The Marine Protected Areas of Kenya- Part I

I am not against coral reef restoration, not at all, but one of the catchiest articles I have ever read regarding the conservation of coral reefs was by Vivienne Evans, “Coral reef restoration; Is it worth it?” A question posed in the article that left me in awe was, “when did coral restoration by artificial means – instead of re-creating the best conditions for nature to do it by itself – start to be perceived as the most viable solution?  And should we continue to regard it as such?” A very challenging and thought-provoking piece of article!

Image of a reef in Diani, by Diving the Crab, Diani Beach Kenya

Globally, coastal ecosystems and associated resources have undergone immense threats due to climate change, over-exploitation, coastal development, population growth and pollution among others. Even though corals may bleach for a number of reasons, climate change is the leading cause to the loss of coral reefs around the globe. Vivienne Evans’ article discusses the most practical solutions to slow the loss of coral reefs by Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and managing the way we fish. Several studies have shown MPAs have had clear impacts in the increase of fish abundance and diversity, as well as live coral cover. The increase in fish abundance helps improve the health of the reefs. Healthy fish populations allow reefs to withstand and recover from climatic events like coral bleaching.

Furthermore, as Vivienne Evans vividly puts it in her article, “once a reef is destroyed, even the most sophisticated and expensive restoration methods available cannot restore it to its former glory.” I’d go on and on about this article but I think we can all agree that in all forms of marine conservation, protection is always the best way to recovery!

Acropora, image by AfricanMecca Safaris

So this brings us to the question, what is a Marine Protected Area?

To simply put it, like protected areas on land, an MPA is a designated area at sea where the government has restricted or placed limits on human activities to allow the area to be as natural as possible with time for marine life to thrive.

Ever wondered what reefs were like centuries ago? Try visiting an MPA and you’ll have an epiphany of what reefs looked like before the world was alarmed about climate change or way before human destructive fishing methods. It is said, “entering an MPA is like going back in time and seeing what reefs were like before humans.” Pristine, almost impeccable stunning, vibrant coral reefs and you can feel every minute of excitement!  

Mombasa Marine National Park, image by Maasai Mara National Reserve

MPAs come in a variety of forms. To name a few, we have marine reserves, fully protected marine areas, no-take zones, marine sanctuaries, ocean sanctuaries, marine parks and locally managed marine areas.

Kenya has been in the forefront in establishing MPAs. The protected areas in Kenya are categorized either as parks or reserves, both on land and at sea. The difference between Marine National Reserves and Marine National Parks is that in the latter, there is complete protection of natural resources and the only activities allowed are tourism and research. On the other hand, in reserves, certain human activities are allowed under specific conditions. In the Marine Protected Areas of Kenya, fishing and all other forms of extraction are prohibited in Marine National Parks and only fishing using traditional and non-destructive gears and techniques are allowed in Marine National Reserves. Extraction is allowed on the rest of the reef, which are referred to as unprotected areas.

The establishment and management of these MPAs is managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) who is the appointed government wildlife protection organisation (or agency) in Kenya, as well as by other key stakeholders. The MPA network in Kenya protects coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangrove areas and a range of intertidal habitats including mudflats, beaches, and rocky shorelines.

Stay tuned for the next article where I look at some of the Kenya’s MPA’s!


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