By TOM MWIRARIA
We left Gedi ruins and trudged for six kilometres to a narrow path in the midst of green foliage.
A squirrel or two darted across the path occasionally. Then palm trees started appearing, swaying gently as though waving us on.
My comrade halted abruptly, a sigh escaping his lips. Startled, I stopped right behind him. The heavy scent of the sea filled the air and I took a deep breath.
All was quiet as we stood rooted on the spot, taking in the breathtaking little eco-centre that stood in front of us — Mida in Watamu, Kilifi County.
Like a painting from a pearly brush in the pure lavender canvas, clouds loitered over Mida.
A view of Watamu beach. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA
We stride to the information kiosk where visitors were buying tickets. The ticket seller smiles broadly and raps his choreographed script about the importance of the Arabuko-Sokoke Schools and Ecotourism Scheme.
He wraps this up by asking us to enjoy our experience at the “internationally-acknowledged” mangrove and birds haven. The mangrove area together with the birds haven form the Unesco Biosphere Reserve.
We have several options of activities to indulge in — from canoeing across Mida Creek in a dug-out canoe, to strolling along the edge of teh mangrove forest in Dongo Kundu. But we choose to skywalk over Mida Creek at an affordable price of Sh300.
A Giriama traditional hut in Watamu, Kilifi County. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA
As we walk on the soft white stand, we stop occasionally to take photos before approaching the creek — a broad water tidal inlet with lush green mangroves on either side. The 260-metres bridge offers a memorable skywalk over birds’ nests.
Mangrove deforestation threatens the whole creek ecosystem according to Casper van de Geer, Conservation & Scientific Advisor at Local Ocean Conservation.
“Mangrove trees grow very slowly yet they are still being cut down in an unsustainable manner. Locals hack down mangroves for construction or for use as fuel. It takes decades for the tree to grow back.”
Casper Van de Geer adds that development in the areas close to or even inside the mangrove forests for short gains is a threat to the mangrove ecosystem.
As the day paves way to the twilight, the animal sounds dissipate as an orange hue falls over the ocean.
The greater flamingos in Watamu, Kilifi County. They are mostly found on the Indian Ocean coastline. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA
The greater flamingos are like jewels over Mida.
But the greater flamingo is classified as near-threatened.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the primary threats to flamingos are bacteria, toxins, pollution of the ocean and encroachment of their habitat.
Their main diet is crustaceans, molluscs, annelid worms, larval aquatic insects, small fish, adult terrestrial insects, the seeds or stolons of marsh grasses, algae, diatoms and decaying leaves.
The greater flamingo habitat is mainly mangrove swamps, tidal flats, and sandy islands in the intertidal zone.
Goats grazing in the picturesque Watamu in Kilifi County. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA
“We actively restore mangroves in Mida Creek in areas where they have been cut down. We collect propagules and plant them directly or place them in our mangrove nursery and transfer the seedlings when they are about half a metre high. We involve and train the local community on restoration of mangroves and its importance in food security, carbon fixation, climate change refuge for sessile marine creatures and habitat for honey making bees.
“Mangroves are beautiful and they offer other benefits called ecosystem services. Given that it would cost billions of shillings to grapple with the impact of mangrove loss, conservation is a pretty good deal,” explains Casper Van de Geer.
First Published by the Daily Nation