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Conservation measures developed for coral reefs and sea grass ecosystems management.

Date Published: 21 May, 2012
Conservation measures developed for coral reefs and sea grass ecosystems management.

A first ever national strategy for conservation of coral reefs and sea grass beds in Kenya is being formulated in Kilifi by a National task force mandated by the Kenyan Government and chaired by Kenya Wildlife Service. This was said by Dr. Charles Musyoki the KWS Senior Scientist in Charge of Other Endangered Species Conservation on behalf of the KWS Director Julius Kipng’etich during the opening of a three day workshop which took place from May 17-19, 2012 at Pwani University College. The national task force comprised of marine scientists and ecologists from the coastal region seeks to establish impending threats and mechanisms that focus on protecting, conserving and managing the highly threatened coral reefs and sea grass beds ecosystems. The workshop was financed by the World Bank through Kenya Coast Development Project (KCDP) The membership of the task force includes Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Kenya Fisheries Department (KFiD), Coast Development Authority (CDA), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and CORDIO Program (Coral Reef Degradation of the Indian Ocean).

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are set aside by law to protect and conserve the marine and coastal biodiversity and related ecological zones for posterity. This is done by enhancing regeneration and ecological integrity of the mangroves, coral reefs, sea grass beds, sand beaches and their associated resources which are vital for sustainable development. Scientific research, education, recreation and other compatible resource utilization are used to sustain MPA’s. In Kenya, MPA management falls under the jurisdiction of KWS, as mandated by chapter 376 of the Laws of Kenya. According to this laws and policy, two categories of protection are recognized;one as Marine National Parks which enjoys protection from any type of consumptive utilization and only research and recreation (tourism) are where uses allowed, for a fee. The other pertains to Marine National Reserves where traditional harvesting of resources is allowed as well as research and tourism. Coral reefs and sea grass beds are ecosystems that are facing enormous and increasing challenges which are human induced. In pursuant of social and economic interests an integrated approach to the conservation of coral reefs and sea grass beds is absolutely necessary.

The decline of coral reefs globally underscores the need for co-ordinated assessment  of their exposure to multiple environmental impacts to estimate vulnerability and evaluate potential counter-measures, said Dr. Erustus Kanga who is the KWS Head of Ecosystems and Landscapes Conservation Department. Regionally the marine and coastal environment in the Kenyan coast is of high ecological and economic value. Its natural boundaries including beaches, mangroves, coral reefs, plants and other marine life collectively they are the basis for the growing tourism sector, attracting visitors from all over the world. On-this basis, the strategy outline focused issues on research that touched on ecosystem health which includes reef resilience assessments, climate vulnerability, assessment of coastal livelihoods, vulnerability to local threats and climate change. In addition, mapping of coral reefs and associated habitats was also a key factor in the strategy formulation process together with socio-economic aspects that have economic valuation of coral reef resources.

The status of coral reefs in particular has been in varied for  the last 20 years. With the varying climatic conditions, coral bleaching has been identified as a cause of reef deaths in the Indian Ocean. In 1998, upto 50% of coral reefs died during the El Niño, according to Dr. Mohammed Omar who is the KWS Senior Scientists for Coast Region. Hence the coral mortality during this time was unprecedented in severity. Secondary effects on socio-economic conditions in the Coastal communities of the Indian Ocean are presently studied as a part of the CORDIO Program (Coral Reef Degradation of the Indian Ocean). The event has so far not affected socioeconomic indicators dramatically. Reef fisheries in many areas in the region have been showing a general decline over the last decade and data collected cannot yet tell the added negative impact of coral bleaching.

Vision 2030 aims at promoting tourism as a primary engine of growth, job creation, poverty reduction and wealth generation. However, promoting tourism must integrate environmental and social values in order to be sustainable. Coastal tourism generates directly and indirectly about 24 percent of the GDP. About 70 percent of the per capita economic activity of the Coast region comes from tourism-related activities, placing tourism at the center of development.

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