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Kenya Forest Service embarks on the preparation of a National Mangroves Forest Management Plan

By Dedan G. Ndiritu

Mangrove forest
The Kenyan coastline is about 600 kilometers in length with distinctive features such as an almost continuous fringing coral reef.  Mangrove forest form a big to small patches along the coast relative to availability of suitable conditions required for their proper development.  The total area of mangrove cover is estimated at 54,000 ha spreads over 18 forest formations along the coast. 

The most extensive patch is in Lamu and Tana river counties containing more than 70% of the total mangrove forest area to the North of Mombasa (34,000 ha).  Other smaller and isolated patches of mangroves are found in Kilifi – 1725 ha, Mida and Mtwapa creeks, Gazi bay, Funzi-Shirazi, and around Vanga.

There are nine mangrove species found in Kenya which follow a typical zonation pattern.  Sonneratia alba grows closest to the low water line, followed mainly by Rhizophora mucranata, then comes Bruguiera gymnorrhiza, Ceriops tagal, Avicennia marina, Lumnitzera racemosa and Heritiera litoralis respectively. Other mangrove species include Xylocarpus granatum and Xylocarpus mollucensis.


Mangrove Values
Mangrove forests provide goods and services that are of economic, ecological and environmental values to the people.  Due to the high productivity, mangrove forests offer an enormous contribution to the food chain that supports the coastal fisheries. Mangroves also provide important permanent and temporary habitats for a large number of marine and terrestrial fauna.  Marine fauna commonly found in mangroves included mollusks (such as crabs and prawns), a wide range of fish and of course, and the saltwater crocodile.  A wide range of terrestrial fauna is also found in mangroves and includes insects, snakes, frogs, and mammals. Mangroves offer coastal protection against erosion and other damages caused by storm.  Mangroves have been confirmed as well to contribute towards carbon sequestration and therefore in combating climate change.  The Coastal community is highly dependent on the mangroves forest ecosystem. Mangroves are valuable for their wood and non-wood products: timber, building poles firewood, and charcoal, fishing stakes, local medicines, animal fodder and vegetables. Other uses of mangroves are listed in Table below:

 

Table: Economic uses of the mangrove species found in Kenya


It is important however to points out that being a renewable resource, mangroves are capable of providing goods and services indefinitely, only if managed effectively.


Threats to Mangrove
The threats facing Kenyan mangroves are outlines below;
a. Reduction in species diversity due to preferential extraction of certain species and of trees of given specification
b. Overexploitation of wood resources for building poles, fencing, fuel wood, fishing stakes, charcoal burning among others.
c. Pollution effects including oil spills, solid waste and sewage disposal.  Oils are harmful to the mangroves since they clog the breathing roots leading to suffocation.
d. Opening up beaches have led to chocking of mangroves through beach sand accumulation.
e. Conversion of mangrove forest areas to other uses including salt mining or even settlement.
f. Over reliance on mangrove products due  lack of suitable alternatives
g. Poverty has been outlined as the main contributing factors towards overexploitation of mangrove forests. 

Climate change and global warming 
Climate change is any long-term significant change in the “average weather” that a given region experiences.  These changes can be caused by dynamic processes on Earth, external forces including variations in sunlight intensity, and by human activities. Should there be a rise of sea level several scenarios have been put forward. These include:
•Mangroves will be damaged completely 
•Mangroves will not shift landward because of human encroachment at landward boundary
•Mangroves will expand twice towards land 
•There will be no significant threat

Development of mangrove forest management plan
Kenya Forest Service has embarked on the preparation of the first ever national mangrove forest management plan. By developing this management plan, KFS aims at reducing the loss and degradation of the mangrove ecosystem. This will in turn result in an increased availability of mangrove resources and in the maintenance of biodiversity, and ultimately, would contribute to the wellbeing of the coastal communities. This will greatly contribute to poverty alleviation and to the promotion of sustainable coastal development. It is critical to note that this is in line with Forest Act (2005) that aims at promoting sustainable forest management in the country.

The development of a management plan of a complex system such as mangroves requires a multi-disciplinary planning approach.   Consequently the plan development will be highly participative as a multitude of stake holders will be involved.

 

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