The marine parks and reserves at Malindi and Watamu border some of Kenya’s most famous and popular stretches of beach and are fringed by important terrestrial and mangrove forest ecosystems. The mangrove belt, which provides breeding grounds for many of the marine species that feed and support the coral reef, is especially important to maintaining the parks and reserves’ health and biodiversity.
Trees grown in the mangroves’ semisaline water have special properties. When harvested, their wood is virtually non decomposing due to its high mineral content. Because it is unattractive to insects, termites or bacteria, such wood can remain intact for fifty to one hundred years, making it a prized building material. The same high mineral content produces a fierce heat when the wood is burned, so mangrove poles are widely used in local industry, particularly to fire limestone for construction. As a result of their important market potential, the mangrove forests are increasingly threatened.
The mangrove forest of Mida Creek, Watamu, falls within the reserve as a conservation buffer zone, but despite this protection, the forest is under threat from pollution and deforestation. Co-operation on litter collection and better control of sewage and effluent discharge by local water authorities and tourism operators has improved conditions, but perhaps the most significant protection has come from the involvement of local communities in mangrove reafforestation programmes nurtured under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between KWS and the Forest Department.
In 1994, the local community in Mida Creek asked KWS to support its efforts to restore its mangrove forest. KWS responded by challenging community leaders to design their own programme to collect seeds from the mangrove forest and raise seedlings for replanting. KWS was to provide technical advice on seed collection, propagation and replanting techniques.
In March 1995, the community set up three self-help co-operatives: Viriko Women’s Group, Vimoyoni Men’s Group and Mida Primary School Environmental Club. Each collects seed pods for its own nursery. By June 1995, more than 10,000 seedlings had been replanted in the mangrove with a 90% success rate.
In response to this success and commitment, KWS, with funding from the Netherlands government, donated the self-help groups buckets, spades, wheelbarrows, bicycles and textbooks on mangrove care and propagation worth Kshs 40,000.