Restoration of coral reef takes shape across coast

The Coast Development Authority (CDA) has embarked on a massive programme to restore and preserve the fragile coral reef off the South Coast in Kwale County.

The conservation initiatives dubbed 'Rain-forests of the sea’, are being undertaken under the Kenya Climate Change Adaptation Programme (KCCAP).

On Friday, the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) said coral reef cover has declined to less than one per cent of the ocean floor.

According to IUCN, coral reefs host more than one-quarter of all marine fish species and many other aquatic life, threatened by its rapid depletion.

In Kwale, the CDA has created seed banks and a fast-growing coral nursery to hasten the restoration projects, provide habitat for most ocean fish and shelter land from storm surges and rising sea levels.

CDA is also rehabilitating mangrove and sea-grass ecosystems to protect communities along the shoreline against damaging winds, waves, and floods.

Coral reefs provide ecosystem services such as subsistence food, protection from flooding, and sustaining the fishing and tourism industries. CDA Managing Director (MD) Dr Mohamed Keinan stated that coral reef habitats in Wasini Island of Kwale have declined due to climate change, pollution, and sedimentation.

"The coral reefs conservation activities are geared towards saving marine life, the communities dependent on the sea for their livelihoods," Dr Keinan said.

He said the community approach to coral restoration was getting the buy-in of fisher folks and community members.

CDA is spearheading the restoration of destroyed coral reefs in partnership with Wasini Beach Management Units to promote fishing and tourism in the coastal county.

He said coral reefs are some of the most productive ecosystems, providing habitat to numerous species and serving ecological functions.

He added that coral reefs deliver ecosystem services for tourism, fisheries, and shoreline protection; and CDA is raising awareness of its conservation among island dwellers.

He further pointed out that in the programme, nursery-grown coral colonies are transplanted onto degraded reef sites to stimulate natural regeneration and recovery and to restore habitat complexity.

The CDA director said coral reefs grow naturally in water, thus transplanting them in a process known as ‘coral gardening’ was very innovative for the authority.

Keinan added that the project also involves growing coral fragments in underwater nurseries.

The process involves tagging, transplanting, tracking growth of coral reef, measuring their size, and storing this data in a database.

“The restoration programme has been very successful and we intend to expand coral nursery cultivation and transplantation across degraded reefs outside Kwale,” he said.

Muhidin Musa, a local marine conservationist, said coral reefs in the oceans have degraded over the years due to unsustainable fishing activities and climate change.

Musa said climate change, overfishing, waste dumping, and uncontrolled coastal development has compounded the problem.

"The corals are important for fish, lobsters, and invertebrates. We welcome the coral restoration programme championed by CDA," said Musa, a Wasini Beach Management Unit (BMU) member.

Musa, also a commercial diver, said the conservation programme has been exciting and that more community members are embracing it and becoming coral gardeners.

“Before the reef restoration programme gained momentum, fish stocks had been declining, and families were feeling the pinch,” he said.