Exploring Mida Creek

A blend of red, orange and yellow paints the sky whilst the setting sun casts silvery glitters on the vast expanse of Mida Creek, a tidal inlet in Kilifi County. On the beach, hundreds of silhouettes of birds move with the constant ebb and flow of waves. A suspended boardwalk cutting through the dense thicket of mangrove forest completes the charm of this special place tucked within Kenya’s North Coast.

All around the boardwalk, which opens up to the sea at the end, is a rich concentration of mangroves. Of Africa’s nine species of mangroves, Watamu’s Mida Creek boasts of eight, making it an important breeding and feeding ground for marine species.

“Mida Creek is a place rich in biodiversity. This creek attracts tourists and researchers who come to learn more and study the complex marine ecosystem,” says Ali Bakari, the chairperson of Mida Creek Conservation and Awareness Group.

From the boardwalk, one can discover the many aspects of Mida Creek: mud and sand flats, open shallow waters and mangrove forests. It is these diverse habitats and the birds and marine life they sustain that give Mida Creek global recognition.

Together with the adjacent Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, Mida Creek is part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems that promote the reconciling of conservation of biodiversity with sustainable use.

The mangrove channels form important feeding and breeding grounds for various fish species, including parrotfish, rabbitfish, jacks, snappers, groupers, emperors and barracudas. The creek is also hosts thousands of migratory and resident birds, including regionally and globally threatened species. Mida Creek is designated as an Important Bird Area for hosting large congregations or gatherings of migrating birds from Europe and Asia

With binoculars, one might observe Dimorphic Egrets, Lesser Crested Terns and Roseate Terns feeding. Between September and May, one can also spot migrant birds like Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Whimbrel, Grey Plover, and Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers. Mida Creek is famous for hosting Crab Plovers, white and black shorebirds that nest in Somalia.

In the water, marine life includes varieties of seagrass and seaweeds that provide food and habitat for other aquatic species. Among the mangroves, one can spot fiddler crabs with one big bright claw carpeting the sand.

Nature Kenya Coast Regional Coordinator Francis Kagema explains the need to keep the creek’s environment healthy to support its large number of marine species.

“To sustainably conserve the creek, we rolled out livelihood empowerment programs that involved building capacity of local communities to enable them to tap from tourism and conserve Mida Creek,,” Kagema says.

The Mida Creek Conservation and Awareness Group is the area’s Site Support Group (SSG). The group conducts conservation activities, including site monitoring and restoration, awareness creation and environmental education. It also runs income-generating activities in the form of a restaurant and boat rides for visitors. Nature Kenya provided the group with life jackets and other marine safety gear.

“Our group is actively engaged in various conservation activities,” notes Bakari. “These include beach cleanups as well as the planting of mangroves in degraded areas. This creek plays a critical role both in conservation and in supporting our livelihoods.”

Collecting seeds to restore Mount Kenya forest

John Mwithimbu spreads out the freshly collected heap of Syzygium guineense seeds to dry on a mat outside Imenti Forest station offices. The sun is blazing hot and the Community Forest Association members are streaming in for a brief meeting. As is the norm, each is carrying a heap of wild seeds collected from the forest. The seeds are part of the many varieties of indigenous tree seeds aired out to dry every day at the forest station.

Collecting wild seeds for propagation in Mt. Kenya forests is part of the ambitious initiative by Nature Kenya targeted at restoring degraded parts of the forest – a critical water tower.

“Every member collects seeds from the forest, which are then dried out and propagated into seedlings. The seedlings are planted in degraded parts which have been marked,” explains Mwithimbu.

Once the seeds are dried, CFA members sow the seeds in nurseries. The germinated tree seedlings are tended by CFA members who have mastered the art of tree seedling propagation.  Mature seedlings are sold to individuals and organizations for replanting.

The seed collection initiative also seeks to address the challenges of sustainability and viability of seedlings that do well in Mt. Kenya forests. Initially, restoration initiatives in Mt. Kenya relied on purchasing seeds from elsewhere. This posed a challenge of low growth rates, as some tree species sourced from outside did not do well. Now, community members collect seeds directly from the forest.

Sebastian Kiogora, the chairperson of the CFA, said that wild seed collection, introduced by Nature Kenya to involve communities in sustainable efforts to restore the forests, is also a revenue-earner. ” CFA members get proceeds from selling these seedlings to individuals and organizations.”

On the other side of Mt. Kenya, members of Hombe Community Forest Association are also documenting the progress of their conservation efforts. At Hombe, tens of nursery beds alongside beehives dangling from trees tell the story of a restoration initiative targeting 6,200 hectares of degraded forests in Mt. Kenya.

“We collect these seeds as members and propagate them. Besides restoration, it also generates revenue because we are integrating it with bee-keeping,” says Mary Muriithi, treasurer of Hombe Community Forest Association.

“The seeds we used to purchase failed to grow and through training from Nature Kenya, we started collecting our own from the forests and propagating them. When we do this ourselves, we get to know the specific sites where certain trees grow,” says Louise Ndegwa, secretary of the group.

Milka Musyoki, a community liaison officer from Nature Kenya, said communities play a key role in restoration of the water tower, by providing seedlings and removing the aggressive Lantana camara which is spreading within the forest.

“While the communities help to restore the forest, they also have to benefit. Activities that generate money include tree nurseries and bee-keeping,” she said.