Wasini Island, 75 km from Mombasa, is home to the Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park and the reserve, which was established to protect the picturesque islands and special habitats of a wide variety of endemic marine animals and breeding migratory birds.
The marine park, which is managed and protected by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), has been a motor for trade and economic empowerment for community members.
According to KWS Park Warden Paul Wambi, KWS Ranger and the community are working together to protect marine life and preserve the sanctuary.
Wambi also says it will boost the community’s economy; KWS only charges the park entry fees that leave the municipalities to conduct business within the reserve.
Some of the businesses that the communities operate include renting their boats to explore the wide open waters in Kisite Mpunguti, renting snorkeling equipment, hoteliers, tours to the Shimoni slave caves, fees for walks along the boardwalk in the coral gardens and also the provision of accommodation to tourists.
Fatma Kasim Gambere, the keeper of the Shimoni slave caves, who speaks about the benefits of tourism, says the community has benefited from both domestic and international tourism in the recent past.
“With the small fee we charge tourists, we put it together and bring it back to the community. We ensure that the PTA teachers in the community schools are paid, supply the community hospital with medication, supply the deaf school with food every month and ensure that children from poor backgrounds receive an education, ”says Gambere.
Gambere also says the slave caves were a very sad reminder of what happened in the past, but the community is touring the narrative and making the most of the situation by using the caves to uplift the community.
Another important community project that has fueled growth on Wasini Island is the Wasini Women Group, which has around 70 women from the community.
The 70-strong group is directly responsible for the operation and administration, the collection of visitor fees and the management of the wooden promenade built jointly by KWS and the villagers with the technical help of experienced civil engineers and financial support from the governments of the Netherlands and Germany.
According to Zubeida Muyongo, chairwoman of Wasini Women Group, the proceeds will be allocated to multiple charity projects in the villages, including topping up their community hospital, paying medical fees at the pharmacy, supporting madrasa classes, creating jobs and paying school fees for the less fortunate.
“We have raised more than 35 children up to the age of four, eight of them have already graduated, the rest are in colleges and universities. We now value education and are using this initiative to advance our agenda, ”she says.
Muyongo also says the initiative has resulted in many of the community members becoming known through training as chefs, hoteliers and the service industry, which in turn creates an opportunity for a better livelihood.
“The initiative also gave us invaluable insights into how, for example, rubbish can be recycled and how we can earn money with it. With the apprenticeship we built offices from recycled materials, made key chain jewelry and also bangles, ”she adds.
The Chair concluded that the World Wildlife Fund-Kenya (WWF-Kenya) and KWS are providing them with teaching material to support the community initiatives on how the environment and especially the mangroves can be preserved and how they can hopefully grow seaweed soon to export and also to maintain the promenade in order to continue to earn the income of the community.
“We have more people who depend on the ocean for their livelihood, and this could have a negative impact on the sustainability of the ecosystem. What we are doing now is teaching communities how not to compromise on resources, ”Lily Mwasi – Marine Coordinator, WWF-Kenya.
Furthermore, according to Mwasi, the work of WWF-Kenya has a positive impact on the coastal region, which is classified as one of the regions with the highest poverty rate.
“With education about the blue economy, communities now earn their living and at the same time preserve sustainability for future generations. We also train young people and children who will be future environmental champions, ”she says.