Category Archives: Funzi turtle club

A visit from KESCOM

On Friday a good friend of GVI Kenya popped in for a visit to our base to give a presentation on the work carried out by KESCOM, their aims and methods and how our partnership has developed over the years. Douglas Maina is a dedicated Kenyan conservationist who I have known professionally through GVI’s involvement in turtle conservation for over a year now and his talk was both inspiring and interesting, received well by staff and volunteers alike.

KESCOM visit GVI base for educational presentation

KESCOM visit GVI base for educational presentation

For people taking part in the marine programme with GVI, the work of other conservation organisations over Kenya may not always be clear, but by inviting Douglas in to explain the grass roots efforts they are making to protect all turtle species on the coast this became apparent very quickly. We learnt about the local community groups set up by KESCOM who work on activities such as beach clean ups, anti-poaching patrols, clean ups, tagging and nest monitoring. We also learnt about the efforts being made in government to implement strategies to promote turtle conservation, including a management plan going into action in the first week of February. Thanks to partners such as KESCOM, we can see real changes being made to help conserve the fantastic natural resources Kenya is fortunate to have.

A Blue Day

Yesterday we had an incredible blue day out in Marine. The days start quite early, by 6:00am we are all taking our breakfast, while the sun is still half asleep. At 7:00am we are already in the boat, searching for some animals in the blue pristine waters of the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Protected Area.
Just as we went off, we saw this beautiful African Fish Eagle, just staring at the water, resting in a tree by the water. This big eagle is commonly found in this area and nests in high trees, especially acacias, figs or euphorbias and feeds mainly on fish, but also water birds and carrion.

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The magestic African fish eagle (Haliaetus vocifer) 
After surveying the beautiful Funzi bay, we changed course and headed to Nyuli Reef and the Marine Reserve. In the shallow waters of Nyuli, we had another interesting sighting; two big green turtles were mating just about 30m from our research vessel. We turned off the engine and witnessed the courtship and mating behavior, while we recorded the coordinates on our GPS. Hopefully all went well for this pair and soon enough the female can lay her eggs in the sandy beaches of Funzi Island. Green turtles can lay more than 100 eggs, which take about 60 days to incubate and hatch. In Funzi, the Local Turtle Conservation Group, helped by KESCOM (Kenya Sea Turtle Committee), and GVI Conservation interns, patrol de beaches and provide environmental education to local people to help to conserve and protect this endangered species.

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 The mating turtles

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A turtle surfaces and is caught on camera
We continued our survey and headed to Kisite Marine Park, when we found a group of dolphins socializing and traveling. Excitement on the boat, while we grab our marine mammal sighting form, GPS and camera for photo-id. Some of the animals in the group are well known to the research team, such as chiizi, as well as two mothers and their calves. The water was so calm that we were lucky enough to see the calf breastfeeding under the water, just next to the boat. Wooohh! The mother and calf association in dolphins is very strong and the baby dolphins can breastfeed for more than two years. The mother’s mammary slits are located in either side of the genital slit.

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 A mother (catalogue number 37 or “Patsy”) and her calf

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“Patsy” and her calf
 

The day went on and we decided to snorkel transect 9. As if it couldn’t get an better, we had two turtle sightings while snorkeling; one juvenile hawksbill turtle and one adult green turtle. This green turtle seems to be resident at this spot, since we have seen her over and over on transect 9. It is very easy to identify her, as she is missing the back right flipper. It might have been caught in a net or hit by a propeller while younger, but managed to survive and heal its wounds. Alongside with the turtle we witnessed the amazing reef fish variety of the Marine Park.

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 The turtle spotted on transect 9
 

Hopefully, all the data GVI is collecting will continue to contribute for this ecosystem to maintain its unique characteristics and help to conserve its biodiversity for the years to come!

Karibu Tena (Welcome Again!)

Jambo!

I’d like to start by saying I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and a merry new year!  I know we did; many of the GVI team were in Kenya over the holiday period, enjoying the festivities under the warm African sun, whilst others jetted off back home to see family and friends to slightly cooler parts of the world such as Englnd, Scotland and Portugal. 

We are all back together again however, and raring to get back out on the boat, into the forest and continue our work with the communities.  January marks the start of our first 3 month research period for 2010, and we have a rather large, brand new team of dedicated volunteers from all over the world to help us achieve the aims and objectives for this year.

2009 was an excellent year for us here on the south coast of Kenya.  Firstly, it’s always a good feeling to get another full years worth of marine and terrestrial research added to the databases.  We now have a solid 3 years of data establishing and monitoring the bottlenose and humpback dolphin populations in and around the Kisitie-Mpunguti Marine Protected Area, as well as 3 years establishing and monitoring the population of the rare subspecies of the Angolan black and white colobus monkey that is found in Shimoni’s coastal forests. 

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 GVI staff, volunteers, and members of the Funzi Turtle Club 

In addition to that, we’ve got some great data recording some amazing sightings, including humpback whales with their calves (15 sightings!), rays, nesting turtles, elephant shrews and endangered birds such as the southern banded snake eagle.  And that is naming a mere handful!  If you want to have a look back at some of the blogs we’ve written about these amazing experiences, feel free to search for them in the categories section.

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 Green turtle spotted in the Marine Park

2009 also saw some amazing achievements for us and the people we work with.  Just a couple of examples would include the Permanent Secretary to the Minister for Forests and Wildlife coming down to speak to the secretary of Friends of Shimoni Forest about the destruction in the forest.  Or the amazing donations made by you all on www.justgiving.co.uk/shimoni which has allowed the launch of the Friends of Shimoni Forest Scholarship Fund which will pay for local children to go to secondary school, and get them and their families involved in local conservation. 

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 East African subspecies of the Angolan black and white colobus

On the marine side of things some highlights would include providing environmental education courses, one to the Funzi Turtle Conservation Group and one to the Nyuli Committee, training local guides and rangers on sea turtle biology and conservation, with over 30 people taking exams and gaining certificates.  GVI had its first ever sighting of the Pantropical spotted dolphins, and also became a member of East African Whale Watching which tracks whales travelling up and down the east African coast.  

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One of the pantropical spotted dolphins

Despite all of the great things that happened last year, there is still plenty of work to do.  This stunning area and its amazing people still face many problems, some of which we aim to try and help with over the coming year.  For many of us here the start of 2010 saw the one and a half year mark since we first arrived in Shimoni and Mkwiro, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say it has been our home since we arrived, one which has won a special place in our hearts.  Personally I feel extremely lucky and privileged to step into a new decade here, and I am so excited at the thought of what can be achieved this year.

I look forward to keeping you updated on progress as things move forward, and please feel free to contact us and leave comments and messages.  We love hearing your thoughts and ideas!

Happy 2010

Best wishes

GVI Team, Kenya

Working With Funzi Turtle Club (Day 2)

On our second day at Funzi, we were awoken to a panoramic view of dawn over the island which made our 6am wake up a lot easier.  Our first port of call was to the Turtle Nesting Beach a good 45 minute walk from our base. The beach is not only a place which can be used by tourists but more importantly, is where the Turtle Club is trying to carry out their research for turtle numbers and nesting behaviour.

As we are used to early wake ups at GVI, everyone was awake and ready to go. Even at that time it was already getting hot but the walk was pleasant.  Our walk took us again through the village and forests of Funzi.

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 Funzi Island forest

Walking through the forests you got a sense of its history, having been there for centuries. With tourists and foreigners only having visited and settled over the past 40 years, the forests remain mainly untouched.  However, we were soon to discover that this was quickly changing. As we got closer to the beach area, the landscape changed to strips of cleared land on either side of us which had only months previously been forest.  It was very disturbing to see such a distinct contrast.  As we walked further, the cleared land again changed to newly planted eucalyptus plants. Only 10 minutes from the beach, whilst on the public footpath, we were stopped by guards and told very bluntly that we had to head back.  Our early morning trip had been cut short.

Unfortunately a foreign landowner had taken most of the land on Funzi and made it his own.  As a result, a majority of the land is being utilised at the detriment of the wildlife and the islanders. For us all, witnessing this conflict between conservation and development at first hand was very disappointing, we were of course keen on seeing the beach for ourselves, we were all aware and more concerned about the long term impact this would have, restricting the Funzi Turtle Club carrying out vital monitoring of the turtles and limiting tourist access, especially knowing that this was a public footpath.

Deflated, we headed back and after a short break to calm our frustrations, reflect and refuel we started our morning of lectures, more determined and conscious of the importance of our relationship and the positive difference that needed to be made.

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 A member of the Funzi Turtle Club having a closer view of the parrotfish family

Lectures started with Mangroves and were followed by Tourism and Marketing. Interest was again high and discussions were held.   It was clear that the Club members had many years of experience and that knowledge and skills could be shared.

As we all knew, although it was a positive and productive 2 days, this is where the work actually started.  Lectures were followed by a debate about the challenges faced and how they could be approached. Challenges faced were:
• Funding
o All Turtle Club Members are unpaid volunteers, spending a lot of their time on projects including regular mangrove planting, beach clean ups etc.
o Landowner paying Fishermen 500KSH for each turtle caught.  How can the club compete with this as they want to ensure that turtles are in fact released and at the same time, use the Fishermen to monitor them?
• Fishermen
o Ways to convince fishermen to release the turtles caught.
o Education of over fishing and ways this can be reduced
• Time
o Finding the time to do this when all work is by volunteers who have family and other commitments.

Secondly there was a discussion around planning for tourism activities.
• Beach clean ups which would be an activity and raise awareness
• Camping / nesting beaches
• Handicrafts such as the flip flop necklaces
• Visits to the stunning white beaches of the Sandbar
• Crocodile River
• Mangrove visits and planting
• Visits of the historical sites such as the Kaya
• Dolphin sightings
• Homestays and cooking classes

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 Handicrafts made of flip-flops

For me, this was one of the highlights of my 5 weeks. Not only was I so lucky to get to visit this beautiful Island, but I was fortunate enough to meet many of it’s wonderful residents, all so eager to make our short stay pleasurable.

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 GVI staff, volunteers and Funzi Turtle Club members

In this age of air travel and discovery it is very rare to find a place on earth that is not heavily frequented by tourists, but you will currently have trouble finding Funzi on Google Maps.  It is exciting to this that we can make a positive difference before a few people begin to destroy this beautiful place.  It was wonderful to work so closely with such an active Club on such a worthwhile project and although I will be leaving before it even gets underway, I am certain that with the enthusiasm and dedication I saw and by working together and sharing knowledge and ideas, we’ll get there. 

Chantal Woodun

Working With The Funzi Turtle Club (Day 1)

This past Wednesday found the GVI marine team travelling from Wasini Island to Funzi Island for two days of training with the Funzi Bay Turtle Club, a local community effort to save endangered sea turtles.  Currently there are about 30 members in the club, 20 of which, including the chair, are females from this traditional Muslim community on the island.

Since we usually spend our days on the water monitoring local and migratory marine species, to have two full days on dry land was quite a change of routine.

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 Douglas explaining the importance of sea turtle conservation

Upon arrival, we were met by one of the club members and taken to our house, where we met up with KESCOM volunteers Sonya and Avidad from Sweden, here for three months.  KESCOM (Kenya Sea Turtle Conservation Committee) currently supports many grass-root turtle conservation efforts along the Kenyan coastline.  This support comes in the form of monetary donations, grant writing, providing volunteers, management and contacts with other local organizations.  Douglas is the KESCOM Funzi Island representative.

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 Jennifer LeClair giving the presentatoin about whales and dolphins

After our introductions we proceeded to the village for a tour and to the mangrove forest for a planting session.  Since mangroves are among the fastest disappearing ecosystems in the world, each tree really counts!  The turtle club also runs a shop with some very unique gifts made by local community members, and we all spend some time and money there.

Following a fabulous meal cooked by the ladies of the turtle club (one of many such delicious meals) we began our training with the group.  Our goal was to help the club members learn to interact with tourists and to give them information that tourists would like to hear, in addition to giving them important information about habitat conservation.  We showed a number of PowerPoint presentations to the group and with the help of Douglas on the Swahili translation, gave them information about ocean conservation, sea turtle identification and morphology, and local whale and dolphin species.  Club members were extremely interested in learning and asked a number of thought provoking questions following each presentation.

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 Mangroves

One of the most common questions asked by the community members was how to explain to the other islanders (100% of which are fishermen) topics regarding conservation of the ocean environment.  We were able to provide some examples, but in the end had to explain that changing people’s minds is a very slow process.  Since entanglement in discarded fishing nets is one of the biggest threats to marine animals, we suggested that this was a good issue to start with in the community.  We were very impressed with the concern of the club members about the welfare of the ocean habitats and animals, especially in an area of the country where ecosystem destruction and human disturbance is prevalent.

Overall, both sides seemed very pleased with the progress made during the first day of training.  The volunteers of GVI would like to thank KESCOM and the Funzi Bay Turtle Club for there generous hospitality and delicious traditional food.

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Mangroves of Funzi Island