Kuruwitu beach in Kenya is quiet. Sparkling sandy beaches complement the clear blue water and the familiar smell of sand and sea salt fills the air.
Ten years ago, the villagers noticed dwindling fish stocks and decided to create a conservation area with the help of like-minded partners.
Dickson Gereza is a marine conservationist and program manager for the Coral Project, and he explains that pollution is the ocean’s greatest enemy: “People are irresponsible,” he says. “The ocean is a useful resource, but humans trash it. Properly disposing of trash is important to save the ocean.”
UN/ Thelma Mwadzaya
First local coral conservation project
The community realized that overfishing, climate change and the uncontrolled collection of fish and coral by the aquarium trade had to be addressed before the marine ecosystem was damaged beyond repair.
In 2005, the inhabitants of the region took the unprecedented decision to create a marine protected area (MPA) of 30 hectares. This was the first coral-based Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) in Kenya. Twelve years later, the region has experienced a remarkable recovery.
Katana Hinzano is a conservationist at the organization Oceans Alive, where he helps make alternative coral blocks and nurseries using cement and sand. He reiterates the correlation between the sea and human life: “The sea is precious to those who live nearby. Fishermen and fishing business owners depend on marine resources. We all have a role to play in ensuring that we enjoy the sea and leave it untouched for future generations.”
With fishing prohibited in the LMMA, fish have increased in abundance, size and diversity. The area has become a breeding ground, leading to an increase in fish outside the area. Thus, fishermen see larger catches due to a ripple effect. At the same time, biodiversity has increased dramatically, making Kuruwitu a destination for ecotourism, creating jobs for guides, boat captains and rangers.
“The sea is precious to me because it is life,” says Goodluck Mbaga, ecologist and honorary guide with the Kenya Wildlife Service. It provides food, contributes to the economy, and provides income and recreation. We must all learn to preserve the ocean, because we have not yet exploited its full potential.”
Metal bed and plastic mesh
To help corals regenerate, experts from Oceans Alive and the Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association are working hand in hand. It starts with a metal bed that has a plastic trellis attached to it. Cement and sand plugs are dried and attached to the bed to create a sort of nursery. After drying them at sea for weeks, the bed is ready to be transplanted and is laid on the seabed. Marine life then has a chance to attach to the structure.
Co-management of marine resources should be the way forward in ecosystem-based management of seascapes in the region. The United Nations Environment Program, UNEP, in collaboration with UN-Habitat, launched the Go Blue project to help cities and towns near the oceans prosper. Florian Lux of the Go Blue Project explains how this link works: “Cities and towns exist alongside oceans and seas, and this drives the sea and landscapes. For them to be resilient to climate change, they need to regenerate”.