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!
Many communities around Mwamba, our field studies centre in Watamu, are dependent to a large extent on fishing for food and income. So, over the past several months, we on the marine team have been working to learn if, and how, it may be worthwhile for A Rocha Kenya to become more involved in coastal fisheries conservation in the Watamu area. To this end, we have been reviewing the published scientific literature regarding Kenya’s coastal fisheries, meeting with larger-scale Kenya fisheries agencies, and talking with local fishers and organizations in the Watamu area. Combined with our continuing coral reef and rockpool ecology research, this work with local fishermen and women may be an incredible way to both learn more about God’s amazing marine creation and work to redeem the way we as people relate to this part of His world.
Stay tuned for further updates as we continue to think and pray about this new potential project!
A fisherman walking across the mud flats to his boat at Mida Creek
Digging for bait
Returning from fishing in Mida Creek
One days catch
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!