Marine National Parks

The national marine parks and reserves were the focus of much attention in 1994-95. The primary objective was to improve management strategies and systems. KWS needed especially to resolve the difficulties of revenue collection, which were significantly impinging on wardens’ and rangers’ time, preventing them from exercising important conservation and control measures.

Community Assists Sea Turtle Conservation

The results of KWS’s November 1994 comprehensive aerial survey of sea mammals, sharkd and turtles have been used to formulate action plans for the conservation of various marine creatures including an increasingly rare sea mammal, the dugong, and the sea turtle. Watamu Marine National Park supports a relatively high population of turtles in comparison to Mombasa, Malindi and Diani. The turtle’s habit of laying eggs on land in unguarded nests makes both eggs and hatchings vulnerable to poaching and disturbance. The commercial value of the turtles’ eggs, shells and flipper skins as food, medicine and ornaments and the general popularity of their meat and oil makes them highly endangered. KWS, the Fisheries Department, the Coast Development Authority, the Baobab Trust and other interested parties formulated a turtle conservation project to sensitize local communities. Under this programme, local residents, especially fishermen, are asked to report and safeguard any nests they come across. An incentive scheme provides the person or group who reports a nest and protects it until the hatchlings return to the sea with a small financial reward.

In Mombasa and Diani the scheme has been enlarged to involve tourists and visitors. In these
areas, where disturbance is a threat, eggs are removed from their nests under KWS
supervision and taken to hatcheries at Baobab Farm, the Indian Ocean Beach Club or the Serena Beach Hotel.

As soon as the hatchlings are three or four days old and their still-soft shells about two inches in diameter, the young turtles are taken to a local hotel. Guests are then invited to donate money to support the turtle project. Each donor is entitled to take part in a release ceremony on the beach to safely launch the tiny but vigorous turtles on their journey to the sea. The revenue raised by the release programme is managed by a committee and used to
support monitoring and research and to fund the incentive programme.

KWS chose to implement a trial beach-management strategy in Mombasa Marine National Park. As the most popular marine park in terms of year-round visitor numbers, Mombasa has particular problems with revenue collection (no single entry is possible with a marine park, and the park has a 20-km access area). With 90% to 95% of management activities centred on revenue collection, the staff’s ability to conserve and manage wildlife was severely hampered.

Under the pilot scheme, the method of revenue collection changed. Rather than charge an entry fee, KWS introduced the concept of a bednight fee per visitor to the marine park/reserve area. The bednight fees are collected by local tourism operators according to the length of each visitor’s stay and turned over to KWS. Under the new system, which will be extended to the other marine parks and reserves, revenue collection is universal, and every visitor to the coast participates in conservation of the ecosystem.

The pilot scheme in Mombasa, which ran from October to December 1993, was extremely successful, yielding an increase in revenue of 80%. Most operators supported the beachmanagement fee system, particularly boatmen, who previously had to include the US$ 5 park-entry fee in their charges, leaving very little profit margin on the short-distance trips offered to tourists for a set fee. Beach traders also backed KWS’s efforts to eradicate beach harassment by unlicensed touts, which has begun among tourists. Isolated but strong opposition from certain hoteliers however, has delayed coastwide implementation of the beach-management fee scheme.

As a result, the importance of community relations and co-operation with both residents and operators once again came to the fore. Community education and the need to support tourism with educational materials, talks and visitor information were identified as priorities. KWS marine park wardens regularly attended local community forums and supported and assisted self-help projects that will conserve the ecosystem and benefit local people.

Once the beach-management fee issue is resolved, KWS will be freed to provide stronger enforcement of the marine code, preventing damage and erosion of coral and marine wildlife, exercising tighter control on water pollution and litter, and introducing more comprehensive conservation and ecotourism development services.