Author(s): Obura DO
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Abstract The Kenya coast is bathed by the northward-flowing warm waters of the East Africa Coastal Current, located between latitudes 1 and 5 degrees S. With a narrow continental shelf, the coastal marine environments are dominated by coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves, with large expanses of sandy substrates where river inputs from Kenya's two largest rivers, the Tana and Athi rivers, prevent the growth of coral reefs. The northern part of the coast is seasonally influenced by upwelling waters of the Somali Current, resulting in lower water temperatures for part of the year. The coast is made up of raised Pleistocene reefs on coastal plains and hills of sedimentary origin, which support native habitats dominated by scrub bush and remnant pockets of the forests that used to cover East Africa and the Congo basin. The marine environment is characterized by warm tropical conditions varying at the surface between 25 degrees C and 31 degrees C during the year, stable salinity regimes, and moderately high nutrient levels from terrestrial runoff and groundwater. The semi-diurnal tidal regime varies from 1.5 to 4 m amplitude from neap to spring tides, creating extensive intertidal platform and rocky-shore communities exposed twice-daily during low tides. Fringing reef crests dominate the whole southern coast and parts of the northern coast towards Somalia, forming a natural barrier to the wave energy from the ocean. Coral reefs form the dominant ecosystem along the majority of the Kenya coast, creating habitats for seagrasses and mangroves in the lagoons and creeks protected by the reef crests. Kenya's marine environment faces a number of threats from the growing coastal human population estimated at just under three million in 2000. Extraction of fish and other resources from the narrow continental shelf, coral reef and mangrove ecosystems increases each year with inadequate monitoring and management structures to protect the resource bases. Coastal development in urban and tourist centers proceeds with little regard for environmental and social impacts. With a faltering economy, industrial development in Mombasa proceeds with few checks on pollution and other impacts. In 1998 Kenya's coral reefs suffered 50-80\% mortality from the El Niño-related coral bleaching event that affected the entire Indian Ocean. The institutional, human resource and legal infrastructure for managing the coastal environment has in the past been low, however these are rapidly improving with the revitalization of national institutions and the passing in 1999 of an Environment Act. Marine Protected Areas are the key tool currently used in management of marine ecosystems, and focus principally on coral reefs and biodiversity protection. New initiatives are underway to improve application of fisheries regulations, and to use Integrated Coastal Area Management (ICAM) as a framework for protecting marine and coastal environments.
This article was published in Mar Pollut Bull
and referenced in Hydrology: Current Research