Kuruwitu Coral: In a small, quiet village in Kenya, the fishing industry has found a new purpose with a successful marine coral conservation project, the first of its kind in marine protected areas in the western part of the Indian Ocean.
The Kuruwitu coast of Kenya is calm and gentle. Sparkling sand beaches complement the beauty of the clear blue waters, and the familiar scent of sand and sea salt permeates the air.
A decade ago, with the help of like-minded partners, villagers decided to take on the responsibility of setting up a conservation area, given the declining fish numbers.
Dixon Gereza, marine conservationist and head of the Coral Project Program, explains that pollution is the ocean’s worst enemy. He says, “People are becoming irresponsible. The ocean is a useful resource, but man is spreading garbage in it. To save the ocean, it is extremely important to dispose of the waste properly.”
First local coral conservation project
The community realized that the problem of overfishing, climate change and uncontrolled fish and coral collection by the aquarium trade would have to be tackled before the marine ecosystem could even recover from the loss.
In 2005, residents of the area took the unprecedented step of isolating a 30-hectare Marine Protected Area. It was the first coral-based locally managed marine area in Kenya. Twelve years later, there was a remarkable change in this field.
Katana Hinzano is a conservationist at the Oceans Alive Organization, where she helps build alternative coral blocks and nurseries, using cement and sand. Reiterating the relationship between the sea and human life, he says: “The sea is valuable to those who live near it. Fishermen and fish business owners rely on marine resources. We all have a role to play in ensuring that we benefit from the ocean and help preserve it for generations to come.”
Following the ban on fishing within a locally managed marine area, the number, size and diversity of fish have increased. The area has become a breeding ground, leading to an increase in the number of fish outside the area. Another effect of this was that now fishermen are getting more fish in their hands. Also, biodiversity has increased dramatically, making Kuruwitu a destination for eco-tourism, and creating jobs for guides, boat captains and rangers.
Goodluck Mbaga, environmentalist and honorary Kenya Wildlife Service guide, says, “The ocean is as valuable to me as it is life. The sea provides food, contributes to the economy, and is a source of income and entertainment. We all need to learn how to conserve the ocean as we are yet to utilize its full potential.”
Metal frame and plastic mesh
To help revive the corals, experts from Oceans Alive and the Kuruvitu Conservation and Welfare Association work together. The work begins – from a metal frame with a plastic mesh on it. Then the plugs made of cement and sand are dried and tied to this structure to form a kind of nursery. After keeping them in the sea for weeks, this bed is ready to be transplanted and it is dumped in the ocean floor. In this way marine life is attached to this structure.
The co-management of marine resources is the right way forward in the ecosystem-based management of marine landscapes in the region. The United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, along 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 partnership works, “Cities and towns lie beside oceans and oceans, bringing the ocean and landscape. In such a situation, their restoration is extremely necessary to build resilience to deal with climate change.
UNDP Equator Award Winner
Kuruwitu Conservation is working with the local Beach Management Unit, the Kenyan State Department of Fisheries, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to develop a co-management plan that will support the seas off the coast of Kenya. Will cover an area of 800 hectares.
The region has 12 kilometers of coastline with a population of about 30,000 people, including six landing sites and three villages.
In 2017, it was awarded the Equator Prize, organized by the Equator Initiative within the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, because of its work on Kuruvitu conservation.
The award is given every two years to recognize outstanding community efforts to eradicate poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.