Located 75km off Mombasa, Wasini Island is home to Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park and Reserve which was established to protect the scenic islands and special habitats of a wide range 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 driver of trade and economic empowerment to the community members.
According to KWS Park Warden Paul Wambi, KWS rangers and the community work together to protect marine life and preserve the protected area.
Wambi in addition says to boost the community’s economy; KWS only charges the park entry fees of Ksh 200 for Kenyans and East African Citizens leaving the communities to benefit from conduct businesses within the reserve.
Some of the businesses which the communities conduct include renting out their boats to tour the vast waters in Kisite Mpunguti, hiring out snorkelling gear, hoteliers, tours to the Shimoni slave caves, charging for walks along the boardwalk in the coral gardens and also providing accommodation to tourists.
Fatma Kasim Gambere, the Shimoni slave caves custodian speaking on the benefits of tourism says that the community has benefitted in the recent past from both domestic and international tourism.
“With the little fee that we charge tourists (Ksh 200), we compile it and take it back to the community. We make sure PTA teachers in the community schools are paid, we stock the community hospital with medicines, we provide monthly food supplies to the school of the deaf and make sure children from poor backgrounds get an education,” says Gambere.
Gambere also says that the slave caves have been a very sad reminder of what happened in the past but the community is working around the narrative and making the best of the situation by using the caves to uplift the community.
Another major community project that has spurred growth in Wasini Island is the Wasini Women Group of about 70 women who hail from the community.
The 70-member group is directly responsible for its operation and management, collecting visitors’ fees (Ksh 200), and providing guiding services of the wooden boardwalk which was communally built by KWS and villagers with technical help from experienced construction engineers and financial support from the governments of the Netherlands and Germany.
According to Zubeida Muyongo, Wasini Women Group Chairlady, the proceeds are allocated to several village welfare projects which include restocking their community hospital, paying the doctors fee at the dispensary, supporting Madrasa classes, creating employment and paying school fees for the less fortunate.
“We have educated more than 35 children up to form four and out of these, eight of them have already completed university, the rest are in colleges and tertiary institutions. We now value education and we are using this initiative to drive our agenda,” she says.
Muyongo in addition says the initiative has led to many of the community members to get exposure through training in being chefs, hoteliers and the service industry which in turn creates an opportunity for a better livelihood.
“Through the initiative, we have also gained invaluable education such as rubbish can be recycled and we can make money out of it. With the education, we have built offices made of recycled material, made key holder trinkets and also bangles,” she adds.
The Chairlady in conclusion notes that World Wildlife Fund- Kenya (WWF-Kenya) and KWS in support of the community initiatives provides them with educational material on how to keep conserving the environment and especially the mangroves and also on how to farm seagrass which they hope to soon export and also preserve the boardwalk to keep earning the community revenue.
“We have more people depending on the ocean as a source of livelihood, this could negatively impact the sustainability of the ecosystem, so what we are doing now is teaching the communities on how not to compromise on the resources,” Lily Mwasi – Marine Coordinator, WWF-Kenya.
In addition, Mwasi says the work WWF-Kenya engages in positively affects the coastal region which is ranked as one of the regions with the highest poverty levels.
“With education on the blue economy, communities now earn a living while still maintaining sustainability for future generations. We are also educating youth and children who will be future environmental champions,” she says.