KBA in Focus: Masinga Reservoir

By Timothy Mwinami and Joshua Sese

Masinga Reservoir Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) is the largest water impoundment along the upper Tana River. It is part of the Seven Forks Hydroelectric Power Generation Scheme aimed at harnessing the water resources of the Tana River for multiple purposes, including power generation, irrigation, and water supply. The Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KENGEN) and Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (TARDA) jointly manage the dam. The reservoir is shared by Embu and Machakos counties, and borders the Mwea National Reserve KBA to the north-east.

The KBA is a critical ecological habitat, home to a wide range of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. It hosts breeding colonies of African Darter, cormorants and grebes, among other water birds. The Martial Eagle, a globally endangered bird, can be seen perching on the tall trees adjacent to the dam. The Hinde’s Babbler, a vulnerable and range-restricted Kenyan endemic bird, has been recorded in the Acacia trees on the eastern shores of the reservoir.

Despite its importance, the KBA faces threats from increasing human population in adjacent areas. Unregulated subsistence fishing is widespread in the dam. Gill-net fishing has been a major threat to diving birds, particularly the African Darter. Poor land use in cultivated areas nearby has led to siltation and eutrophication from fertilizer runoff. Although Hinde’s Babbler and Martial Eagle are present at the dam, data on their conservation status and population trends remain scanty.

Addressing the conservation challenges facing the KBA requires continuous monitoring, adaptive management strategies, and collaboration among stakeholders, including government agencies, local communities, and environmental organizations. Discussions between Nature Kenya, KENGEN and TARDA are ongoing to safeguard the site and its wildlife, and encourage communities living adjacent to the reservoir to appreciate the KBA’s ecosystem services. Like Masinga, six other dams along the Tana River host important biodiversity that needs to be identified, monitored and conserved.