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Watamu Beach Erosion Statement

Watamu Marine Association observations on beach erosion in Watamu Marine National Park and hotel property defence measures

The Watamu Marine Association represents the interests of 25 groups and organisations from the community, tourism and environment sectors in Watamu. It is steered by an elected committee and operates and supports community based tourism enterprises, marine conservation projects and community waste management enterprises. It also promotes Watamu tourism and the Watamu Marine National Park.

Five of the seven Marine Park hotels/resorts are WMA members and actively support and sponsor WMA projects.

WMA Observations on Beach Erosion and Hotels Defence Measures

It has been observed by many that erosion and accretion on the Watamu Marine National Park beach has been occurring as part of a natural cyclic pattern for more than 40 years. In more recent times, beach erosion has been occurring and increasing at the north end of the Park since 2006. Some properties have lost between 10-40 metres of their beach front land.

Over the past two years Turtle Bay Beach Club, Medina Palms, Hemingways and Ocean Sports Resorts have experienced serious destruction of their beach front property and loss of land caused by erosion due to sea conditions. Erosion threatens the existence of these hotels and consequently the jobs and livelihoods of hundreds of Watamu residents and their dependent families.

WMA is aware that hotels are still in consultation and conducting research on the best way of protecting their properties in line with best environmental practices and internationally recommended technologies. WMA attended a number of these stakeholder consultation meetings where Watamu environment and conservation groups were invited to give input and recommendations. The hotels have had meetings with the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to explore preventative measures and options and to ensure that environmental regulations are adhered to.

As a temporary measure some of the hotels have used sand filled sacks to create a buffer zone between the property and the sea. Staffs make daily checks to remove damaged bags from the beach. The resorts have the approval of the above government agencies for taking this low environmental impact measure.

The original Hemingways Watamu beach wall was over 40 years old and parts of it pre-date Hemingways; it lasted a good length of time. The wall was started before the Marine Park was gazetted in 1968 and when there were no building regulations for this type of structure. Due to continuous sea damage it has recently been reconstructed after receiving all required approvals/permissions from both NEMA and KWS. Hemingways Watamu has clearly demonstrated to WMA that the repaired wall is within its original and legal boundary beacons and is compliant with relevant laws and regulations.

All the above resorts have long and excellent track records for supporting the Marine Park, conservation and community development in Watamu. The resorts continue to research best available erosion protection methods that are within their financial limits for implementation.

Environmental Threats and Mitigation Measures

The four hotels/resorts mentioned above are situated at the north end of the Marine Park over an approximately 1.5km stretch interspersed with private houses. The hotels have shared borders with each other and all have beach fronts. Approximately 90% or more of this 1.5km stretch has been landscaped over the past five decades and all of the private houses and one other hotel have constructed walls or boulder erosion defences at the back of the beach. At the time of construction these would have had negative impacts on natural sand banks, vegetation and associated wildlife. That habitat has unfortunately been lost and is not under debate at this time.

Fortunately, these days there is greater environmental awareness and the current beach erosion defence measures carried out by hotels has employed ongoing mitigation measures to reduce environmental impacts. This includes removal of building rubble and damaged sand bags from the beach and lagoon waters. Continuous and diligent monitoring and removal of these materials is necessary as a percentage has been covered by sand and re-emerges over subsequent tides.

Future Recommendations

On the subject of beach dynamics and erosion, expertise and research input is required to assist KWS and NEMA in developing recommendations and guidelines for their Management Plans and Acts. The source of this expertise could come from international universities and their oceanography departments and marine environment consultants and engineers. Certainly there will be many case studies worldwide comparable to Watamu where good lessons and practices can be learned and adopted. Local stakeholders should also assist in this process as part of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) planning. Watamu also has a wealth of marine conservation and scientific experts who should contribute. Some of them have international networks and should also assist in sourcing expert and professional input.

In the case of Watamu Marine Park and future proposed beach erosion defence measures, following the ICZM process under the direction of KWS and NEMA is recommended by WMA.

It is also recommended that County Government and National Government Agencies provide financial resources to invest in environmental assessments, research, sourcing expertise and facilitating the process.

Public Opinion

Following this process is also important to ensure stakeholders are fully informed and aware of planned projects and receive correct and factual information. This gives the public the opportunity to voice their informed opinions as part of constructive participation in the process. Unfortunately in this Watamu case, some stakeholders have created unnecessary and damaging conflicts by spreading misinformation and false accusations and creating smear campaigns in the public domain through social media. This is not helpful for Watamu tourism and conservation efforts.

WMA welcomes open debate on any tourism, environmental or conservation matters in Watamu and invites any groups or organisations, professionals and individuals seeking information or a platform to voice concerns, to visit us in Watamu for a meeting and pro-active dialogue.

The WMA Committee Please contact wma@watamu.biz for any questions arising from this.

Also see: www.watamu.biz


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