Mangrove forests are incredibly important, often an undervalued ecosystem. Lamu seascape is home to the largest continuous mangrove forest in Kenya and protecting it is a vital part of the work that we do in this region.
Over the last few weeks my team and I have been out surveying the mangroves. This can be challenging work but it’s important that we do it so that we can monitor the health of the ecosystem, quickly identifing any emerging threats and assess the impact of our conservation efforts.
Our survey work starts by mapping out selected blocks of mangrove forest – it would be impossible for us to survey the whole forest so we carefully identify a representative sample which can give us an overall indication of forest health. Once the sites are mapped, the hard work begins. Surveying mangroves isn’t easy – there’s a lot of wading involved, often in knee deep and very muddy water! In the areas we’ve identified to sample, we count and measure every single tree and sapling that’s there (which can be lots!) and record all this data so we can make an assessment.
Mangroves play a number of important roles. They are a breeding ground for fish, a refugia for sea turtles, and home to lots of other species – many of which the local community depend on for their livelihoods. Mangroves also play an important role in stabilising the coast line, preventing erosion from waves and storms, and they are an important store of carbon – often being referred to as the ‘lungs of the sea’.
70% of Kenya’s mangrove cover is found in Lamu
Our most recent surveys have re-emphasised a clear north-south divide in the health of mangrove cover in Lamu seascape. In the north, the mangroves are dense, tall and there is a good canopy. In the south, the mangroves are less dense and shorter.
The main reason for this divide is the level of exploitation that’s happening. In the north, the community co-manages the mangroves and they’re only used for subsistence which is guided by traditional practices that promote sustainability. In the south, there is greater commercial use, often resulting in ‘clearcutting’ – which is traditionally forbidden in the north.
To improve the status of mangroves, and to ensure that the mangroves in the north stay in good health, we’re working closely with a number of civil society organisations and village-based Beach Management Units to create a stronger and more coordinated voice calling for sustainable management of mangroves. We’re also supporting partners to undertake some replantation work and helping the community to find ways of making an income that don’t rely so much on mangroves. More on that in my next blog in June…
WWF’s work in Lamu is generously supported in 2015 by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
What do you think of this blog? Leave us a comment