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.
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!
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.
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!
This week I stumbled across a little toby (relative of the pufferfish) which I had never seen before. It was very camouflaged against the rocks and seaweed, and even after much examination of the photos I got of it I was unable to identify which species it is (if you know please tell me!). Besides the excitement of (potentially) a new species for Watamu Marine Park, I was struck by one photo of a close up of its face how beautifully colourful and detailed it was. Pinks, blues and greens close-up, but browns and greys of seaweed from afar. A remarkable little thing.
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
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.
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.
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!
For the past few months the marine team have started collecting baseline biological data about the coral reef here in Watamu. Baseline data is information about the general characters of the reef and its inhabitants, which is not designed to answer any particular scientific question, but rather provide a wide range of basic biological metrics for comparing and contrasting, over time and space. These simple methods are used by people around the world studying corals, and although they aren’t as standardised as methods used in other fields, say ornithology, these data can be used to compare with information from different scientists from the past or in other areas.
The two main areas we look at are benthic (bottom living) cover of the coral substrate and the fish that live around the coral. For both of these we lay out a transect, which is a standard straight line distance across the reef indicated by a tape. With the benthic cover we look at all corals, seaweeds, sponges and other bottom living organisms which are found along 10m. From this data we can calculate the percentage cover of different types of organisms, and for some, such as macro-algae and corals, the types which dominate an area of reef. For fish we lay out a 100m transect and swim along counting the numbers of fish from 10 main fish families, such as snappers, butterflyfish and wrasse. We also estimate their size into 10cm size classes, which will allow us to estimate biomass of each fish family for the different areas of reef.
These methods have been used in Watamu for a number of years by Kenya Wildlife Service research group and Wildlife Conservation Society, but only in a constricted area around “Coral Gardens”. The exciting thing for us in A Rocha’s marine group is that we are now able to explore more areas of the park that haven’t ever had this data collected and so we are expanding into previously unstudied areas of the park. So far we’ve collected data in two unstudied sites and have identified a further 3 which need attention. This data is the first benchmark for what we hope will continue for years to come and be useful for future studies seeing changes in a range of coral areas in the park.
It is incredibly exciting to be collecting these data knowing how significant the information coming out is. Not only that but we get spend hours in beautiful reef habitat and seeing plenty of cool things along our transect lines. Below is a photo of beautiful pipe-fish (relatives of sea-horses) and scary and very poisonous scorpion-fish I photographed along the transects.
Our last day dawned bright and early with more Morning Glory, breakfast and then an excellent talk from a worker from the local ‘Imani drug rehabilitation Centre.’ He explained the science behind the addiction and how you get hooked and well as the realities of rehab and being strong about avoiding drugs in school and at home. There were many questions from students with some even wanting to talk about other, non-drug related problems.
Drug Awareness Talk
Our last activity was a trip to Mida Creek. This was a first time for me as well as the students and it was beautiful, despite the intermittent rain when we sheltered under trees!
Students on Walkway at Mida
You may know that A Rocha Kenya as built a hanging walkway through the mangrove forest as an eco-tourism attraction at Mida Creek. It raises money for ASSETS through Tourists coming and paying to use the walkway. Alex and Said, two of the guides, were very knowledgeable about the Mangrove ecosystem and the students had a great time on the walkway!
Some of the girls with Said at Mida
Boys outside the bird hide at Mida
Some of the Students on the Walkway
The camp has now come to an end but the students go away with a wealth of new experiences and information about life, the environment and conservation. Hopefully they have been encouraged to keep on going and their confidence has been increased.
Lydia, the most active girl
John, the most active boy.
Group photo on steps of Mwamba!
Twenty Assets students trickled shyly into Mwamba during the course of the morning of 12th August, unaware of the packed three day programme we had in store for them. Tsofa kicked the camp off with introductions, explanations, camp rules and started the ongoing camp competition, whereby the students were divided into two teams. Throughout the three days there would be different challenges and question times when the teams could win points. The first days activities included a guided walk through the nature trail with Jonathan Baya – who used his skills to explain about the importance of natural life – focusing particularly on trees and Stanley has led a discussion about the realities of why parents want their children to have a good education and the challenges of being in, and staying in, school; school fees; drugs; bad company and love affairs (pregnancy, diseases and early marriage) were all suggestions made. Stanley leading a discussion on the Balcony
He left us with some wise words he once heard; ‘Elimu nyingi, kazi kidogo, pesa nyingi’ (The higher the education, the higher the salary and the smaller the labour for it). We played on the beach, had a Bible study and in the evening there was a campfire.
Games on the Beach
Day two started bright and early at 6.30am with Morning Glory (devotions) before a quick breakfast and then out to the beach at 7.30am to catch glass bottomed boats which took us to the coral reef for snorkeling. Most of the students had never been on a boat before and also could not swim but everyone was brave enough to put on a life jacket and get in the water to look at the beautiful fish and the coral. After Snorkeling, Mohammed the boat owner doubled as the local HIV/AIDS expert and gave a useful and informative talk about this disease. Lots of notes were taken and questions asked by the students who seemed determined to get their facts straight. Stanley then talked about caring for Creation and why we should do it as well as why A Rocha exists. In the afternoon we went to Watamu Turtle Watch to learn more about turtles and why they are endangered. Everyone particularly enjoyed meeting ‘Kisumi’ the resident disabled turtle. The day was all go and we arrived back a bit late for Henry’s talk about Careers, where he focused on having realistic goals and not simply pursuing a particular career because that is what a relative wants for you – wise words. Afterwards there a bit of time for some activities on the beach including soccer, sand sculptures and a beach clean-up. In the evening there was time for a video – ‘The God’s must be crazy.’ If you have not seen it it’s a timeless comedy classic and was enjoyed by everyone (particularly Tsofa who appeared to have watched it several times!).