The loss of coral and coral reefs around the world has been a hot topic of discussion for the last decade among conservationists and people working to protect biodiversity worldwide. They often make headlines when a big part of very visited reefs suffer from the degradation of the environment, overfishing or harmful behaviour and starts dying, as it has happened of late in Great Barrier Reef in Australia. When facing these challenges we often feel powerless to global problems, but in this case we’re going to talk about a local initiative supported by a few organisations showing great results.
Located in southeast Kenya 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) off the coast of the Indian Ocean, the island of Wasini has a population of about 3.000 people for whom tourism is the main source of income followed by revenue from fishing. Both activities depend greatly on the presence of a healthy coral reef. Unfortunately, a sudden rise of temperature in the waters of the region in 1998 killed about 30% of the corals on the reef. The repercussions of the warmer water was made worse by the overfishing and aggressive and destructive fishing methods that were used in the decades before the event.
To counter the disparition of the reef, the Wasini Coral Restoration project aims to rehabilitate 3 ha of sea area by planting coral and establish a marine eco-facility.
Financed by the Global Environment Facility, the United Nations Development Programme, the government of Kenya and the world bank, the project depends on a group of national and local stakeholders (Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya forestry research institute, Wildlife Conservation Society, Africa Nature Organisation , State Department of Fisheries, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute), working hand in hand together and with the local population to reach this goal.
The intervention is based on the Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) principle that builds on recognition of the power and rights of local fishing communities to manage their marine resources. The idea was to protect a portion of the ocean from any human activities. After hundred hours of discussions and meetings with members of the local community, people became more convinced that forbidding the access to an area of 350 square meters located to the south of the island would have a positive economic impact.
After overcoming theses initial concerns with the members of the community, a 6-month training program was put in place to teach people how to be active and be part of the rehabilitation program. People learnt how to scuba dive as this is necessary to be able to get where they will put the coral in place. They were also taught the technics of coral transplantation and were able to gain autonomy.
This effort has been paying off as 835 corals have been transplanted in the reserve protected area. Between 2013 (one year before the start of the project) and 3 years later, the quantity of fish caught by local fishermen during the summer peaked from 6 to 21 tonne of surgeonfishes and from 2.3 to 13.8 tonne of red mullet.
This impressive improvement wasn’t the result of the coral reef rehabilitation alone. Some of the stakeholders of the projects are research institutes with a great understanding of how this local ecosystem functions. This knowledge was put too good use when they chose to plant trees of different species of algae to help reenergize mangroves and seagrass beds nearby. This holistic approach is key to the success of this initiative as a lot of species of fish spend the first portion of their lives within the mangroves and seagrass beds until they are big enough to live in the reef.
As biodiversity comes back in this area, so are the tourists looking to see the beautiful reef and fishes that have made it their home again. This gives a chance for the community to develop nature-based tourism with the economic impacts it can have.
To reach the Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, which aims to stop the degradation of the world’s biological heritage, there is an objective of 17% of Earth’s terrestrial surface being formally protected by the year 2020 from the 12.7% in 2010. Much of this increase will likely have to come from places that are already inhabited by people, and thus require new strategies, innovative programmes, and creative approaches to integrating people and protected areas in order to achieve this goal. Social acceptability and political support are crucial to the success of such programs and this has been the case for this project.
Such a successful initiative is the proof that a good governance and collaboration between stakeholders is the key to building a successful project showing positive results a short period of time. As this initiative keeps in growing there will be a need to monitor the improvement of the ecosystem as well as making sure the positive economic benefits of tourism in the region reach the population working on the project.
If you’re interested, here is a quick video about the project, click here.
Click here for another article that was published on our site over a year ago about a Marine Protected Area.
How can a project of biodiversity conservation help the economy of small local communities?