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Kenya’s Lamu seascape – pristine, important and threatened


The Lamu seascape is located at the northernmost part of Kenya’s coast line. It starts from the Tana river delta in the South and stretches to the Kenya – Somalia border in the north.

The Lamu archipelago comprise of approximately fifty five islands which are mainly made up of fossilised sand dunes or raised beaches. Five main islands are habitable – the world famous Lamu Island, Manda, Pate, Ndau and Kiwayu Islands respectively. The coastal sections of the Dodori National Reserve on the mainland as well as the Kiunga Marine National Reserve (KMNR) also form part of the archipelago.

Lamu is also home to other magnificent marine species, such as vulnerable dugong © Andrey Nekrasov / WWFLamu is also home to other magnificent marine species, such as vulnerable dugong © Andrey Nekrasov / WWF

The biodiversity found in the Lamu seascape are in semi pristine condition. The beaches are picturesque and secluded, providing ideal conditions for nesting turtles. It hosts the largest continuous stretch of mangrove, comprising 60% – 70% of mangrove area in Kenya. It has a very extensive seagrass bed, consisting of eight different species, which are vitally important for local fisheries and feeding grounds for the rare and endangered dugong.

The network of secluded islands provides refuge and nesting grounds for the roseate terns, the largest colony in East Africa. The area is located at the Ecotone – northern limit of the coral reef and thus hosts regionally endemic coral species as well as globally rare species. Lamu seascape is also home to five of the seven known marine turtle species, these nest and forage in the region – with the green turtle being the ubiquitous.

The general area is located at a confluence of two ocean currents,  the North flowing East African current and South flowing Somali current – one of the fastest ocean currents in the world, resulting in upwelling, cold and nutrient rich waters that support the rich fishery -the only remaining rich fishery on the Kenyan coastline. On the flip side the slowing down of the ocean currents results in deposition of the sea debris – mainly plastics on the beaches in Lamu seascape. I’ll talk about this in subsequent blogs.

Baby turtle hatchlings emerging a nest © WWF-KenyaWorking with Turtle Conservation Groups in Lamu to monitor turtle nesting beaches and collect important data, such as the number of successful hatchlings emerging a nest © WWF-Kenya

The People

The Lamu community is predominantly Bajun – a mix of Arab and Bantu ancestry. However, inland living within the coastal forests of Boni and Dodori are the Aweer people, former hunter-gatherers, but who now rely on small-scale agriculture and honey- harvesting.

Lamu Island is recognised internationally as a cultural World Heritage Site and known as the centre of Swahili civilisation and has had a chequered history of independence as a republic, slave trading, prosperity, decline, isolation, tourism, and recovery over the centuries after its first settlement between the 9th and 12th century.

Around 70% of the population depends on small scale artisanal fishing and trade in seafood as their main livelihood.


Lamu’s amazing biodiversity faces a multitude of threats ranging from rapid human population growth and influx of migrants. This is leading to increased exploitation of fish stocks and loss of mangrove cover due to greater demand for timber and charcoal. Additionally a major infrastructure project is underway within the seascape, including new roads, a deep water port, rail lines, an oil refinery as well as new industrial and residential areas.

What WWF is doing

Measuring the size of an adult female marine turtle before she makes her way back to the sea © WWF-KenyaWorking with Turtle Conservation Groups to monitor turtle nesting behaviour in Lamu, e.g. this photo shows a member of the team measuring the size of this adult female before she makes her way back to the sea. © WWF-Kenya

To address these threats we are delivering a number of key strategies, which are generously supported in 2015 by players of People’s Postcode Lottery:

  • Enhance marine turtle conservation and use marine turtles as the sentinel species to help monitor ecosystem health, deliver conservation education and awareness raising programmes and strengthen ecotourism
  • Protect critical ecosystems and biodiversity, including coral reefs, marine turtle beaches and mangroves, by lobbying the government to give increased rights and responsibilities to local communities to manage their marine resources including marine turtles, local fisheries and mangroves
  • Enhance and diversify community livelihoods so that they are more sustainable and resilient to external shocks
  • Influence the way the government plans and delivers the future development of Lamu County to ensure that plans are more sustainable, reduce any impact on the environment, protect areas of high biodiversity, respect indigenous people rights as well as the cultural heritage of the area.

In my next blog I will give a more detailed glimpse into some of the exciting activities we have been carrying out.

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