The marine waters of Kuruwitu in the Vipingo area of Kenya are a very important biodiversity hotspot along the Kenyan coast. The distinct coral reef ecosystem plays host to diverse coral assemblages populated by many species of ornamental fish and endangered sea turtles. The various ecosystems support many species of birds, fish, mammals, plants and other organisms, some of which are endemic.
The locally managed marine area (LMMA) is managed by the Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association (KCWA), a sustainable, multiple-use community managed marine conservation project on Kenya’s north coast supporting the environmental, socio-economic and cultural needs of all stakeholders. The KCWA was set up in 2003 by members of the Kuruwitu village community who were concerned about the degradation of their seas. Overfishing, climate change and uncontrolled fish and coral collection by the aquarium trade needed to be addressed before the marine ecosystem was damaged beyond repair.
The main driver of threats was identified as the overpopulation inn the area which led to overfishing. The KCWA was set up with the aim to ensure the community had a say in the management of the resources they depended on.
KCWA put together a management plan for sustainable fisheries alongside other alternative income generating enterprises. In 2005, after an in-depth consultations, the association voted to close off part of the lagoon area by setting aside a 30 hectare Marine Protected Area (MPA). This was the first coral based Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) in Kenya.
This small step, although initially difficult to take, has paid dividends with improved catches across the whole reef. 12 years on, the area has made a remarkable recovery. For example, the increase of 400% in fish biomass has been rapid and had not leveled after 6 years of closure.
The increase in both fish mass and biodiversity has also attracted ecotourists to the area; another stream of income for the community.
The association has also managed to stop all aquarium collection throughout most of the designated area, and has achieved records in turtle laying sites along the Kenyan coast introducing a compensation system given to the people that found the nest.
KCWA is now working with the local Beach Management Unit (BMU), the Kenyan State Department of Fisheries and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to develop a co-management plan covering 800 hectare area of ocean off the Kenyan coast. Through this co-management plan, KCWA is working with local fishermen to promote the sustainable use of marine resources, to reduce post-harvest losses and improve fish marketing systems.
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