Key Biodiversity Area in Focus: Sabaki River Mouth

The Athi-Galana-Sabaki River is the second longest and one of the two perennial rivers draining into the Indian Ocean in Kenya. The Sabaki River Mouth (SRM) – where the Athi-Galana-Sabaki River pours into the Indian Ocean north of Malindi town in Kilifi County – is an estuary with sandbanks, mudflats, dunes, freshwater pools, marshes and mangroves, presenting a unique ecosystem and habitat for diverse flora and fauna. 

Sabaki River Mouth is among the 67 designated Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) in Kenya. An important habitat for resident and migratory shorebirds, the estuary is home to over 240 bird species. The estuary’s turbid coastal waters are an important nursery ground for crustaceans and fish, while its sandy shores on both sides are breeding grounds for turtles. Different species of mangroves dominate its peripheral mudflats. Crocodiles, hippos and antelopes also live in the area. 

The estuary provides vital ecosystem services beneficial to people, like filtering pollutants and acting as a storm buffer. It is a source of livelihood for the local communities. Fishing and ecotourism are among the livelihood activities the communities are engaged in. 

Despite its invaluable ecological and economic importance, Sabaki River Mouth faces many hazards, including sand harvesting, fishing with illegal gear, illegal mangrove pole harvesting, discharge of solid waste and effluent, encroachment and land grabbing. These threats impact water quality, biodiversity and vegetation, disrupting the estuary’s ecosystem. 

A number of conservation actions are underway to safeguard the Sabaki River Mouth. They include the devopment of the River Sabaki Estuary Management Plan 2022-2032 led by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) in collaboration the Kilifi County Government, Nature Kenya, and other stakeholders. The Sabaki River Conservation and Development Organization (SARICODO) – site support group (SSG) for Sabaki River Mouth – conducts annual waterbird counts in partnership with A Rocha Kenya and the National Museums of Kenya. SARICODO is also engaged in mangrove restoration and environmental awareness creation. Volunteers from the group regularly patrol the estuary for illegal activities.