Lamu fishermen on Tuesday told a five-judge bench that the ongoing construction of the multibillion-shilling Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor had violated their rights to cultural life.
Mr Mohamed Somo, the Lamu Beach Management Unit chairman said the Lapsset project has destroyed the heritage of Lamu Island, which is a Unesco world heritage site.
He urged Justices John Mativo, Jaden Thuranira, Pauline Nyamweya, Joel Ngugi and Joseph Onguto sitting in Malindi to suspend the project until the government observes environmental remedies on protecting and conserving marine life.
Mr Somo said the ongoing dredging at the Indian Ocean in Lamu has destroyed mangrove forests, sea grass and coral reefs, which are fish and turtle nesting areas.
“This has led to a dwindling amount of fish, which has affected the cultural and socio-economic life of residents who solely depend on fishing for their livelihood,” he said.
A marine biologist was among the witnesses in the petition against the Attorney-General, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), National Environment Management Authority (Nema), among other government departments linked to the Lapsset project.
Mr Somo said they were not involved in the project that begun in 2012 and fishermen have never been compensated to date, despite the destruction of their fishing areas.
“Nema went on to grant licence to implement the project, disregarding the environment and social impact assessment study report for construction of the first three berths of Lamu port,” he added.
Mr Somo said that part of the report conducted by Coastal Oceans and Research Development (Cordio) experts recommended they be given modern fishing vessels to enable them proceed with fishing at deep sea.
“Our main concern is the project has denied us our livelihood,” he said adding that “Lamu Island is known for indigenous fishing methods and housing system and the port will destroy our heritage.”
His sentiments were supported by Dr David Obura, a marine life expert with 25 years’ experience and the Cordio director who said Manda Bay in Lamu has the largest mangrove forest in Kenya.
“The mangroves protect the reefs from strong waves and it is the home for various rare marine species such as turtles and dugong that had disappeared for the last 70 years,” he said.
Dr Obura said he has studied the ocean terrain and even snorkelled to observe the coral reefs at the seabed, which are under threat due to water pollution and dredging.
“In the year 1994 to around 1995, the ocean water was clear and you could observe marine life with ease but it has now turned brown due to siltation caused by the dredging,” he added.
During cross-examination, Dr Obura said the coral reefs, mangroves and other marine lives can be saved by replanting them after completing the dredging.
“Although, mitigation to coral reefs is to avoid sea pollution caused by oil spillage, plastic disposal and ensure the water does not go above a certain level to allow waves wash them away,” he said.
However, he said that replanting of mangroves, sea grasses and coral reefs is not a guarantee that the marine life will bring them back to their original status since some species will have died.
Another witness, environmentalist Francis Dyer, said respondents disregarded a Unesco report on “the reactive monitoring mission to Lamu Old Town Kenya” before initiating the Lapsset project.
“Unesco also made recommendations on fishing plans, planting mangroves, the need to survey coastal morphology and protection of the universal value of Lamu to include tourism and culture,” he said.
The petitioner's lawyers, Christine Nkonge and Lempaa Suyianka, said they have three more witnesses to testify before concluding the matter.
The judges adjourned the hearing until Wednesday when the court will visit the site at Lamu Island and its environs adversely mentioned in the petition.