Lamu’s mangrove forests under siege


Conservationists in Kenya have raised the alarm over the rapid cutting down of mangrove forests around the Lamu archipelago. A senior official at the Kenya Forest Service, one Donald Avude, has come out with all guns blazing as he painted a grim picture on the destruction of mangrove forests in and around Lamu. Mangrove forests provide a unique and vital biosphere for fish as breeding grounds but also serve in part as a purifier and wave breaker to protect the shore line from erosion.

Avude warned in particular over the effect mangrove destruction will have on the local fishing communities, appealing to replant mangroves where they have been harvested beyond sustainable levels.

According to a Mombasa based source however there is more to the cutting down of mangrove forests than meets the eye. ‘Mangrove poles have always been a key construction material for Swahili houses. The demand has shot up because there are a lot more people around now than 50 years ago or 100 years ago. Back then mangroves grew back, today they are just cut down en masse because they are a very pricey commodity. But there is another dimension to it. There are developments planned along the beaches of the Lamu archipelago. Where there are mangroves, developers do not like them because there is no clean beach. They want sandy beaches in front of what they are planning to build, not a mangrove forests which harbour snakes and so forth and does not allow residents to swim. So there is another agenda to cut mangrove forests, to clear the view and at the same time make a good profit in selling the wood’ – sentiments repeated by several others who pointed to the LAPSSET project as another contributor to the cutting down of mangrove forests.

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I am not going on record here because I fear repercussions, for me and for the business I run. But the truth spoken, the authorities in my view are not doing their part in enforcing the EIA recommendations strongly enough. If what Kenya Forest Service says is true, we have a problem and the impact of vanishing mangrove forests could change the biodiversity and ecosystems around Lamu forever, and for the worse.

Clearly another conservation issue to worry about in Kenya, besides the poaching of animals now the poaching of mangroves on an apparently big scale. Watch this space for regular updates on conservation issues from the Eastern African region.

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