February 17, 2024

Kwale Local Communities Safeguarding Coral Reefs with Modern Technologies

Maimuna Aboud and her colleagues (Photo By Ruth Keah)

By Ruth Kadide Keah

Email, thecoasnewspaper@gmail.com

Maimuna Aboud, a mother of two and a dedicated member of the Wasini Beach Management Unit (BMU) in Shimoni of Kwale County, stands poised in her diving gear, prepared to embark on a remarkable underwater journey.

Ocean Stakeholders 

Having served as a member for two years, she epitomizes the spirit of a health promoter, determined to enlighten her community about the importance of preserving both the delicate dry land and vibrant ocean ecosystems.

With her sights set on exploring the restored coral reefs at Shimoni, Maimuna’s passion for environmental education shines through, promising a captivating adventure that will not only captivate her, but also inspire others to safeguard the wonders of nature in her locality.

Unlike many members of BMU’s and boat operators who are the main ocean stakeholders in Shimoni seascape, Maimuna was initially unaware of coral reef restoration efforts and the diverse array of coral species that inhabit the ocean.

Thanks to REEFolution Trust-not-for-profit conservation organisation that actively restores coral reefs and share research insights to Shimoni stakeholders.

According to Secore.org (2021), the detrimental effects of global warming and human activities have resulted in the loss of over 50 percent of the world’s coral reefs in the past three decades.

Furthermore, it predicts that without intervention within the next century, up to 90 percent of the remaining coral reefs may perish, leaving only a few pristine reefs untouched by these destructive forces.

In response to the alarming decline of coral reefs, reef managers, practitioners, scientists and conservationists such as REEFolution have come up with innovative coral restoration techniques that aim to restore and accelerate the recovery of damaged reefs.

Together with Pilli Pipa Dhow Safaris and local community from the Mkwiro Beach Management Unit, REEFolution has restored three hectares of coral reefs in the Mkwiro Community Managed Area within the Wasini Channel, apart from training 15 Reef Rangers so far.

Artificial Reef

More than 2,000 artificial reef structures have been placed and their coral nurseries produce more than 10,000 young coral fragments per year.

Joshua Wambugu, a social science PhD researcher focusing on the societal impact of coral reef restoration, says unlike tree planting, which has been a long-standing practice understood by many, coral reef restoration is a relatively new trial, which poses unique challenges in terms of comprehension and acceptance.

As a result it creates a small conflict and dilemma among the local people.

In order to foster understanding and encourage active participation in coral reef restoration, REEFolution through the small grant Reef Stewardship Project funded by Rufford Foundation is now raising awareness and educates the local community in Shimoni – the targeted – about the significance of coral reef restoration, how restoration is conducted and various restoration techniques used.

This is done through experiential learning (training) approach where local community drawn from BMUs and boat operators are the participants.

The primary objective of the project is to emphasize the importance of preserving and rehabilitating coral reefs while using various types of artificial reef structure.

“The local community’s understanding of coral reef restoration is limited, as they continue to hold onto traditional conservation knowledge. Our goal is to bridge this gap by raising awareness about the latest advancements in marine ecosystem rehabilitation and introducing them to the emerging modern interventions,” Wambugu adds.

Not only did REEFolution through the reef stewardship project helped Muimuna to rekindle the intricacies of diving and snorkeling, but it also opened her eyes to the mesmerizing world of corals and the delicate process of their restoration.

With new found knowledge and a burning passion, Maimuna’s dream of exploring the ocean and actively participating in conservation efforts have become a reality.

Maimuna’s uncontainable joy was evident after the diving experience, as she smiled saying “ilikuwa matamanio yangu kujua kupiga mbizi na leo nimepata fursa hiyo na kujionea jinsi miamba ya matumbawe yanavyopandwa baharini, yanapendeza na yamevutia samaki wengi sana.” (Literary translation: “It was my wish to know diving and today I got a chance to do so, thus seeing beautiful planted coral reefs that are attracting fish species).

“After today’s training, I have gained a profound understanding of the invaluable benefits coral reefs and other coral species provide. It has always been my dream to learn how to dive and snorkel, and now, more than ever, I feel inspired,” she adds.

She urges the center to extend this opportunity not only to her but also to other women, thus empowering them to become passionate advocates for raising awareness about the importance of coral reef restoration.

By spreading awareness and promoting sustainable fishing practices, according to her that will foster a harmonious relationship between their livelihoods and the marine ecosystem that sustains them.

The project also aims to empower the locals and enable them to grasp the importance of promoting responsible tourism practices.

Gender

By doing so, Wambugu says they aim to foster a deeper understanding among the locals about the significance of sustainable tourism and its positive impact on their lives.

“The locals across both genders must be informed that when tourists visit Shimoni or Kisite Marine Park, as well as other locally marine managed areas, they engage with the ocean in a responsible manner.

“This responsible approach not only enhances the visitors’ experience but also contributes to promoting and safeguarding the overall reputation of the area.” he said.

Maimuna being among the targeted ocean stakeholders and trained, recounted her experience of diving on the restored corals saying they had a lot of fish compared to the areas where there were no corals.

“I was shocked to see a lot of fish in the areas where corals have been restored. The vibrant corals provided a haven for countless marine species, attracting colorful fish that danced in harmony.” she said.

She also reflected on the profound ways in which the ocean had directly enriched her life.

Growing up as the daughter of a fisherman, Maimuna experienced firsthand the invaluable education that the ocean provided her.

Besides being a social science PhD researcher, Wambugu is the project lead for the Reef Stewardship Project implementation using a significant experiential learning approach.

This crucial approach allows to actively engage the local community through hands-on participation in various reef restoration activities from the REEFolution on-land restoration site.

The approach, he says, allows the community to gain firsthand experience and practical knowledge, fostering a deeper understanding and connection with the initiatives.

“This is a hands-on approach where we bring members from Beach Management Units in Mkwiro, Wasini, Shimoni and Kibuyuni. Also Wasini youth boat operators and Kisite community boat operators, this is because the local community is a vital stakeholder that relies on the ocean for their daily activities. By actively participating in our initiatives, they gain a firsthand perspective that strengthens their connection and motivates them to embrace our efforts,” he says.

“We are undertaking these efforts with the aim of restoring the former glory of coral reefs within the Wasini channel,” he concludes.

Suleiman Rai, an experienced tour guide and a dedicated member of the Wasini Youth Boat Operator team with an impressive experience of almost 15 years, says he has gained a deep understanding of the ocean and its delicate ecosystem.

Poor Boat Anchoring

Throughout his career, he has witnessed the unfortunate consequences of poor boat anchoring practices, which have resulted in the damaging of precious coral reefs.

Rai reveals that despite his awareness of REEFolution existing in the area, which specializes in coral reef restoration, he has never personally witnessed their restoration efforts both on land and in the ocean.

When he had the opportunity to dive and witness the results of REEFolution’s work in restoring the corals, he said the experience left a profound impact on him, instilling a new found confidence to tell his fellow members to actively care and participate in the restoration of coral reefs using this innovative technology.

He says these efforts will not only contribute to the conservation of marine biodiversity but also offer a captivating and memorable experience for visitors.

“I urge my fellow beach operators to embrace the new technology for restoring coral reefs. By actively participating in coral reef restoration, we can create not only a thriving breeding ground for fish but also an enchanting tourist attraction.” he adds.

Mercy Zawadi, who serves as the project assistant for the Reef Stewardship Project at REEFolution, says during training they engage the beach operators and BMUBeach members on different activities they do in restoring the coral reefs.

“At REEFolution Centre, we typically invite them to our facility and guide them through the entire process of coral gardening, including planting and growth. Each participant or group is given an opportunity to create their own coral tree and contribute to the construction of an artificial reef. Essentially, the project involves hands-on work, allowing participants to actively experience the restoration efforts in reality.” she said.

Ms Zawadi adds that the boat operators will have the opportunity to enroll in a specialized short course program designed to enhance their skills and promote responsible tourism practices.

As a centre, Zawadi says they have so far successfully trained 60 boat operators and members of BMUs and that the response has been overwhelmingly positive, as the participants are genuinely pleased with the restoration methods being employed.

“The response has been good, the participants have now recognized the time it takes for corals to mature, and as a result, they are eager to actively participate in restoration efforts within their protected areas. Furthermore, we have received interest from others who are keen to join REEFolution and contribute to our mission,” she concludes.

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