When Khadija Mohammed was growing up in Wasini island village in Kwale, on the south coast of Kenya, she was used to seeing a lot of fish at the Mkwiro beach area, a busy fish landing site. This attracted her to fishing at a young age, initially as a hobby and later maturing into a full-time job. “It was always my dream to go out to sea and fish when I grew up, that’s where it all began”, she said.
Khadija, 45 years old, now a mother of six, has been fishing for a decade. A job that provides for her family. But with time, Khadija and other fisherfolk noticed that the catch was in decline and certain species of fish were disappearing. “We were not catching enough fish to take care of the needs of our families. It was a sign that the ecosystem, the breeding grounds of fish, were under attack,” she said.
While the fisherfolk at Wasini Island depend highly on Fishing and Tourism, effects of underwater heat waves exacerbated by climate change and ocean warming have led to coral bleaching and a subsequent decline in fish population.
Coral reefs are underwater structures made from calcium carbonate secreted by corals. They are some of the most precious habitats in the ocean – which has earned them the nickname “rainforests of the sea;” a complicated ecosystem which is home to at least 25% of marine species.
For the community on Wasini Island, coral bleaching and subsequent loss of species and drop in daily catch was a wake-up call to take action to restore the ecosystem. A coral restoration project was born in collaboration with Reefolution Centre and led by community groups.
The project educates local community members on protection and restoration of corals with a view to creating a self-reliant community-based coral management in the long run.
“The youths are taught how to dive, survey degraded sites, establishment of coral nurseries, awareness creation and transplanting of corals,” said Mwatuwe Keah, the secretary-general of the Mkwiro Beach Management Unit.
Keah added that nine young people have been trained and deployed as reef rangers. Since its inception, the project has planted approximately 1,000 coral reefs. “This is our future. As youths, we have decided to plant the reefs to create a good environment for fish breeding; because of this, fishermen cannot lack fish,” explained Idris Ali, one of the reef rangers at the Mkwiro Beach Management Unit (BMU).
Joshua Wambugu is a PhD researcher on the social impacts of coral reef restoration at the Reefolution centre. “About 50% is already lost and 80% of the living corals are threatened and without intervention, 95%could be gone by 2050,’’ he said.
Wambugu added that the community-centred approach is fundamental because some community members are also contributors to coral damage through wrong fishing methods.
From the restoration, he said the local community is now benefiting from an increase in fish catch as compared to the recent past, improving both income and nutrition outcomes of the local community.
“As scientists, the innovation has also helped us know how long it takes for corals to fully recover and create a good breeding ground for fish,” he added that research shows at least 40 new species have been found in the area where corals have been restored.
“I sell octopus mostly. Since we restored the coral reefs, we are now seeing changes. Before, we used to get between two to three kilogrammes daily. But now we get five or even ten kilogrammes, this has increased my daily earnings,” said Khadija.