NAIROBI – Ahmed Abubakar has nostalgic memories of growing up at a serene village located at the edge of Kenya’s coastal county of Kwale when fishing in the deep waters of the Indian ocean was a prized occupation.

The proud scion of a renowned fishing clan started interacting with marine life at a tender age when he accompanied older male relatives for an expedition in the deep sea to scout for tilapia, a cherished local delicacy. 

Abubakar’s pride with his fishing heritage has lately suffered an onslaught amid rapid depletion of marine habitats like mangrove forests and coral reefs in the Kenyan south coast linked to climate change, pollution, and human encroachment. 

Currently a member of a grassroots organization that is restoring degraded mangroves and coral reefs on the shores of the Indian Ocean, Abubakar is convinced that his new calling will transform the livelihoods of local fishermen. “We have come together as a fishing community to restore the health of the marine ecosystem whose degradation posed a serious threat to our survival,” Abubakar said during a recent interview. 

His grassroots conservation lobby has partnered with state agencies to plant seagrass and mangrove trees, in order to boost the ecological health of fish breeding grounds.

According to Abubakar, seagrasses that are now flourishing have provided a steady supply of nutrients to a wide range of marine life including fish, turtles, crabs, and seahorses, besides acting as a buffer against climatic shocks. 

He noted that over the years, the depletion of mangrove forests through harvesting for timber and charcoal had escalated the vulnerability of coastal communities to vagaries of weather, disease, poverty, and hunger. Abubakar said that as a result of concerted efforts to restore mangrove forests and coral reefs to their former pristine status, local fishermen and subsistence farmers have reaped some benefits including regulated weather patterns and increased fish stock. 

“We have benefited from improved breeding of fish thanks to restoration of these coral reefs and mangrove swamps. Our families are now food and nutrients secure,” said Abubakar.

Salim Ahmed, a middle-aged fisherman whose ancestors settled decades ago at the tranquil Wasini Island, located at the Kenyan south coast, confessed that his decision to take up conservation of mangrove forests in his backyard was informed by the need to secure a brighter future for his offspring. 

The father of four noted that bleaching of coral reefs and illegal harvesting of mangroves had depleted fish stocks, thereby escalating malnutrition and income losses. According to Ahmed, incidents of flooding and disease outbreaks had become more frequent and severe due to the destruction of marine habitats that are reliable buffers against extreme weather events.

“But we are hopeful the ongoing efforts to plant seagrass and increase tree cover in the mangrove forests where fish breed will enhance our resilience to harsh weather besides restoring our livelihoods,” said Ahmed. He revealed that more than 30 local youth have taken up conservation of mangrove forests thanks to support from the central government and international donors.

Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry has partnered with an autonomous agency, Coast Development Authority, to promote community-driven rehabilitation of degraded marine ecosystems. Mohamed Keinan, the managing director of Coast Development Authority said that mobilizing local communities to plant seagrass and mangrove trees was informed by the need to promote climate resilience, food security, and incomes. 

He noted that restoring the health of coral reefs and mangrove forests has unleashed positive ecological, health, and economic outcomes to fishermen and farmers along the Kenyan south coast, which neighbors Tanzania. 

“These vital habitats like mangrove forests are an integral part of coastal livelihoods hence our desire to protect them from further damage,” said Keinan.He revealed that over 2 km of coral reef has been restored in the Kenyan south coast even as authorities assist fisherfolk and farmers to plant mangrove tree seedlings in their backyard.

Keinan said that once the marine ecosystem in the coast region is restored to its renowned pristine form, tourism and fisheries will bounce back to life, boosting food security and foreign exchange earnings in the country. Muhiyadin Musa, the chairman of Wasini Beach Management Unit, a local conservation lobby noted that coral reef restoration has improved breeding of a variety of fish species and crustaceans that are local delicacies.

“The ongoing planting of seagrass and mangrove trees has really benefited local fisherfolk through increased fish stock. Likewise, more tourists are trooping here to enjoy the tranquility,” said Musa.  – Xinhua News.