Faced with increasing threat to their source of livelihood from dwindling fish stocks in the Indian Ocean, youth in Wasini Island, Kwale County have started an arduous task of transplanting and rehabilitating bleached and degraded corals.

From late last year when they were taken through basic training in identifying the right species of corals for transplanting, the youth, who are mainly fishermen and tour guides, are not leaving anything to chance.

Although coral planting has been done in other parts of the world especially in countries like Philippines, marine experts say this is the first time it is happening in an African country.

One has to dive deep into the ocean to collect and come out with handful of coral fragments. They then split them into small pieces and arranging them on a rack made from wire mesh.

“We use cement to make the nurseries where we attach the small coral pieces before planting it in areas that have been degraded. It takes about six months for the corals to regenerate and become healthy again.

“We started this in October last year and to date we have over 1000 coral fragments that have been transplanted within Wasini area,” said Ahmed Mohamed, the Chairman of Wasini Beach Management Unit (BMU).

Besides climate change, the residents acknowledge that harmful fishing methods such as use of dynamites and seining have had a negative impact on coral reefs.

By blowing up the corals, the fishermen expose the fish from their habitat making it easy to catch them but in the long run end up destroying the breeding grounds.

“We have also taken measures to ensure that fishermen are educated on safe fishing methods because the benefits of what the community has been doing can be seen through increase in fish stocks.

“Fishermen are not allowed into these areas that have been restored for a given time until they have fully recovered. We are already reaping benefits of this initiative and fishermen can attest to it,” said Omar Abdalla Juma.

Harmful fishing methods and effects of climate change have contributed to loss of income to fishermen and tourism stakeholders following degradation of coral reefs along the Kenyan Coast.

Marine scientists have already sounded an alarm over what is commonly referred to as coral bleaching, a situation that is attributed to increased temperatures in the sea water surface and human activities.

A similar phenomenon, according to Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) research scientist Jervas Mwaura, was experienced in 2010 and warned that the situation could be much worse in the next 10 to 20 years if the trend continues.

“Unfortunately, Kenyan coral reefs including those in protected areas have shown signs of degradation.

“The reefs have become degraded further by coral bleaching and mortality events besides sedimentation, pollution, overfishing and destructive fishing practices such as seine nets,” said Mr Mwaura.

Mr Mwaura represented Kenya during a coral conference in Manado, Indonesia where scientists from around the world met to discuss the state of corals in the World.

He said statistics now indicate that 85 per cent of reefs are in medium to high level of threat are associated with climate change while 50 per cent are threat of destructive and overfishing.

“Coral reefs in Marine protected areas (MPAs) are source of attraction to thousands of domestic and international tourists, with many travelling to come and dive, snorkel, and fish in the scenic locations.

“This is a tragedy not only for some of most bio diverse coral reefs, but also for people in Kenya, many of whom are extremely impoverished and depend on these reefs for their food and livelihoods,” said Mr Mwaura.

But while scientists recommend use of proper fishing methods and mitigating climate change, transplanting and rehabilitating coral reefs has also been identified as one of the measures to help in the restoration.

Mr Mwaura says coral reef rehabilitation is one of the projects regarded as a viable conservation tool by Kenya Coastal Development Programme (KCDP) to aid and speed up the recovery of damaged reef habitats by supplementing natural recovery processes affecting them.

Currently, the World Bank and Global Environment Facility (GEF) is funding KCDP, with the aim of promoting improved biodiversity and sustained fisheries for food security and improved livelihoods.

“KMFRI technical staff together with local communities such as Wasini island located southern coast of Kenya have commenced on a large scale reef restoration project.

“The project involved development of restoration manual and community training on reef rehabilitation techniques borrowed from successful low-technology restoration studies in Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia countries,” said Mr Mwaura.

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