‘The Mangrove Restoration Eco-project,’ is an awareness raising restoration programme which led me to win The Stem Prize 2022. It focuses on educating the public about mangroves and restoring lands that were previously thriving with mangrove trees by planting more propagules. I’m also teaching my community about alternative ways they can sustain their livelihoods other than depending on mangrove wood. I believe that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one first step, and through this initiative, I see myself and my community bringing back the thriving and amazing mangrove ecosystems that used to exist here in Mombasa.
The United Nations Environment Programme’s aphorism, “a healthy mangrove ecosystem can mean the difference between life and death during a disaster,” not only embraces the whole picture of the coastal security antique, but is an urgent truth that people need to understand. These ecosystems could not be more important. Spending my teenage life growing up on the shores of the Indian Ocean has given me first-hand experience of the importance of mangroves. Our protection from climate change disasters such as ocean floods, erosions, tsunamis, high tides and high winds solely depend on these ecosystems’defence mechanisms.
Mangroves are a vital part of the coastal ecosystem. Being one of nature’s most effective tools in the fight against climate change, mangroves make coasts more resilient to disasters, they are essential for the health and productivity of coastal communities. If you have a chance to visit these ecosystems, you will realize how rich they are in diverse biodiversity. From insects to birds to fish, crabs and shrimps. This reiterates how helpful and important these trees are not only as a community but also to our environment space. To me, they are indeed symbols of resilience and hope. They are my happy place because every time I walk through them, I feel like I can breathe again.
Despite growing recognition of the value and significance of mangrove forests, they are still being destroyed in many areas of the Indian Ocean for a variety of socioeconomic reasons. Over the years, the high dependency on mangroves by communities along Kenya’s coastline has resulted in massive degradation of mangrove forests, exposing communities to danger. The extensive logging provides mangrove wood, which is a low-cost, strong, and long-lasting building material. In fact, the majority of the beach hotels that sprang up in Kenya during the tourism boom used mangrove wood as a building material. This wood is also used in coastal communities to build boats and houses. The majority of local people depend on these trees for sustaining their livelihoods, and this has led to massive loss of these ecosystems over the years. About 20% of mangrove cover has been destroyed due to unsustainable harvesting.
Governments are clearing mangrove lands so that they can set up infrastructure to expand urbanization for agriculture. This is a big threat to mangrove ecosystems. As well as this, big corporations are clearing land to set up their businesses, whilst plastic pollution continues to choke the trees. Communities lack the knowledge about the importance of mangroves and this has shone a light on an important education gap that needs to be filled.
We have an obligation to protect these amazing trees. I have always believed that collective action is one of the surest ways to bring about positive change. Falling in love with these trees, conserving them and teaching my fellow community members why we need to protect them and restore those that have been destroyed has been a journey that I am super proud of. It has not been all roses but wonders have been made.
We cannot have a healthy and safe community here on the coast if we cannot take care of these ecosystems. It is our duty and responsibility to see our mangrove environment thrive again. A sigh of hope is restored and our defence is assured.
Indeed, the mangroves are worthy adversaries.