Pollution chokes life out of tourism beauty Watamu

Today is World Oceans Day Watamu
Today is World Oceans Day with a focus on preventing plastic pollution and searching for solutions for a healthy ocean. PHOTOS | FILE 

Sitting on the first floor balcony at the newly built apartments at Hemmingways Watamu, one can see the speed boats at a distance as tourists, both local and international, chase the tide in a bid to catch a glimpse or a dip with the dolphins.

Other boats are fishermen hoping to strike the fishing fantasy slam of catching the Blue marlin, striped marlin, sailfish, and broadbill swordfish spearfish in a single trip.

On the wall of the bar at the hotel hangs the moulding of the big game in the Kenyan fishing realm.

Kenya, says Melinda Rees, operations manager at Hemmingways Collection, happens to be one of the few places in the world you would find all five in a single trip. The casts on the wall are a tribute to the fact.

Tourists from across the world come to the Kenyan coast, with Watamu as a point of key interest for marine wildlife enthusiasts for its diverse sea life. A sea life at risk of extinction due to the waste that is rapidly finding its way into the ocean.


“Kenya has rich and diverse coral reefs of great importance, both ecologically and socioeconomically; as major fishing grounds, tourist attractions and coastal protection,” said the Coral Reef status report for Western Indian Ocean 2017.

The estimated annual economic value of goods and services in the marine and coastal ecosystem of the blue economy in the Western Indian Ocean is more than $22 billion with Kenya’s share slightly more than Sh440 billion ($4.4 billion)  translating to 20 per cent with the tourism sector taking the lion’s share of more than Sh410 billion ($4.1 billion), according to the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) estimates.

Across the road, as you head towards Mida Creek, flip flops, plastic bottles, old buckets and other debris sit in a pile at EcoWorld in Watamu. The bulk of the trash has been collected from the ocean where it was choking up the ecosystem and killing the aesthetics appeal of Kenyan beaches.

“These reefs have been under threats from a variety of stressors including overexploitation, nutrient pollution, use of destructive fishing methods and, more recently, their sustainability is being put at risk by global climate change,” reads the Western Indian Ocean report.

A group of villagers is rummaging through the trash, tossing different pieces of plastics into different piles, and flip-flops into a separate pile.

This exercise, we are told, is to sort the plastics between soft, recyclable and mixed. The mixed plastics are usually a combination of soft and recyclable plastics, which means it cannot be recycled.

“The bulk of the plastic is collected during organised general clean up of the beach,” says Willy, who manages the Ecoworld Blue Team.

The trash collected by the Ecoworld team is only a small fraction of the plastics and debris that finds its way into the Indian Ocean and other water bodies across the world.

“The Western Indian Ocean contains 16 per cent of the world’s coral reefs, and the region is now thought to host the second peak of coral reef biodiversity globally,” said report.

This coral reef status report for the Western Indian Ocean summarises data from monitoring programmes in Comoros, France, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa and Tanzania.

According to the report, Western Indian Ocean coral reefs experienced widespread coral bleaching during the first global coral bleaching event in 1998, in which 30-50 per cent of corals were estimated to have died.

The Seychelles and Kenya suffered the greatest mortality of corals in 1998, but since then have shown good recovery of corals.

Late last year, Kenya Wildlife Service and the Watamu Marine Association spent nearly an entire day freeing a dolphin that was near suffocation after being trapped in a plastic bag.

The sea mammal had the bag around its head and blow hole, which could have resulted in suffocation.

By 2016, five of the seven species in world found in Kenya’s coast had been flagged as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The WWF stated that within 50 years, the entire population on the east African coast would disappear as a result of destruction of their nesting grounds, hunting, fishing –net deaths and boat accidents among other reasons.

“Over 100 million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean. Sea turtles around the world are eating plastic at an unprecedented rate, plastic bags can bear a striking resemblance to jellyfish underwater and have a tendency to confuse hungry sea turtles,” says the East African Wildlife Society.

UN Environment states that 80 per cent of the oceans waste is plastic which in turn costs Sh800 billion in damage to the marine ecosystems.

In a blue economy report, marine fishing had an annual fish potential of 350,000 metric tonnes in 2013 worth Sh90 billion yet the region only yielded a paltry 9,134 metric tonnes worth Sh2.3 billion.

Therefore, the full economic potential of marine resources has not been exploited, yet Kenya has a maritime territory of 230,000 square kilometers and a distance of 200 nautical miles offshore.

According to UN Environment, every year, around eight million tonnes of plastics end up in the oceans, poisoning fish, birds and other sea creatures. That’s the equivalent of one garbage truck of litter being dumped into the sea every minute.

In April, a sperm whale was found dead on the southern coast of Spain and an autopsy revealed that it was killed by the 29 kilos of plastic found in its stomach.

This excess plastic in the environment prompted the launch of the #CleanSeas campaign by UN Environment during the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali on February 23 last year, to eliminate marine litter, including micro plastics in cosmetics and single-use plastic by 2022.

Last year, Kenya banned the use of plastic bags with hefty fines for anyone using and selling the bags.

According to the Economic Survey, the production of plastics in Kenya declined by 3.8 per cent in 2017, mainly due to the 21.8 per cent decrease in production of plastics bags following the ban.