Marine Ecosystem (6)

President Uhuru Kenyatta has signed into law the Fisheries Management and Development Bill.

The Fisheries Management and Development Act 2016 provides for the conservation, management and development of fisheries and other aquatic resources to enhance the livelihood of communities that depend on fishing.

The new law also gives guidance on the import and export trade of fish and fish products, fish quality and safety among other provisions.

It also establishes the Kenya Fisheries Services and the Kenya Fisheries Advisory Council.

Functions of the Kenya Fisheries Services include ensuring the appropriate conservation, development of standards on management, sustainable use and protection of the country’s fisheries resources.

Speaking when he signed the Bill before commissioning the Ksh 30 billion first phase of the second container terminal at Mombasa Port, President Kenyatta said the new law will ensure that the country’s marine resources are used for the benefit of Kenyans – especially Coast residents.

“With this law in place, we are able to protect our marine resources from exploitation by other nationals at the expense of our people,” President Kenyatta said.

He said the new law will also help the country to utilise the blue economy to create jobs for Kenyan youth.

President Kenyatta also announced the formation of a committee that will be headed by Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Samson Mwathethe, to fine tune ways that will guard marine resources against external exploitation.

The committee, which has been given one month to present its report, will also look into ways of building fishing vessels and industries that will create jobs.

On regional integration, President Kenyatta affirmed that the East African member states are working in harmony to promote the welfare of the citizens of the region.

He said there is no bad blood between Kenya and Tanzania, saying the two neighbours have always enjoyed warm relations.

“East Africa is not in competition with itself but with the rest of the world,” President Kenyatta said.

Deputy President William Ruto underscored the need for Mombasa County government to work with the national Government that has initiated several projects, including the allocation of Ksh 750 million for specialised medical equipment for Coast General Hospital and Ksh 400 million for Likoni hospital,that will improve the lives of residents.

He told Governor Hassan Joho to be honest, put aside partisan politics and work together with the national Government for the benefit of the people.

Governor Joho has expressed the need for both levels of governments to work together, to which the Deputy President said: “The quest for the national and county government should go beyond the talk into concrete action.”

He said the Jubilee Government is ready to work with all leaders who are focused on serving Kenyans but not those who are only out to propagate their selfish political agenda.

Thursday, 21 July 2016 00:00

Kenya South Coast's Dwindling Fish

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Wasini Island, Kenya’s South Coast – He looked at his empty hands, as if they were responsible for the lack of fish that afternoon. He was waist deep in the warm, salty waters of the Indian Ocean. His wet hands had just finished running through a large ten-metre net that four fellow fishermen, together with him, had left in the ocean to trap fish.

Lililoandikwa halifutiki,’ he muttered under his dry breath as his calloused left palm wiped sweat from his wide brow. Literally translated, these words mean that ‘what God has written cannot be erased.’ In other words, if God had pre-determined that they would not get fish on that particular day, not even the best nets in the words could deliver fish to them.

Later that night after the Isha’a prayers, Mzee Hemed (Mzee is Swahili for old man) was expressionless as he sipped kahawa tungu (Swahili espresso). It was his favourite beverage and ordinarily, its very intake would have put him into a cheery mood. But tonight, just like the previous night and the night before that, fish was on his mind. Or rather, lack of fish.

‘I have been fishing for more than thirty years now,’ Mzee Hemed tells me in a voice so low that I find myself leaning forward on the small wooden table in order to catch his words better.

Musa the restaurant’s owner and waiter shouts from the counter a few metres away if we need refills of kahawa tungu.

I shake my head, eager to listen to the ageing fisherman.

He started fishing in the early eighties when I was less than ten years old. He is still fishing. But the similarities end there since back then, the Indian Ocean was bustling with fish.

‘I always used to find fish in the net.’ He has a faraway look in his glazed eyes, ‘always.’

‘But these days, it is as if the fish are playing hide and seek with us.’

Mzee Hemed is saying in simple words what science is now concluding through hard facts unearthed from years of research. Last year, scientists from the US, France and France wrote research paper that shed further light to the hide and seek game that Mzee Hemed is referring to.

The Paper was titled, ‘A reduction in marine primary productivity driven by rapid warming over the tropical Indian Ocean.’ The paper’s abstract noted that, ‘future climate projections suggest that the Indian Ocean will continue to warm driving this productive region into an ecological desert.’

To be continued…

Friday, 28 August 2015 00:00

The Day I met a Lobster

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I stared at the lobster in my hands as if it was an alien creature and not delicious seafood from the Indian Ocean. It was the tropical rock lobster, common on Africa’s East Coast. Its colourful outer exterior made it appear as if it was wearing one of those multi-colored coats that can be found in Nairobi’s vast Kikomba market, the paradise of second-hand clothes.

Before that moment, I had never seen a live lobster. Actually, before that moment, my mind couldn’t quite register how a lobster looks like. This was totally understandable, since for all my life, lobsters had never been on the dining table of any house or restaurant that I had visited. These dining tables instead consisted of beef and chicken all the time; lamb from time to time; ostriches and gazelles, a couple of times at Nairobi’s famous Carnivore restaurant.

But lobster? Nope. Nunca. In fact, if you mention lobster to many of my friends, they will react with a puzzled – lob what?

The journey that brought the lobster into my hands had been long for both of us.

For me, it started in the small coastal town of Kipini. When I arrived there sometimes in 2006, I was mesmerized by its coastal tropical thrills.

‘That’s in Kenya?!’ I exclaimed to Caroline my Canadian former UNEP colleague and good friend.

‘You didn’t expect an army of palm trees to line up along a Kenyan road?’ She replied in her usual witty way.

On either side of the gravel road, tall and medium sized palm trees stood silently, as if granting us a guard of honour. Behind them were other delicious trees that I had never seen before.

 

We were standing in the middle of a packed bus that had picked us from Garsen town about two hours earlier after we had waited for two hours before it finally hurtled into the dusty rustic town.

‘Wow’ this one word escaped my lips when I stared at the waters of River Tana gushing into the Indian Ocean. The brownish water that is a mixture of both salty and fresh water is known as brackish water.

Watching Kenya’s longest river finally emptying itself into the vast Ocean left me with a deep appreciation of nature’s astounding marvels.

Although that particular trip ended without any encounter with lobsters, it left in me a passion for Kipini that drew me back there a few years later when I learnt that Kipini was also a popular breeding ground for lobsters. By then I had founded Lamu Sea Food together with Mulhat my close friend from Lamu. Her tenacious and beautiful spirit became the young business’s greatest asset.

‘I just dive into the water and grab trapped lobsters,’ Faraj answered when I asked him how he fished for lobsters. His white beard and calm demeanour gave him the appearance of a wise aquatics professor as opposed to a seasoned lobster fisherman who had been at the game for two decades and counting.

Faraj was one of Kipini’s dozens of wavuvi wa lobster (lobster fishermen). They had an uncanny, almost magical ability to hold their breaths for extended periods of times as they dove into the salty waters to pluck lobsters from their hiding places.

‘This will cost you only eight hundred shillings ($8) per kilo’ Faraj said as he held out one particularly large tropical rock lobster towards me, ‘and that is a special price because you are a good-hearted person.’

A bad word almost jumped out of my mouth although I had just been praised as goodhearted.  

Instead of the curse, I settled for an exclamation, ‘what!’

I shook my head even as I smiled, ‘that’s too much my brother. That’s too much. Too much.’

Faraj frowned as if wounded that his generous offer was being tossed in the hot sand beneath our feet, ‘walk around this beach and if you are lucky to find lobsters, you will have to pay at least one thousand shillings ($10) per kilo!’

Earlier that morning, Kaimu my contact person in Kipini had given me a crash lesson in bargaining.

‘Always start as low as you can,’ the soft-spoken Kaimu had told me.

‘I will be buying lobsters from you for a long long time Faraj,’ I said, trying to entice him to lower the eight hundred shillings further.

But he artfully leaned on religion to rebuff me, ‘only God knows if we shall be there tomorrow, so let’s talk about today.’

 I ended up buying all the 33 kilos that Faraj at 800 shillings per kilo. He didn’t budge. But I was thankful that I had got a good bargain because just as he had said with a frown, the lobsters were hard to come by and if you did stumble on a lobster catch, you would have to part with 1,000 shillings per kilo.

That evening when I was back at Yellow House, my Lamu Island house, I discovered to my horror that in Maine, dealers buy lobsters for an average of $2! How is it that my fellow dealers in the world’s sole superpower were buying lobsters for prices that were four times cheaper than mine?

 

Read the answer to this last question in an upcoming article next week Lobsters – More Expensive in Kenya than the US

Friday, 21 August 2015 00:00

Lamu Port's Regional Dynamics

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On 2nd March 2012, the leaders of Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia launched the Lamu Port and Lamu Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) project. This event took place on the very spot where the Lamu port component of the project will be constructed.

Other components of the multi-billion dollar project includes: an oil pipeline from Juba, South Sudan to Lamu; a railway and superhighway link to South Sudan and Ethiopia, three ultra-modern resort cities and airports at Lamu; Oil refineries in Lamu and the northern Kenya towns of Isiolo and Lokichogio; a High Grand Falls along the River Tana for Hydropower generation and a fibre-optic cable constructed to link Lamu to Juba and Addis Ababa. In as far as transport is concerned, this project seeks to open up the horn of Africa region to central and western Africa.

More than one year after the launch, the LAPSSET project is not really on the runway ready for takeoff, but rather in the hangar of inaction. Even the multi-storey building that will serve as the administrative center of the project is still under construction, with minimal work going on. 

What happened? Or more accurately, why isn’t there much happening? Possible answers can be found in a trip recently taken by Kenya’s president Kenyatta. On May 23rd, he visited South Sudan for a few hours, en route to the Africa Union’s Jubilee celebrations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While in South Sudan, he held a bilateral meeting with South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir. The meeting resolved to fast-track the implementation of LAPSSET. This was a tacit admission that the project had slowed down to barely a crawl.

Addressing a press conference in Juba after the bilateral meeting, President Kenyatta said, ‘the same applies to the pipeline project. We have agreed that this is an area where we need to tackle the funding jointly together and to carry the project as a joint Kenya South Sudan project. A problem in Kenya is a problem in South Sudan. A problem in South Sudan is a problem for Kenya.’

Indeed, the Horn of Africa’s problems and solutions are often as similar as they are inter-connected. Nothing illustrates this interrelation more than the LAPSSET project.

The Horn of Africa and indeed, the entire Eastern and Central Africa has never ever seen a project of such regional magnitude. This is a first. As is true of many firsts, teething problems and suspicions already abound. Even within Kenya, political interests and machinations may have already impacted this vast Lamu project negatively.

For several months after it was launched, this project was based in the then Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s office. But it has now been turned into a parastatal known as LAPSSET Corridor Development Authority. The new Authority will be managed by a board comprising of a chairman appointed by the president, Principal Secretaries of select government ministries and five other members appointed by the president. Parastatal in Kenya have a history of under-performance mostly because their quasi-government status doesn’t always work to their advantage.

The central challenge of this new parastatal will be to overcome internal operational bottlenecks while at the same time managing external relations and input of other countries that are key stakeholders in the project.

This other countries will only be fully pacified through constant reassurance that the project is truly meeting their economic and political interests. It is telling that South Sudan was the first African country that President Kenyatta visited for bilateral talks after his election. His only other visit was to Tanzania for an East Africa Community meeting.

But even as Kenya reaches out to South Sudan, it is anyone’s guess how Sudan will react to the eventual loss of oil transit revenue that will shift to Kenya’s basket. In the same vein, how will security and peace be affected by any eventual Kenya and South Sudan deal?

In January 2012, South Sudan had shut down oil production because of transit fee dispute with Sudan. This dispute was later resolved prompting US President Barack Obama to crow, ‘I welcome the announcement by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel of an agreement between Sudan and South Sudan on oil revenue. This agreement opens the door to a future of greater prosperity for the people of both countries.’

Catherine Ashton, the European Union policy chief also weighed in from Brussels with a statement that noted how the agreement ‘will contribute to the economic viability of both countries and the welfare of their people. I commend both Governments for the spirit of compromise that made this agreement possible and hope that it will now be extended to other outstanding issues, including borders, Abyei and security arrangements.’

As was noted by President Obama, the Africa Union was quite involved in resolving the oil dispute. It constituted a high level implementation panel that was chaired by former South Africa president Thabo Mbeki. It included Pierre Buyoya and Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar, former presidents of Burundi and Nigeria respectively.

All these influential leaders, together with world’s sole superpower and the European Union threw their hats in the ring of the burgeoning oil dispute and either helped in resolving it or took an active interest in the outcome. It may be essential for similar influential focus to be directed at the LAPSSET project, particularly the oil pipeline component o the project. Such focus would seek to preempt any potential oil fallout from undermining the project.

Interests of the pastoral communities and indigenous communities that live along vast sections of the transport corridor will also have to be taken into account. Already many of the communities like the Bajun, Boni, Orma and Wasanye are already up in arms, stating that they are being treated as marginal beneficiaries and not key stakeholders.  

 

Indeed, this grand Lamu project still has a long way to go and the local people must be a fundamental part of the journey.   

Sunday, 16 August 2015 00:00

Kenya's Dolphin Island

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Kishuku!’ Rehema’s little seven year old sister cried excitedly as she raced from their reed-thatched houses towards the beach.

Within minutes, the word, ‘kishuku,’ had spread throughout the sandy alleys of Wasini village, depositing dozens of kids on the sea shore to have a look at kishuku, as dolphin is known in Swahili.

Rehema worked with Sasafrica, a communications company whose office was hosted at Wasini Mpunguti Lodge, the biggest hotel and restaurant in Wasini Island. She gazed out of the office window and saw as children stood by the shoreline clapping their tiny hands and screaming happily as two dolphins jumped in and out of the water in their famous arc motions.

Children in Wasini Island grow up knowing that dolphins are human friends that should be celebrated. Local myth says that dolphins will rescue a drowning person only if that person has never tasted dolphin meat. But if that person has previously feasted on dolphin meat, then dolphins will not race to the rescue.

Wasini Island is one of the few places on Africa’s east coast where dolphins can be easily spotted as they dot the ocean surface with their famous arc. So common is this dolphin dance that Wasini can easily be designated as the dolphin island. These fish mammals are just part of Wasini’s immense marine ecosystem treasure.

As kishuku dives back into the warm salty waters, it dances gently, as if experiencing a soft tremor. Its big eyes are alert, scanning the vast blueness that it calls home. A number of dazzling fish species catch its eye.

Over there, next to a coral that resembles an anthill is a parrot fish, known in Swahili as pono. It is rowing its side fins lazily, in no hurry to get to wherever it is going. What a colorful fish! Its yellow stripes and yellow circles are set on a green background that is dotted with blue patches here and there. Around the black pupils of its eyes are shades of orange that give the impression of eye mascara.

Kishuku shook his tail in wonder. That parrot fish kept changing its colors! Indeed, it is a fish that can even change its gender in the course of its lifetime.

It is easy to spot these colorful fishes because they inhabit shallow waters and are not big fans of the deeps. Their mouth resembles a parrot’s beak, hence its name. This mouth sometimes takes on a sneering semblance that irritates kishuku. For the ten years that he has lived in these Wasini waters, kishuku has seen hundreds of parrot fish, with some as big as five feet.

They feed on rocks and once these rocks are done with their digestive system, they are excreted as sand. A large parrot fish can produce as much as one ton of sand a year! Wasini’s parrot fishes should probably get some royalty from the island’s sandy beaches!

Kishuku is one of at least nine dolphin species that roam the waters of Wasini. He swam rapidly past the lazy parrot fish and almost bumped into several cuttlefish. The one in the lead had an unhappy look on his face. He seemed to be in a bad mood. Kishuku watched in amazement and amusement as the cuttlefish leader changed his color from a deep brown to a dark yellow! Indeed, this fish are the chameleon of the sea.

Kishuku swam on past the chameleon fish. Unlike the cuttlefish, he was in a good mood.

Wasini’s dolphins are free to roam wherever and whenever they want. This is why kishuku decided to approach the shallower waters of the beach. He needed a breath of fresh air, so with agile speed, he shot upwards, upwards, upwards and upwards until he burst beyond the ocean surface and lingered in the air, eliciting more shouts from children who always happened to see him whenever he strolled upwards.

A few minutes after tumbling back into the water, Kishuku came face to face with a large squid whose many arms were flailing around. More specifically, he seemed to be waving his eight arms and two tentacles. He was probably late for a date and had found his lady gone. Squid can change their color and patters nearly three dozen times. They therefore have a wide portfolio of designer looks that add beautiful intensity to the ocean deeps.

Wasini Island’s Wavumba people consider squids to be aphrodisiacs and milk enhancers for lactating mothers. In this regard, both men and women love to devour them but for totally different reasons!

Squids are declining, partly because of ever-increasing demand and partly because of rising temperatures, especially in the case of the big fin reef squid.

Before kishuku could count to three, the designer-clad squid had already sped off. It moves by jet propulsion and can move at speeds of up to 40km/hr. It would definitely give Usain Bolt a run for his money!

The racing squid flashed by the king himself. Kingfish. They prefer shallow coastal waters that are near the shore hence Wasini fishermen never have to go too far to capture them. This particular kingfish had the regal airs of a king – it was nearly half a metre long and had a smooth glistening texture. Just a short distance behind it was a group of little mackerels.

Just about the size of a big palm, little mackerels are as portable as they are potent. They are a major diet in Wasini and can often be found resting in sizzling oil all across small kitchens on the island.

Wasini Island is approximately 100 kilometres south of Mombasa, Kenya’s largest coastal city. It is a small island – five kilometers long and one kilometer wide. But what it lacks in size, it makes up in depth of culture and marine ecosystem versatility.

At the heart of this versatility are the gentle dolphins that make it Kenya’s Dolphin Island.    

Sunday, 16 August 2015 00:00

Namibia's Whistling Dolphins

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Imagine if you had no name that was unique to you. How would your friends and family refer to you? What if all of us had no names? Life would definitely be complicated and chaotic! Nature has spared dolphins from such chaos by giving each dolphin a unique whistle that it can be identified by.

Dolphins are the teddy bears of the ocean – they are all gentle and cuddly. This is why humans swim with dolphins all the time and even exchange ‘handshakes’ with them by clasping their fins which they emerge head-first from the water. Some of these playful dolphins can be found in Namibia’s Walvis Bay. This coastal town is a natural deepwater harbor and its name literally means ‘whale bay.’

Walvis Bay’s dolphins are so fond of humans that they can even be seen in waters that are less than thirty metres deep. This reinforces the age-old myths of dolphins having special relationships with humans. They may not have unique names and birth certificates like humans, but just like homo sapiens, they do have unique identities that are expressed through their whistles.

In 2013, five researchers from Marine Mammal Science conducted a comprehensive research on the unique dolphin whistles and concluded that, ‘common bottlenose dolphins use individually distinctive signature whistles which are highly stereotyped and function as contact calls.’ This capacity for individual recognition further enhances the social instincts and habits of dolphins. They like hanging out together and their distinctive whistles help them to do so. The acoustic signals of the whistles travel quite well through water and provide a social networking whistle platform akin to Facebook.

Tess, Victor, Elizabeth, Michelle, Tadamichi and Vincent are the researchers that took a front row seat in the Atlantic and paid close attention to the distinct whistles of Namibia’s dolphins. They found out that the signature whistles last between 0.10 and 4.11 seconds. This discovery shows that unlike some humans, dolphins don’t waste too much time when introducing themselves. They just dive in and whistle their identity with brevity.

The common bottlenose dolphins that the research quintet focused on are not the only dolphins in Namibia’s waters.

Dolphins come in all shapes, sizes and species. Those that leap happily from Namibia’s water include: Humpback dolphin; Atlantic humpback dolphin; Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphin; rough-toothed dolphin and of course the good old bottlenose dolphins. What a weird name! You may exclaim about the latter.

Well, they are so called because their bodies are shaped like fancy wine bottles with their noses appearing like the bottles’ slender necks. After seeing them, one almost feels like uncorking them! Namibia is mostly home to the common bottlenose dolphin although their cousins, known as the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins also visit from time to time.

Unlike these visitors, the heaveside’s dolphins can be found shimmying and swimming all through Luderitz and Walvis Bay in Namibia. Interestingly, these heaveside’s dolphins are endemic to Namibia’s Benguela ecosystem.

You can search all over the world but you won’t see these smaller dolphins as they can only found in the vicinity of Namibia’s coastline. In the early nineteenth century, a captain known as Haviside took a specimen of the dolphin from Namibia to the United Kingdom where the dolphin specie was seen for the first time ever and consequently named after him, albeit in a corrupted form. Maybe they should be renamed Nujoma dolphins, after Sam Nujoma, Namibia’s first president or Frankie dolphins after Frankie Fredricks, the retired Namibian track and field star.

Because they tend to leave in waters that are less than 100 metres deep, heaveside dolphins dolphins can easily be spotted near Namibia’s shorelines in early mornings. What a way to face a new day in Namibia – with a beautiful sunrise and pretty dolphins.

Tourists gazing at Namibia’s dolphins sometimes see the king-sized bottlenose dolphins that at 11 feet, are three 3 longer than Sultan Kosen, the world’s tallest man. Seeing such gentle giants leaping into the air for a breath of fresh air is a sight that is straight from heaven.

Ironically, the heavenly sight of dolphins has the potential of making their lives a living hell. A 2011 research by researchers from South Africa, France and UK identified the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin and the Atlantic humpback dolphin as ‘the populations of highest conservation concern.’

According to IUCN, this concern hasn’t ballooned into a dire warning yet because, ‘despite ongoing threats to local populations, the species is widespread and very abundant (with a total population in excess of four million), and none of these threats is believed to be resulting in a major global population decline.’

 

The waters of Benguela ecosystem are not just special because of the playful dolphins but because they are a confluence of warm and cool waters and are thus swarming with fish. If you happen to take a dive into these deeps, you will find a vast array of fish including hakes, horse mackerels and pilchards. The sights of these fish are not as strange as their names. Rather, they are dazzling as they either run away from or alongside dolphins. These gentle giants are happily carnivorous and often retreat to the deeps to find a good meal of smaller fish. As they do so, their famous whistles course through the waters.