discovered a gorgeous micro-atoll patch reef I have dubbed “round reef”. In this photo a shoal of elegant Yellowfin Surgeonfish (Acanthurus xanthopterus) swim past an overhang created by giant Porites coral making up the structure of this beautiful reef. Perhaps other people in Watamu know and visit this reef, but I expect their numbers are few and I certainly felt a boost of excitement at my secret discovery. 

Marine Photo of the Week

This week I have been exploring areas outside of Watamu Marine Park, and venturing into the “Reserve”. The Reserve is a buffer zone extending from north of Malindi Marine Park to south of Watamu Marine Park in which artisanal fishing a marine resource collection is allowed, but other more damaging economic activities are prohibited. These areas are poorly studied and some of the reefs are unknown to many people, except the fishermen who work there. While exploring these reefs I have even found habitats and species not seen in the park, adding two new species to my fish list this week alone. The first new species was on a reef to the north near the village of Kanani where I saw this Dusky Gregory (Stegastes nigricans) in cloud of tiny Blue Chromis (Pomacentrus pavo).

To the south of the park near the village of Uyombo, I found a real speciality. The Meyer’s butterflyfish (Chaetodon meyeri) is a species I have never seen before in my life, it is now the 8th butterflyfish species I have recorded in the Watamu area, and the most beautiful butterflyfish I have ever seen. I am told by a local expert that this species hasn’t been seen for many years and was a rarity even in the hay-day of the reef before the 1997 bleaching. It is massively encouraging that these species and reefs are persisting and flourishing in areas which are also supporting local fishermen and local economies through traditional sustainable practises. 

Marine Photo(s) of the Week

Hi to all! I’m back in Kenya and feel I need to make up for my lack of communication by showing you not just one, but three photos of the week. Already I have been back out to sea, specifically taking photos of every different kind of coral I can in order to build a species list of corals for Watamu Marine Park. To identify corals reliably to species it’s necessary to look at the tiny detail and structures of the colonies, often looking at the individual coral animals (coralites) themselves. Below are three corals I have found with  close ups of the incredible patterns and structure they exhibit, at a scale most of us would never notice.




The coralites of this Goniastrea extends their fleshy body parts during the day (most corals only do this at night) creating an impression of a miniature flower garden swaying in the waves.

The coralites on the branches of this Acropora are enclosed in small cups facing upwards to the light, their food source and growing out towards it.

Gardineroseris is covered in small grooves and valleys in a complex, but ordered pattern.

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.





Marine Photo of the Week

Incredible diversity on one small patch of reef in Watamu Marine Park. In this photo there at least 8 genra of coral all crowded and competing for sunlight. In the centre and bottom left there is Pocillopora, the bottom right is some encrusting Montipora, above this a small green patch of Galaxea. Along the top there is the winding lines of Platygyra on the left, next to a yellow branching Acropora, nestled next to a smooth brown Porites in the top right. In the middle there are two domed corals with circular coralites (pits) which are most probably Favites and Favia, although a closer look would be needed for these two. How and why all these corals are crowded together is difficult to know and as complex as any rainforest structure, with canopy Pocilloporas and Acroporas, which an understorey of creeping Monitpora and emergent Porites bursting through the structure to form smooth domes.

Marine Photo of the Week

The Convict Surgeonfish (Acanthurus triostegus) is a convict in both form and behaviour. It was presumably given the name because of its distinctive pale yellow and black stripy colouration similar to that of uniforms that criminals wore in times gone by. However, these fish are also convicts because they are the raiders of the reef. Like most Surgeonfish they are herbivores, feeding on turf algae found on the reef, but unlike many reef fish they don’t maintain territories. Instead they move in large shoals, descending and overwhelming a resident fish, rapidly eating all the algae in its territory and then moving on. They may appear to the untrained eye to be an innocent shimmering of stripes zipping around the coral heads, but for reef inhabitants they are no good hooligans!

Marine Photo of the Week

This week’s photo is the open mouth of a stunning blue Giant Clam (Tridanca maxima). These giant molluscs, related to snails, octopus and mussels, have given up traditional bivalve filter feeding on microorganisms living in the water column, but instead have developed a close relationship with their former prey. Single celled phytoplankton, a major food source for most bivalves, are resident in the clam’s flesh giving a range of striking patterns and colours, but more importantly fixing sunlight into sugar molecules through photosynthesis which the clam then feeds on. In return phytoplankton receive waste products and Carbon Dioxide from the clam which helps them grow. In addition to the corals themselves, the clam is one of many many examples of Symbiosis, or living together, seen on coral reefs where cooperation between unrelated organisms pays off and over many years ends up being a permanent new hybrid organism. It just goes to show how a little cooperation can be very useful!