World Wetlands Day 2001: Kenya



Mr Anderson Koyo ( of the Kenya Wildlife Service informs the Bureau of the KWS press release on World Wetlands Day released to national newspapers in Kenya and the text of the Director, Nehemiah K. Rotich's address on the challenges on the conservation of marine and coastal wetlands in Kenya, presented at national World Wetlands Day celebrations held in Nairobi on 3 February 2001.


2nd February is celebrated globally as the World Wetlands Day, whereby people around the world come out to evaluate their achievements in conserving and promoting the wise use of wetlands and their resources. In recent years, many people have changed their negative perception of wetlands, and tremendous progress has been made towards a true recognition of their important functions and values. Nevertheless, more has to be done, at all levels of society, to make decision-makers and the public further aware of the importance of wetlands for biodiversity conservation and people's well-being.

Today's celebrations mark 30 years of work and progress by the Convention on Wetlands and it is an occasion to discover the concrete functions and values of wetlands in Kenya and, if possible, in the planetary cycles of climate and water. It is an occasion for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the conservation and sustainable management of these invaluable resources for sustainable development at local, national, regional and global levels. It is time to assess the threats and constraints that affect the wetlands and strive to find lasting solutions for the benefit of the present and future generations of human society. All levels of the Kenyan public should come out to demonstrate their commitment to maintain a clean environment, clean and steady supply of water resources and diverse biodiversity resources all of which are critical for supporting sustainable socio-economic and cultural development as well as the quality of life on earth.

What are wetlands?

There are many definitions of the term "wetlands" currently in use The Ramsar Convention has defined wetlands in a globally applicable way as:

"areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial permanent or temporary with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres"

The convention further elaborates that wetlands "may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands".

In Kenya, wetlands include a variety of habitats including the coral reefs, marine inshore waters, mangroves, the deltas, creeks, lake shores, rivers, marshes, ponds, dams and mountain bogs. The most fundamental characteristic is that they are a source of water and they sustain characteristic biota, or living organisms.

The Ramsar Convention

The Ramsar convention, which is an agreement on wetlands, is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international co-operation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. The convention (known from its place of adoption in Iran) came about in 1971 and entered into force in 1975. The Ramsar convention was the first of the modern instruments seeking to conserve natural resources of a global scale. The convention restrains member countries from unsustainable use of their wetland resources. Currently, there are over 120 contracting states, amongst them the three East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Importance of Wetlands

Wetlands are important for ecological process as well as for their rich biodiversity. Unique and rare plant and animal species can be found in different wetland areas over the world. The values of wetlands range from aesthetic to economic, cultural and social benefits.

Wetlands find uses in fishing, tourism, hydrology and food crop production. Wetlands may also produce other important natural resources such as fuel wood, timber, thatch grass, latex, tannins and alcohol. In pastoral areas in Africa, wetlands provide water and become important grazing areas during draught periods. Moreover, wetlands are important conservation areas as breeding sites for certain species of fish, birds, amphibians, molluscs and crustaceans. Mammals like hippopotamus and reptiles like crocodiles are also found in wetlands. All of Kenya's large towns like Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kakamega, Nyeri, Garissa and several others obtain their water supply from wetlands. All the rural areas of Kenya also rely on wetlands for water supply and as a source of a wide range of food.

Importance of wetland management

Due to their vast ecological wealth, wetland have always fallen victim of over manipulation tendencies by man, e.g. the unbalance of the fish population in Lake Victoria, as a result of the introduction of the Nile Perch. Rapid human population growth, industrialization and urbanization have largely contributed to loss and unwise use of wetlands. The need to feed a large human population has resulted in the conversion of most wetlands into agricultural areas while expanding industries and urban centres discharge their waste water into the neighboring wetlands, hence causing water pollution.

Reclaiming wetlands for agriculture has resulted in reduction and loss of habitats and subsequent loss of many useful plants and animals dependent on those wetlands.

Pollution renders water unhealthy for human and livestock use, ruins aquatic life and restricts recreation facilities. Navigation may sometimes be interfered with, especially where eutrophication alters the wetland ecology, encouraging massive growth of aquatic vegetation. Poaching, uncontrolled water abstraction, unsustainable fishing and illegal use of rare and endemic plants and animals species also contributes to loss of wetland values.

In order to fulfill human and conservation needs that are inherent in wetlands, it is imperative that wetlands are wisely used and properly managed to counter and avoid negative human influences.

Many wetlands lay athwart national boundaries or derive their water supplies from neighboring countries or regions. Fish and water birds ignore national or regional boundaries and migrate for breeding, feeding or resting in wetlands in other areas.

Not all wetlands fall under protected areas (i.e. national parks). However, both protected and unprotected areas share certain important ecological and biological linkages. Thus, all wetlands need wise use management approaches. This is particularly important for the unprotected wetlands which are more vulnerable to mismanagement.

Wise use and sustainable management of wetlands is therefore a local, national, regional as well as international obligation. The Ramsar convention recognizes this paradigm and requires that contracting parties meet those obligations.

The Way Forward:

The most important strategy forward is to generate adequate scientific information through research, inventory and monitoring on wetlands. The information should be easily accessible and in a format that wetland resource managers, planners and users can apply. In that context, there should be elaborate extension services by the technical personnel to lead local communities in information interpretation and decision making. The extension workers should lead the communities in applying the wise use principles. There is urgent need for elaborate public education and awareness on conservation and wise use of wetlands. Capacity building through training of wetland users, managers, planners and scientists is important for sustainable management of the resources. Integrated planning of wetlands using ecosystem through a participatory and multi-disciplinary approach is another important strategy forward. Developing the correct policies, institutional, legal and administrative frameworks and being able to enforce relevant laws and regulations is important for sustainable management of natural resources. Regional and international collaboration, especially on trans-boundary wetlands and migratory species is equally important. KWS in collaboration with several partners including the relevant government departments, development partners, international and local NGOs, CBOs, wetland communities and the Ramsar Convention are committed to wetlands conservation and wise use in Kenya and beyond. We particularly thank the Netherlands government for their continued technical and financial support. We invite all Kenyans to undertake an appropriate activity in their wetlands to mark this day.

Anderson Koyo
For: Director

World Wetlands Day Celebrations - 3/2/2001

Challenges of Conserving Coastal and marine Wetlands in Kenya

By Nehemiah K. Rotich, MBS

1. Background Information on the Coastal Environment and Natural Resources:

The Kenyan coast runs for approximately 550 kilometers from the Tanzanian to Somalia borders. It is made up of unique natural landscape and a wide range of biodiversity resources of special conservation concern at local, national, regional and global levels. The major characteristics of the coastal and marine wetlands include the following

i. coral reefs which are comprising of about 140 species of hard and soft corals. The reef is particularly crucial for breaking the waves and thus protecting the shoreline from erosion by the impact of the waves. The reef is also an invaluable habitat for hundreds species of fish, crustacean and molluscs which use it for foraging, breeding and sheltering purposes. The coral gardens are particularly important for the live and colorful coral species. The width of the reef ranges from almost two kilometers to about 100 meters at some points. There are no reefs where the large rivers enter the sea due to fresh water and silt impacts. Another important value of the reef is tourism. It shelters the inshore waters making it valuable for swimming, snorkeling, goggling, diving, boating, yatching. The inshore waters also host hundreds of fish species and other resources which are important attractions for tourism. Areas with prominent reefs are Mombasa, Diani Chale, Kisite, Watamu, Malindi , Lamu and Kiunga along the coast.

Other important biodiversity resources within the inshore waters, though they may also be found in the open sea include the cetaceans (Whales and dolphins), sea turtles and dugongs. Some of these species especially the turtles and dugongs are threatened animals.

ii. Cliffs and Creeks, These are common features of the natural landscape along the coast. Cliffs are found particularly in areas where the waves hit against the coastal wall. The cliffs are often deep and rugged due to the impact of the waves and are accompanied by rough and very old coral stones. Creeks are often found at the entrance of the medium sized rivers to the sea i.e. Mtwapa, Nyali, Ramisi and Mida. The riverine vegetation that align the edges of the creeks make them important breeding and feeding areas for fish and molluscs. They are also important habitats for hundreds of species of birds and occasionally mammals and reptiles i.e. hippopotamus and crocodiles at Ramisi. Some of the creeks like the Ramisi and Mida are actually recorded as Important Bird Areas in Kenya.

iii. The sand beaches are also common and important natural landscape along the coast. They are particularly crucial for promoting tourism as they often provide the frontage to most tourist hotels and facilities along the coast. The sand beaches are important for recreation, sun bathing, walking and many activities. They are also important habitats for myriad species of molluscs which breed and live in burrows dug in the sand on the beach. Also of crucial importance is the fact that sand beaches provide nesting sites for the sea turtles some of which are endangered species. The most common turtle species in Kenya include the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), the olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), the loggerhead turtle ( Caretta caretta) and the giant letherback turtle (Dermochelys cariacea) Though found over most of the beaches along the coast, the most important turtle nesting sites include Rastenewi, Kiunga, Lamu, Ungwana bay, Malindi, Watamu , Diani Chale and several parts of the south coast.

iv. Deltas are also an important feature of the coast and are found where the major rivers enter the sea. The most notable one -the Tana delta with an area of approximately 135,000 hectares, is the second largest delta in Africa after the Okavango in Namibia. The Sabaki river forms a relatively small delta at its mouth. The Tana deltas is important for a wide range of biological and ecological processes which are primary to conservation of biodiversity including millions of organisms of terrestrial, marine and fresh water species and genetic resources. There are unique habitats and ecosystems i.e. fresh, brackish and saline water or aquatic habitats, mangrove stands, other mixed forests, woodlands, grasslands, sand dunes and beaches. Apart from unique and abundant biological diversity resources, the delta performs important hydrological functions which regulate the seasonal flooding regimes which are the cornerstone of the environmental and socio-economic productivity of the these ecosystems. The Tana delta hosts many species of special conservation concern including rare, threatened, endangered and endemic. It is also important for supporting the socio-economic and cultural development of many local communities and peoples.

v. Mangroves: These are salt-tolerant evergreen forest located at the transitional zone between dry land and open ocean. The trees are only one component of the mangrove ecosystem, which includes associated bodies of water and substrate as well as a variety of other plants, animals and micro-organisms. Associated with the mangrove ecosystem are many animal species which occur in the same inter-tidal zone for part or their total lifecycle. Several species of molluscs, crabs, fish and prawns depend directly on the mangrove ecosystem. A wide range of fish species use the mangroves as spawning sites and also as a crucial habitat for the young fish. Other animals such as insects, birds (migrant and resident) may feed, rest or inhabit the mangroves. Large mammals and reptiles may occur within and utilize the mangroves. The ecological functions include shoreline stabilization by prevention of shoreline erosion by the ocean waves and prevention of sea water intrusion. Apart from their ecological and biological values, these ecosystems are equally important for tourism development as well as a wide variety of socio-economic and cultural values to the local communities.

There are ten species of mangroves found along the Kenya coast. These are

  • Rhizophora mucronata
  • Ceriops tagal
  • Bruguiera gymnorrhiza
  • Avicennia marina
  • Xylocarpus granatum
  • Sonneratia alba
  • Heritiera littoralis
  • Lumnitzera racemosa
  • Barringtonia racemosa
  • Thespesia populnea

The mangroves are distributed all along the coast though there are heavy concentrations at south coast, Mombasa/Nyali creek, Watamu, Tana delta and particularly Kiunga. The major threats to mangroves include over exploitation especially clear felling as well as pollution from urban development.

2. Existing Conservation Initiatives:

There are several initiatives which are on going to conserve and manage marine and coastal resources.

¨ KWS manages six marine protected areas - Kiunga marine national Reserve, Malindi marine national park/reserve, Watamu marine national park/reserve, Mombasa marine national/reserve, Kisite marine national park and Mpunguti marine national reserve. Although Diani Chale is gazetted as a marine reserve no tangible conservation work has been done in the area.

¨ The Mangrove forests are under the management of the Forest department as forest reserves although some portions of the mangrove forests are protected within the national parks or reserves under KWS.

¨ Marine fish resources and fishing activities are managed by the Fisheries department although those within marine protected areas are managed jointly with KWS.

¨ Marine research and monitoring are being carried out by the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI), though there are several other organizations involved in research and monitoring as well.

¨ There are several conservation programs and activities under the integrated coastal area management (ICAM), being conducted jointly by a number of stakeholders and institutions.

3. Challenges of Conserving Marine and Coastal Wetlands in Kenya:

a) Inadequate scientific information on marine and coastal wetlands , presented in a format that is easy to understand and readily accessible to the stakeholders including the policy makers, managers, planners and resources users. The available information is scattered among several institutions and not easy to access nor interpret by most of the stakeholders.

b) Most research institutions at the coast don't undertake extension programs to educate and interpret their findings and recommendations to the stakeholders including local communities. Thus there is minimal linkage between research and the natural resource management needs.

c) There is also inadequate baseline information on the marine and wetland resources, including the bio-physical characteristics as well as the socio-economic and cultural values of the resources together with the threats that affect these resources. No comprehensive inventories have been conducted throughout the marine and coastal wetlands.

d) Inadequate technical and skilled human resources to undertake specialized conservation and management programs i.e. research, monitoring, integrated coastal zone planning, EIA, Environmental Audit and extension work etc.

e) Inadequate coordination among the sectors concern within Kenya, and between Kenya and other states at regional as well as global levels. Institutional linkages, collaboration, networking and sharing of information is minimal due to selfish attitudes among individuals and institutions.

f) Ineffective enforcement of the existing environmental and sectoral policies, legislation, regulations and rules touching on coastal and marine wetlands.

g) Over- exploitation of the resources (mangroves, fishes, molluscs) by the communities and resource users. No clearly defined and established sustainable use levels of the resources concern. Coupled with that are the inappropriate gear and technology being applied i.e. trawling, beach seining, shell collection and clear felling of the mangroves.

h) Inadequate education and awareness among the stakeholders especially the policy makers and resource users- particularly on wise use and sustainable natural resources management practices.

i) Inadequate resources (funds and equipment) for conservation and management purposes. Most institutions and organizations responsible for conserving the marine and coastal wetlands often don't have adequate skilled man power, equipment and funds to carry out their work.

j) Inadequate integrated planning and management (ICZM), undertaken through a coastal zone or ecosystem approach within a participatory and multi-disciplinary approach.

k) Marine and wetland Pollution from urban centres, deforestation of the catchment forests, sedimentation and siltation of wetlands from inappropriate land use and development practices including agriculture, settlements, grazing, dam constructions, diversions of rivers up country etc.

Whereas the marine and coastal wetlands in Kenya are recognized to be important natural resources for sustainable development, there is urgent need to address these constraints and challenges. All stakeholders should cooperate and take part in finding lasting solutions to the challenges in the best interest of the present and future generations.

Thank you.

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