On the coast of Kenya, along a stretch of white sand beach and clear blue ocean, dotted with coconut palms and some of the last kaya forests, you will find the coastal region of Kuruwitu. While it is truly a vision of paradise today, it wasn’t so picturesque a couple of decades ago.
The Kuruwitu region is a 12 km stretch of coastline with three villages, home to roughly 30,000 people. Up until 2003, there were over 300 fishermen trying to work the same stretch of water. This overfishing depleted the fish, which in return destroyed much of the marine ecosystem as a whole in the area. The local fisherman were barely bringing in catches big enough to feed their families, let alone make any sustainable income.
Finally seeing the state of their local waters, which had been the source of their livelihoods for centuries, they decided it was time to make a change. The Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association (KCWA) was formed by some of the local elders and fishermen. In 2005 they voted to set aside 30-hectares as a Marine Protected Area, known as Kuruwitu Marine Area, the first coral-focused Locally Managed Marine Area in Kenya.
The KCWA organized a plan for sustainable fishing, generating alternate income and rebuilding marine life. The ecosystem in the coral reef is vital to the marine population as it provides shelter, breeding grounds and food for the local fish as well as the endangered sea turtle. With a rise in aquarium collectors as well as climate change, the coral was in pretty bad shape. However, just 6 years after the Kuruwitu Marine Area was formed, they saw a 30% increase in live hard coral coverage and a 200% increase in the fish population. After 12 years they’d see the number of fish had grown by 400%. It’s truly remarkable to see how quickly nature can heal when given the space to do so. On top of this, the spillover of fish from the protected area has given the area larger catches than they’ve seen in decades, if not longer, providing food and income for the locals.
The revitalization of the coral reef has brought in something else the locals did not expect…tourists. Now along with sustainable fishing, the locals are generating income through eco-tourism, as well as jobs such as guides, rangers, and boat captains becoming popular career options. People are traveling from all over to see this beautiful turnaround. Even fishermen from other areas in Kenya and along the coast of the Indian Ocean, who have heard of the success of the KCWA, have come to speak with the fishermen to learn how to replicate the process in their own areas. With places to stay such as the private Cardamom House, which directly supports the Kuruwitu Marine Area, this area has become a vibrant example of just how powerful ecotourism can be.