Lamu county moves to protect endangered sand dunes

Illegal sand harvesting in the Lamu water catchment areas are threatening sand dune zones. [Gideon Maundu, Standard]

Lamu County has announced new measures to protect its treasured sand dunes and the coastal environment.

Governor Issa Timamy has said they will soon hand over the sand dune zones to the Water Resource Management Authority (WRMA) for preservation and management.

The county will also liaise with the National Land Commission to revoke title deeds held by individuals in protected areas in violation of environmental laws, the governor said.

Sand dunes are natural habitats for many native species and they protect land and properties from erosion, storms, cyclones, tsunamis.

The only island in the region with a source of freshwater is Lamu Old Town but the water catchment area is under threat due to illegal human activities such as constructions and sand harvesting.

The Shela sand dunes, a 12-kilometre white sandy stretch, are the only freshwater reservoirs serving more than 30,000 residents of the idyllic Indian Ocean Island.

Fresh rainwater filters through the sandy dunes and floats on top of the salt water from where it can be pumped, purified, and used as fresh drinking water.

Stakeholders contend that protection of the water catchment area in the Shela dunes is one of the most crucial issues facing the World Heritage site.

Construction of tourist hotels, beach infrastructure development, landscaping and beautification of frontal dunes and other activities are all blamed for the degradation of sand dunes in Lamu.

“The sand dunes are the only membrane between sea water and fresh water and they should be protected and conserved,” Timamy said.

He said the National Land Commission was in the process of preparing title deeds for all the sand dunes in the archipelago in order to ring-fence them from grabbers. 

“Those holding title deeds for the endangered sand dunes zones should continue holding them for ornamental purposes since it would be of no use to them once they are revoked,” he said.

According to the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) curator in charge of Lamu Museums and World Heritage sites, Mohammed Mwenje, the sand dunes were gazetted by the NMK and are part of the Lamu World Heritage Sites.

He said the sand dunes, which act as a beach’s first line of defence against forces of the ocean, had borne the brunt of unchecked human activities.

He said a large number of dunes in Lamu had been severely altered and some levelled to the ground due to construction activities.

Mwenje said NMK would not allow illegal developments in sand dune zones where activities such as fishing, hunting, logging, sand mining and drilling were allowed.

“Lamu Old Town is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa and its integrity as an island town is closely connected to the sea and sand dunes,” he said.

Mwenje said human activities were taking place unabated and sand dunes were also being destroyed in the beaches hence the need to protect the zones.

“The dunes are a marvel of nature as they are the source of clean water for Lamu Island inhabitants,” said Mwenje as he called for concerted efforts to help restore and protect these at-risk habitats.