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A rapid response to help mangroves in Lamu seascape


In a previous blog I began telling you about the incredible mangroves which are found here in Lamu seascape. People and wildlife alike depend on mangroves for survival, but recent reports from the field are suggesting some worrying trends.

For many, mangroves look like muddy, boggy places filled with bugs, snakes and spiders. But take a closer look through our eyes – walking through mangroves can be like going on a gem search. Hidden within the massive, popping, twisted vines and branches are weird looking insects, reptiles, fish, and mud crabs. In addition to providing a home to these, and many more species, the mangroves also play many important ecological functions – like being a store for carbon and protecting the coastline from erosion.

Mangroves in Lamu © Cath LawsonMangroves in Lamu © Cath Lawson

Mangroves across the world face a myriad of threats including over harvesting for use as wood fuel and construction materials, rising sea levels, intrusion of freshwater and pollution. Addressing these threats is undeniably challenging, but right now in Lamu we’re facing an additional challenge: large swaths of mangroves are dying, and the cause is of this die-back is unknown.

Anecdotal observations show an increase in mangrove tree die-back and complete tree death whilst comparative analysis of mangrove cover using previously collected information shows a 22% reduction in mangrove cover over the last two decades.

This is serious and requires immediate action.

Working collaboratively with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), and the local community, we’re planning a rapid assessment survey starting next week so that we can better understand the cause of the die-back and plan an effective response.

Surveying mangroves in Lamu © Cath LawsonSurveying mangroves in Lamu © Cath Lawson

The rapid assessment will primarily involve estimating canopy cover of the standing mangroves. But we’ll also be collecting soil samples so that we have information on the soil’s nutrient content, composition and pH levels. Mangrove mud contains more than 10 billion bacteria – that’s amongst the highest found in marine mud anywhere in the world! Bacteria helps break down leaf litter, so lots of bacteria in the mud helps to inform scientists on the health and leafing status of mangroves.

With the rapid assessment complete we hope to have a clearer understanding of what’s causing the die-backs we’re seeing in Lamu. With that knowledge we can work with our partners to design appropriate management methods to protect this extraordinary ecosystem.

I’ll update you on the survey results in a future blog.

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