What you need to know:
- The trees were destroyed by the devastating El-Nino rains in 1997, which greatly affected the alkalinity of sea water and resultantly destroyed nearly all mangrove cover at the Coast.
- Derrick Muyodi and his team have planted hundreds of thousands of mangrove trees since 2019.
When Derrick Muyodi left his home in Busia County for Kenyatta University Mombasa campus, he just had one mission — to study then go back home and look for a job.
This, however, was never to be.
Years later, after graduating with a degree in Marine Science, Muyodi found it hard to go back home. Through his studies, he had developed fondness for the rich coastal ecosystem, especially the mangrove forests that line most of the 600km stretch of Kenya’s coastline.
This desire to know more about the trees made him stay at the Coast and together with like-minded youth, he embarked on a mission to regenerate and conserve as many mangrove trees as he could.
The trees were destroyed by the devastating El-Nino rains in 1997, which greatly affected the alkalinity of sea water and resultantly destroyed nearly all mangrove cover at the Coast. Mangroves provide valuable protection for communities at risk from sea-level rises and severe weather events caused by climate change; and thus their destruction has many repercussions.
In 2019, Ceriops Environmental Research, an organisation composed of scientists from different environmental fields, and which currently focuses on natural ecosystems, research and development programmes at the Coast region, was formed, and so far, their journey has been fruitful. Muyodi is the CEO of the organisation.
Calm and deeply engaged in the ways of the ocean and mangrove forests, it is hard for one to know that Muyodi won a global award early this year.
The competition, “Generation Restoration Youth Challenge – 2021”, was hosted by the World Economic Forum and it sought to award 14 youth from around the world for outstanding innovativeness in the regeneration of natural ecosystems.
“That win was historic. We had not anticipated to be among the global winners. We were only three from Africa; Ceriops from Kenya, and two other African winners from Rwanda and Nigeria,” Muyodi said.
“Ceriop’s key agenda was to reverse the losses brought on the mangroves by the devastating El-Nino rains in 1997, which greatly affected the alkalinity of the sea water and resultantly destroyed nearly all mangrove cover at the Coast.”
In addition, the forest reserves are threatened with extinction owing to overexploitation of wood resources for building poles, fencing, fuelwood, fishing stakes, charcoal burning, among others. Other threats are mass pollution arising from oil spillage, solid waste and sewage disposal. The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) lists the opening up of beaches as having led to choking of mangroves through beach sand accumulation. The conversion of mangrove forest to other activities such as salt-mining or even settlement and over-reliance on mangrove products by locals are the other major threats to the forests.
Muyodi and his team have planted hundreds of thousands of mangrove trees since 2019. They have three active sites along the Bidii Creek in Mikindani that stretches for kilometres along the coastline, covering remote areas such as Mwakirunge, Jomvu Kuu and Rabai. Ceriops in partnership with the Kenya Forest Service and community-based organisation, Big Ship, have in the last two years restored over 152 hectares of mangroves in Tudor Creek under a project dubbed ‘Adopt a Site’. This, Muyodi said, would never have been possible without the input of the local communities.
In March 2020, Ceriops and Big Ship ventured into their biggest yet project when they collaborated with Sandy Vhora foundation to launch a project — My Green Story 2020-2022 — targeting 1.5 million mangrove trees at the Kenyan coastline. “The programme is still ongoing. However, we have received less support than we anticipated and we are yet to cross the 500,000 hallmark. But we are hopeful, we believe we will have increased that number tremendously by next year,” he said.
Communities living near Bidii Creek feel the government has neglected them and that it is not paying attention to their efforts to restore the mangroves.
Fishermen in Coast depend on mangroves since the trees provide perfect breeding grounds for most of the fish they consume and sell .
The trees also provide one of the best environments for bees to produce honey.
Ali Mohamed, the chairman of Bidii Creek Conservancy, urged the government to recognise their efforts and ensure that the funds allocated under the tag of “climate financing” reach the ground.
Wilfred Zoka, the chairperson of Amani Jipange, another community-based organisation in Mikindani, said the regeneration of the mangroves is not an easy task and support from the government would go a long way.
With most of the regeneration exercises lacking great economic value, Muyodi said they are currently engaging donors and other international philanthropic organisations to help them fund their projects and as such make the work more economically appealing.
For instance, the Bidii Creek and Amani Jipange have beehives at Mwakirunge mangrove site. However, the returns are too low to sustain the labourers.
“We are doing research on how best to extract value from mangrove trees without having to cut them down or destroy them. With enough funds,we want to do historical crediting whereby we reward all active community members for the work they have done to regenerate our mangrove forests,”Muyodi said.
Blessington Maganga, a mangrove expert and the head of KFS in Kwale County, emphasised the need to preserve and conserve the coastal ecosystem, especially the mangrove forests.
“Mangrove trees are 10 times more effective in carbon sequestering and provide a great habitat for hatching as well as act as nursery for many fish species before they mature to swim to the main waters,” he explained. Without the mangroves, then major parts of the Coast would have been destroyed by the tsunami that ravished the coastline in 2004.
Some of the mangrove barks provide natural medicine. If regulated well, mangrove logging can provide strong poles for construction purposes.
The government, through the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, currently runs the National Mangrove Management Plan (2017-2027), which offers the roadmap for the management of mangrove forests in the country.
National Mangrove Coordinator Diana Kishiki said: “Restoration of mangroves is key in the realisation of the Blue Economy and Blue Urban Agenda. Currently, the KFS has partnered with other government authorities including the Kenya Ports Authority and the Kenya National Highways Authority in restoring areas where the mangrove ecosystem has been affected, for instance, through infrastructural developments."