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Tracking the Marine Big Five

While Kenya is justifiably world famous for its natural beauty and iconic animal species, it's best known for its terrestrial parks and conservancies such as the Masai Mara and Amboseli. Research and conservation efforts largely mirror this, and focus on land-based projects.

Although Kenya's coastline is one of its most important natural assets, it is undervalued and not protected sufficiently. A combination of events has meant that coastal tourism has suffered greatly in recent years and, partly as a result of this, Kenya's coastal communities are some of the poorest in the country. Overfishing and population growth are pushing marine ecosystems towards collapse; not only is this an ecological disaster, but it will put the livelihoods of the coastal peoples at risk.

Ecotourism is a fantastic opportunity to bring much needed investment and revenue to these poor coastal communities. Kenya has numerous worldclass beaches, creeks and coastal towns where tourism, if managed responsibly, could thrive.

Marine mammals are some of the world's most charismatic and best loved creatures. Home to a large range of marine mammal species, Kenya's seas have bottlenose dolphins, humpbacked whales, spinner dolphins and even orcas. The largest animal ever to have existed, the Blue Whale, has been spotted in Kenyan waters and it's believed many more species reside here that are yet to be documented. In order to get a better idea of which species of marine mammals are found in Kenyan waters, and in what numbers, Oceans Alive and the Watamu Marine Association are planning a citizen science weekend over Easter. From 30th March to 1st April, people up and down the coast are requested to report what marine mammals they see. These surveys will provide a snapshot of which animals are present on those particular days and, when combined with existing databases, they'll also show whether populations are resident in specific areas or whether they roam up and down the coast.

The instigators of this initiative, Oceans Alive and the Watamu Marine Association, are supported by the Kuruwitu Conservation & Welfare Association who won the prestigious UNDP Equator Prize last year, and are long-term partners of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

The Watamu Marine Association has extensive experience in conducting marine mammal surveys and already has seven years' worth of data on the population of whales and dolphins in the Watamu - Malindi area. They are also the coordinators of the Kenya Marine Mammal Network. Having a better understanding of the number of marine mammals in Kenyan waters, as well as their respective territories and behavioural patterns, would help guide marine conservation policy at a national level. Knowing when and where these beautiful

creatures are likely to be seen would also help tour operators spot Kenya's marine mammals, which would enhance the experience for tourists.

It's hoped that the data collected will shine a light on some of the least understood and most beautiful creatures ever to grace the earth, which will in turn help inform marine conservation policy, not just in Kenya but around the Western Indian Ocean. By understanding where resident populations exist, we can protect key habitats from destruction. By understanding the behaviour and range of whale and dolphin species, we can connect protected areas and provide essential corridors and sanctuaries. Finally, by developing an understanding of where whales and dolphins are likely to be found, we

can develop responsible ecotourism and bring much needed income and investment to some of the poorest communities in Kenya. If you want to take part in our citizen science weekend, please don't hesitate to contact Gordon Hewitt via email


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