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US funds smart fishing cards to protect mangrove forests

By Reuters | Oct 29th 2019 | 3 min read
A fisherman with his catch on Lamu Island. Fishermen will be issued with smart cards. [Maarufu Mohamed, Standard]

Fishermen on Kenya’s north coast will be issued with smart cards in a bid to get rid of loggers targeting mangrove forests on the ocean line.

Dubbed ‘Mvuvi’ or “fisher” English, the card carries a photo and fingerprint of its owner.

Authorities will be able to read the cards using smartphones.

Officials hope the cards, being used first in Lamu County, home to about 60 per cent of Kenya’s protected mangrove forests, will boost security and curb illegal fishing and logging.

“There are people who pretend to be fishermen going out to sea but they are doing illegal logging of the mangroves,” Samson Macharia, commissioner of Lamu County, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

Over-harvested mangroves

“Over-harvesting of mangroves will affect climate change and ecosystems all along the shores of the coast and the islands,” he said.

Environmental scientists have long stressed the important role mangrove forests play in reducing global warming threats.

According to the experts, mangroves are more effective at absorbing and storing carbon dioxide - one of the major drivers of climate change - than trees on land, they say.

The trees’ roots also trap and hold sediment, providing a coastal buffer against storms and floods, as well as creating an important fish breeding grounds.

According to according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) more than 35 per cent of the world’s mangroves are already gone. The trees are disappearing three to five times faster than other forests

Figures published by Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry show that the country lost about 20 per cent of its mangroves between 1985 and 2009.

Of the mangroves that remain, an estimated 40 per cent are degraded.

“In the mangroves, we have witnessed ‘die-back’, which is mangroves just drying up,” said John Bett, who works on sustainable forestry for WWF-Kenya.

Bett said he has seen the effects of climate change in Lamu County gather pace in the last 10 to 15 years and that the rate of mangrove regeneration, which can occur naturally as seeds fall from trees onto the mud, has “slowed down dramatically”.

According to Bett, only loggers registered with the Kenya’s Forestry Service are allowed to cut mangroves in Lamu County and only within certain quotas and areas.

But without knowing who exactly is on the water, cracking down on those fishing or logging mangroves illegally has been a challenge.

Coastal communities in Kenya are already struggling with the effects of climate change.

Globally, scientists have warned that water temperatures are increasing faster than expected due to carbon emissions.

As oceans warm, they expand, driving sea levels which, along with more erratic weather, make farmland increasingly vulnerable to flooding and failed harvests.

Hotter seas also fuel more powerful cyclones and other storms, which can drive saltwater onto land.

Scientists say that with fewer mangrove forests to buffer coastal lands, soil is increasingly becoming salty or washed away by heavy rains.

Warming oceans also threaten fish, especially in Kenya’s coast that experiences coral bleaching.

“Fishermen report that some of the species are disappearing because of the increase of temperatures and the damaged corals and increasing bleaching, so you find breeding areas have reduced drastically,” said Bett.

Bett has seen local fishermen become poorer and more desperate, with some taking bigger risks to net increasingly smaller catches. Others haven’t given up fishing entirely, he said.

“We have witnessed decreased stocks, so fishermen are now going further, beyond the reefs they are used to, whereas 10 to 15 years ago they would just fish near the reefs,” he said.

Local fishermen

Bett said that local fishermen using traditional methods and small wooden boats struggle to compete with foreign vessels that fish using more modern gear.

The group is now working with the government to strengthen the security of participants’ personal information and is in discussions over allocating space on the government’s servers to store that database, Ndungu said.

Kiunga Youth Bunge Initiative has registered 700 fishermen in the first phase of the registration.

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