Category Archives: Kisite Mpunguti MPA

‘Escorting’ Humpback Whales

One of the most amazing creatures we see in Kenya is the migrating humpback whale. The humpback whale migrates along the Kenyan coast from late June through to December. In the past three months we have had 6 sightings of humpback whales with an average group size of 2.16, ranging from 1 to 4.

Some of these groups have been mothers and calves plus another adult whale. It is reported that “escort males” can accompany mothers and calves during their migration. It is thought that the male travels with the mother and calf with the intention of mating if the mother comes into post partrum oestrus. Occasionally another male humpback whale will join the group (becoming a secondary escort), challenging the principle escort for access to the female mother (termed the nuclear animal). The escort will defend the nuclear animal from other intruding males with behaviours including shoving, breaching and blowing bubble screens. This also acts as protection for the humpback whale calf.

It has also been known for escorts to be female, the reason for a female escort is currently unknown, though the escort may be related to the mother. This links to the sightings we have been having and might explain why a group of 3 adults and one calf have passed through the south of Kenya.

Humpback whale escort

Humpback whale escort

Nudibranchs in the Kisite Marine Park

Gastropods, namely snails and sea slugs, are the largest class of molluscs, with at least 2,500 species occurring only in Eastern Africa. Inside this group, we can find Nudibranchs, a particularly intersting and often beautiful kind of sea slug.

Phyllidia varicose

Phyllidia varicose

Nudibranchs are the largest order in the subclass Opisthobranchia. This group is special due to the fact that most of them lack of a protective shell, and therefore have unprotected and exposed gills. There are approximately 4,000 species worldwide, most of them being marine and ranging in size from 2mm to 30cm. Their amazing shapes, striking colors and intricate patterns have made them very popular among photographers and scientists. They are easily seen by snorkelers and divers due to their bright and beautiful coloration and that they are attracted to coral and shallow rocks.

All gastropods have a toothed radula used when scraping algae off rocks or rasping at tissue of shells of invertebrates or other dead animals on which they feed. Nudibranchs are carnivorous and feed on all groups of invertebrates from hydroids and barnacles to polychaetes and other gastropods.

Phyllidiella zeylanica

Phyllidiella zeylanica

In the Kisite Marine Park include we can find the species Phyllidia varicose from the suborder doridacea. This nudibranch is oval shaped and black in color with white/blue tubercles showing bright orange tips. These are found among shallow coral reefs. Phyllidia zeylanica has also been seen in South Kenyan waters, with its oval shape, bands of low pink tubercles and alternate smooth black bands. These are also found among shallow coral reefs.

Presenting Sea Turtles at the WIOMSA symposium

The next item GVI Kenya will be presenting on at the WIOMSA scientific symposium in Mombasa in October is the seasonal occurance and distribution of sea turtle sightings in and around the Kisite Mpunguti Marine Protected Area (KMMPA). We most commonly see Green and Hawksbill turtles both from the vessel and in-water while snorkelling, during our research days; with 41% and 53% of sightings prospectively.

Sea turtles are often seen surfacing from the research boat

Sea turtles are often seen surfacing from the research boat

Sea turtles were most commonly seen in two focal areas; the KMMPA and the Wasini Channel. We also conducted interviews with 75 fishermen whose responses corresponded with this, indicating that they encounter sea turtles most frequently (61%) in the Mpunguti Marine Reserve, and in the kaskazi season (January to March) with 29.5% of responses. We will be discussing the importance of the KMMPA and surrounding waters as critical habitats for Hawksbill and Green turtles, and how community education and awareness programmes will play an important role in conserving local populations.

Presenting Humpback Dolphins at the WIOMSA symposium

The first poster GVI Kenya will present at the WIOMSA scientific symposium focuses on the Humpback dolphin population present around the Shimoni area, using sightings data and photographs taken since 2006 to estimate population size, location and possible threat from anthropogenic activities.
Identification Number 016 - this dolphin has evidence of a fishing line injury
Identification Number 016 – this dolphin has evidence of a fishing line injury

We have identified a population of 32 dolphins, who inhabit mainly shallow coastal areas between Sii Island and Funzi Bay, through the Wasini Channel. Four individuals have evidence of injuries from fishing equipment or boat interactions. In addition, the core range of their distribution does not fall within the boundaries of the KMMPA, meaning no restrictions on fishing levels and methods are in place. 

Presenting at the WIOMSA symposium

The Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Assocation (WIOMSA), alongside the Kenyan Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KMFFRI) have organised a scientific symposium in Mombasa this October, focusing on the issues around Coping with Global Change.

In April, GVI Kenya’s marine team submitted abstracts on a series of topics and findings from our research programme on the south coast under themes of global change and the marine environment, biodiversity and ecological processes and overexploitation of resources and.  We had three abstracts accepted for poster presentations at the symposium in a couple of months. The next three blogs will describe the focus of the presentations GVI will make and the significance of the data being collected.

SeaStars

Sea stars, also known as Starfish are echinoderms that are well known for their regenerative properties. Sea stars are capable of growing a new disc and arm. Most sea stars have 5 arms although several such as the Luidia maculata and the Acanthaster planci (Crown of thorns starfish) have more. Although we only record sightings of the Crown of thorns, due to their relationship with the destruction of coral, many different species of starfish are seen consistently on snorkel transects, the most common ones are described below.

We quite often spot thin limbed Linckia guildingi and Linckia laevigata  on shallow reef areas and among coral rubble – they have smooth, long cyclindrical arms and are around 25cm diameter. They are pale pink or gray and distinctive bright blue, and seen in a variety of areas both inside and outside the KMMPA.

Linckia laevigata - distinctive bright blue found on shallow reefs

Linckia laevigata - distinctive bright blue found on shallow reefs

Protoreaster lincki have a very distinctive appearance with a bright red pattern and spines on a pale grey or white body. They can reach around 30m diameter and have been seen in large numbers recently; 8 were seen on a snorkel transect on the northern edge of lower Mpunguti island in the Marine Reserve just this week.

On our rocky intertidal we are also fortunate to see species that prefer sandy or seagrass shallow areas such as the Pentaceraster mammillatus, with highly variable colours seen, and Pentaceraster tuberculatus, which is a bluish yellow.  These tend to have stocky bodies, with rounded tubercles on surface and reach up to 20cm diameter.  

Pentaceraster mammillatus with smooth tubercles in the centre

Pentaceraster mammillatus with smooth tubercles in the centre

Also, in our more degraded and heavily fished reef areas, such as those around Sii Island, we see a number of the mentioned species and also the Culcita schmideliana on the shallow reefs. It is a large, inflated five armed starfish growing up to 30cm in diameter. They are pale cream in colour towards end of arms with mottled pink on a red disc and have scattered black, blunt tubercles. These feed on small coral colonies.

Culcita schmideliana feeds on small coral colonies

Culcita schmideliana feeds on small coral colonies

We have a wealth of interesting marine species in this area, often overlooked due to the larger more iconic species also present here. Sea stars are one of many!

The diveristy of Ray species in the KMMPA

When out on the boat, or snorkeling a transect one of the most amazing megafauna we see are rays. There are over 30 species of rays from 10 different families. They have skeletons that are composed of cartilage rather than bone, so like sharks, they are known as a cartilaginous fish. The 3 most commonly spotted rays along the Kenyan coast are the spotted eagle ray, the blue-spotted ribbon tail ray and the manta ray.

The spotted eagle ray has a body length of up to 3.5 metres, with a white underside with a black dorsal surface with distinctive white spots. They have a long tail with serrated barbs at the base. They are found mainly on inshore shallow water around reefs all year round. Most recently we have seen this species on our snorkel transect in the Marine reserve – an individual over 2m in width moving gracefully over the reef.

Blue spotted ribbontail ray spotted hiding on one of our snorkel transects

Blue spotted ribbontail ray spotted hiding on one of our snorkel transects

The blue-spotted ribbon tail ray has an oval shaped body, up to 90cm in diameter. Yellow brown colouration with numerous blue spots. Their tail has a fleshy ridge, blue stripes and a single sting. They are generally solitary and common on rocky shores and coral reefs. They are seen in the marine park throughout the year, and have been seen on numerous snorkel transects around Kisite island, though they can be hard to spot due their ability to camouflage themselves in the sand. Just last week we spotted two a managed to get this great photograph on Snorkel Transect 7.

Manta rays are the largest ray at a width of up to 6.7 metres and a possible weight of over 2000kg. They have a wide head with a pair of paddle like flaps at the front and possess 5 pairs of gill openings that are well equipped for filtering plankton. They have a black dorsal surface and a white ventral surface. Being very powerful swimmers they can jump clear of the surface of the water (which is thought to dislodge parasites). They are seasonal visitors to the marine park, being found mainly between January and the end of March. Found mainly in deeper water but occasionally spotted close to the reefs. In 2002 up to 500 manta rays were seen between Kisite and Sii Island, and just yesterday our boat captain spotted one leaping clear of the water in the marine reserve.

Progress with our Reef Fish Surveys

In a blog earlier this year we discussed our plans for developing and improving reef fish surveys in Kisite Mpunguti Marine Protected Area. We thought it was time for an update…

We have been busy doing surveys 1 and 2 on almost all of our survey transects through this and the previous expedition, with volunteers and staff both learning to identify and estimate the sizes of different families and species of important reef fish. Survey 1 assesses coral health by using bio-indicator species so in this survey we look at butterfly and angelfish and Survey 2 assesses the relationship between trigger fish, sea urchins and herbivorous fish including surgeon and parrot fish. Both these surveys give a good indication of the health and stability of the different reefs and the levels of biodiversity. This study will also help to determine the impact of fishing on the coral reef communities. Even in these initial stages it is possible to identify some key trends and differences between the transects and reefs surveyed.

Lethrinidae lethrinus nebulosus - the number and size of Emperor fish are recorded for Survey 3

Lethrinidae lethrinus nebulosus - caught for consumption - the number and size of Emperor fish are recorded for Survey 3

Survey 3, which focuses on commercially important fish including the following families; Emperors (lethrinids), Snappers (lutjanids), Groupers (serranidae) and Rabbitfish (siganidae), indicates the impacts of fishing by recording differences in abundance and size on transects within and around the Marine Park. This week we have had 4 people pass the required identification test and are ready to start surveying! We have 4 weeks left of this expedition and we aim to cover each transects at least once for each survey. It’s going to involve a lot of snorkeling and although challenging, it’ll also be really interesting.

Moving forward, conserving together

Following on from our last blog, talking about the problem of spear fishing, recently some positive action to address such problems has been taken by local Beach Management Units (BMUs) alongside the Fisheries Department, East African Wildlife Society (EAWLS) and Kenyan Wildlife Service. Facilitated and funded by Flora and Fauna International, last week Shimoni held a big event to get local stakeholders together to discuss the possibility of establishing Community Conserved Areas (CCAs).

Representatives from all seven districts put forward their ideas for areas managed locally by the people who have the most invested in that area, and also put forward the problems and support they foresee being needed from other organisations. It was a progressive day with communities working together, sharing thoughts and moving forwards in conserving their natural resources. The aim of the CCAs would be to reduce destructive and illegal fishing methods by patrolling the areas and enforcing agreed regulations, and to charge small entry fees to tourists wanting to snorkel or dive on the reefs.

A healthy reef off Sii Island - one proposed CCA

A healthy reef off Sii Island - one proposed CCA

This project will no doubt grow and develop over the next few weeks with so many enthusiastic people coming together to get invovled, both from the scientific and local communities, so we will keep you updated!

Surveys on Commercially important reef fish

Over the last few months, GVI had been working hard to assess  different coral reef fish communities within and around the Kisite Mpunguti Marine Protected Area (KMMPA).  We particularly want to assess the impact of fishing on specific commercially important species by looking at the presence and individual size of fish on different transect sites within the survey area.

 

One of the commercially important families we are surveying - Grouper or Serranidae

One of the commercially important families we are surveying - Grouper or Serranidae

In recent years, fish stocks in this area seem to have been declining due to increased population pressure on the coast resources and increased tourism demands alongside the global problem of overfishing.  GVI has found out that local fishermen have witnessed a decrease in individual fish size and in the amount of fish they are catching through interviews and measuring fish catches, so it is integral that we investigate this concern for future sustainability and conservation. A decreasing population of certain fish species can threaten both the biodiversity of important marine habitats and the livelihoods of the local communities.

By conducting surveys on transect sites that lie within the Kisite marine park, where fishing is prohibited, and the marine reserve where fishing is limited and comparing it with data collected from unprotected areas, we hope to gain a better understanding of how the KMMPA is affecting the presence and size of Snappers (lutjanids), Groupers (serranidae), Emperors (serranidae) and Rabbitfish (siganidae).  We hope the data collected will signify the necessity of marine reserves and encourage local people to support them and the positive impact such recruitment grounds can have on fish stocks.