A Mangrove Walkway, With A Gentle Breeze On A Fragile Ecosystems

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As I stood on the neatly arranged planks on the Gazi Mangrove Boardwalk, I couldn’t help but raise my hands, close my eyes and fully immerse myself into complete a state of peace and tranquility. Can one enjoy some yoga here? A gentle breeze brushing against my body, accompanied by the characteristic smell of the ocean could only but further the serenity of the place. Surrounded by green leafed mangroves of considerable height and the subdued sound of ocean waves underneath the boardwalk, I definitely knew this was nature’s way of telling me, it’s time for another adventure. I was in Gazi Village, South Coast, Kwale County, Kenya.

With memories of my previous expeditions at the coast still very fresh in my mind, I set out to explore the mangrove boardwalk. In case you are still wondering what a boardwalk is; it is a constructed wooden walkway usually built above fragile ecosystems, such as wetlands, so as to provide access to such areas without destroying the environment. Gazi Village is easily accessible via road, located at a drivable proximity from Mombasa you barely need an hour on the wheel. Upon arrival, I checked in at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), Gazi station, which also doubles up as the reception for visitors.

mangrove-kenyaI must commend the KMFRI for the good job they are doing there. It’s hard to deal with such a delicate ecosystem with numerous visitors flocking in every other weekend and the numbers shooting up during summer. After an exchange of pleasantries, a brief introductory session, payment of the tour fee and a short lecture on mangroves, we were off to the ocean front, where the crown jewel lay.

On my head the five questions kept bothering my mind, How, when why, who, where on such great project? I wanted to learn more, In June 2006 with donor support through Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute under an initiative dubbed “The Mikoko Pamoja Project”, the project is a community run enterprise that was established as an alternative source of livelihood that would reduce pressure on in-shore fisheries and destructive activities on mangroves in the Gazi area. Upon its establishment, the local women, through Gazi Women Group, were tasked with the management of the mangrove boardwalk for the benefit of the whole community. The main objectives of the initiative were to empower the local community to conserve the mangrove forests, to generate income as a tourist attraction and to promote environmental education and awareness to both visitors and locals. In my opinion, the achievement of these objectives is largely on course. Look at me, I’m preaching mangroves.

mangrove-walkway-1Mangrove forests sequester and store five times more carbon than any productive terrestrial forests. In simple terms, mangrove forests capture and store larger amounts of carbon than inland forests. It is important to note that carbon pollution is the main contributor to climate change, making extreme weather worse and accelerating global warming. Mangrove forests store carbon for long periods of time thereby mitigating or deferring global warming. Other ecological benefits of mangroves include preventing soil erosion, breeding grounds for aquatic organisms and act as buffers between land and sea. These priceless ecological benefits underpin the importance of the Gazi Mangrove Boardwalk.

Walking down the boardwalk is one of a kind experience which, if granted the opportunity, I am sure many would do over and over again. Extending up to a distance of half a kilometer, the boardwalk had gentle meanders along the way and strategic resting points ideal for picnics for small groups or individuals. This is one place you would be easily tempted to either pay more than you are asked for or part with an exceptionally hefty tip for the friendly and knowledgeable guides. mangrove-birdsIn addition to the royal walk visitors can also engage in the other activities in Gazi such as learning the different mangrove species, canoeing through mangrove creeks, excursions to the coral reef, bird watching, experiencing a taste of Swahili cuisine. The income generated from the boardwalk has, over the years, been used to support community projects ranging from education, health infrastructure, water and sanitation. A perfect example of how local communities can sustainably benefit from tourism while conserving the environment. The next time you plan a trip to the South Coast, do remember to include the Gazi Mangrove Boardwalk in your plans. You will not only have a great experience, but also contribute towards making a difference in the lives of the Gazi community.

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