Marine Community Governance

in Watamu, Kenya

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are any predefined coastal or marine areas that are given special protection for their ecosystem, species, habitat and community. One of the oldest in the world is at Watamu, established in 1968 and part of the longest fringing reef on the east coast of Africa. In Watamu Marine National Park in Kenya, A Rocha is bringing people together – partners and the local community – to find governance solutions, alternative livelihoods, and tackle threats to the marine environment.

Watamu Marine National Park

At Watamu, coral reefs provide habitat to over 500 species of fish, as well as turtles, manta rays and whale sharks. Also, it is home to 18 species listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List such as the endangered Halavi Guitarfish and the Vulnerable Brown-marbled Grouper. A Rocha Kenya works hard to ensure the park is healthy and protected by carrying out regular beach cleanups and research projects such as coral reef monitoring, studying habitat use by sharks, rays and guitarfish, and investigating the status and threats to seagrass ecosystems. A Rocha Kenya has produced a habitat map of the park, and collected species lists for fish, echinoderms, molluscs, crustaceans, corals and seagrasses.

Threats to the habitat

Tourism helps the local economy, but damages the habitat through irresponsible snorkeling, feeding of fish by tourists and trampling and anchoring boats on corals. Fishing communities need alternative livelihoods to feed their families.

Marine Governance

Marine Governance works where biodiversity conservation and human activity meet. It brings together interested parties to develop a common vision for marine protected areas, to improve understanding and tackle any issues which threaten or degrade the area and the people who depend upon it.

A Rocha Kenya is working with the Marine and Coastal Environment research team at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, led by Dr Tim Stojanovic, to implement an approach called the Governance Baseline Tool. This is supported by the Kenya Wildlife Service. The approach brings together organizations and communities, presents evidence and trends, and allows stakeholders to find solutions together for conservation and community wellbeing. Local communities are actively involved, sharing lessons and ideas, building networks, locally, nationally and internationally.  

Two key outcomes have been in stakeholder agreements, and local new livelihoods:

Stakeholder agreements

In February 2021, A Rocha Kenya and the University of St Andrews ran a workshop, which was attended by 47 delegates from different sectors who have a stake in the Watamu Marine Protected Area, including local communities, government agencies, NGOs, academics and business entities. The workshop was followed up by another in March 2021 at Ocean Sports with 15 participants including hoteliers, residents, water sports and diving groups. The group committed to sign up to the four core areas of the management plan; Ecological Management, Tourism Development and Management, Community Partnerships and Conservation Education and the Marine Protected Area Operations and Security Management Programme. Data presented in the workshop is available here.

The workshops were supported by Kenya Wildlife Service, Local Ocean Conservation and Watamu Marine Association.

New sustainable livelihoods

A Rocha Kenya are developing three new environmentally sustainable livelihoods for those at risk of poverty through feasibility testing and training:

Alternative food livelihoods for fishers in closed seasons

Fishermen and fishing communities in Watamu can now receive training in conservation agriculture using the Farming God’s Way model as an alternative to fishing. This is particularly needed during Kusi (the wet monsoon, between April and October), where they struggle to get a good catch from the ocean because the sea is too rough. 

Carbon credits for mangrove and seagrass

This project seeks to conduct a feasibility study to assess whether the mangroves in Mida, Dabaso and Uyombo and the seagrass meadows of Watamu Marine Protected Area can be conserved and/or restored to offset the impacts of climate change as well as benefit local communities of Watamu. 

Eco-certification of boat tour operations

Eco-certification would create best practice guidelines for boat operators and tourists, to address practices such as irresponsible snorkeling, feeding of fish by tourists and trampling and anchoring of boats on corals. A Rocha Kenya is exploring whether this would be accepted and supported by boat operators, tourists and hotels. It could also present potential benefits if tourists pay a premium for a certified boat.

Marine Covid-19 response in Watamu, Kenya

During the Covid pandemic, A Rocha Kenya carried out surveys and provided basic finance for those facing severe food and income shortages. A community ‘marine scouts’ programme involved unemployed local youth in collecting data for surveys concerning village elders, community groups, fishermen groups and bird monitoring, providing training and pay.

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