Tag Archives: mkwiro

Leopard Tortoise

While on the journey back from a mangrove walk last week we spotted something rare and unusual – a giant leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)! Leopard tortoises are historically absent from the coast and this species on Wasini island is most probably introduced at some point. We had once before seen a small leopard tortoise on the island of Wasini – but it had been killed and brought to base so we never imagined one would survive to grow so large!

The tortoise’s straight carapace length (SCL) was about 30cm, and straight carpace width (SCW) was around 20, hiding under prickley undergrowth near to the main path from Wasini to Mkwiro. We quietly took a photograph for later identification and left it where it was. – later we identified it as the Leopard Tortoise; the fourth largest in the world reaching up to 46cm in length. This tortoise is herbivourous and each individual is uniquely patterned with black markings.

Tortoise seen by Mkwiro mangroves

Tortoise seen by Mkwiro mangroves

Forest Cobra found in Mkwiro!

Forest Cobra (Naja melanoleuca)

Last week a brown forest cobra was found living on GVI base in Mkwiro. Known to inhabit a range of forest types this terrestrial snake is both a good climber and a proficient swimmer, sometimes considered semi-aquatic. Characteristic of cobras, when angry it rears up and spreads its long narrow hood. If cornered it will rush forward making a determined effort to bite, such behavior has earned its aggressive classification in turn making it considered the most dangerous African snake to keep due to its willingness to bite.


It is known to feed on a wide variety of prey including amphibians, fish, other snakes, monitor lizards, birds’ eggs, rodents and other small mammals. The venom is a neurotoxin and although little else is known it is fairly powerful and is released in high wet yields of up to 500mg. Bite symptoms include nausea, vomiting and respiratory distress, without treatment, death can occur within 30 minutes.

After being killed by local villagers GVI staff performed an examination and dissection in order to confidently identify the snake. Inside the snake a semi digested rat was found, the snake was then skinned and we are working to preserve it as record.

Mangrove Tree Transects

The Marine team have been working hard this week on a new survey technique for the mangroves on the southern side of Wasini Island, researching and adapting methods used in Gazi, Kenya to assess abundance and biodiversity of tree species.

The team measure out survey transects in the mangroves

The team measure out survey transects in the mangroves

Little is known about the species abundance and biodiversity within the mangroves on Wasini Island, our aim is to gain a better understanding of this unique habitat. We will be recording species presence, tree height, canopy cover and the diameter of tree trunks. This week we set up two parallel transects, 50m apart with 10m intervals marked along their length. At each 10m point the ‘point-centre-quarter’ method (Guebas et al. 2004, Mitchell 2007) to choose which trees to survey to gain results representative of the whole transect. Our research can then replicated through Shimoni for comparisons. Watch this space as we begin surveying these new transects.

Big Plans for Mkwiro Mangroves – Blog 2

The next stage of our mangrove research will run alongside the transect surveys described in the last blog – we have designed a questionnaire to conduct in the local community to determine if and how the mangrove resources are currently used, how this use has changed over recent years and how the current state and area of the mangroves compares to ten years ago.

Traditionally, mangrove trees have been used for building materials, building fishing canoes, firewood, tannins for use in dyes and for medicinal purposes. Indirectly they are also hugely important to ensure stable fish stocks as they represent an important nursery ground for many fish species and with up to 90% of local families gaining income through fishing activities, any decline in fish populations can have major implications.

Fishing net during low tide

Fishing net during low tide

In compiling the results of the questionnaires, we will gain a better understanding of local relationships with this habitat and through environmental education we can promote it’s conservation and sustainable use.


Hello everyone

Just a quick note to apologise for the lack of blogs this week We have been having serious electricity issues down here in Shimoni – almost no power for the whole of this week! Now the power is back (hopefully fo good!) we are having technical issues with posting our blogs. We hope to get this sorted as soon as possible, so will be business as usual soon I promise!


GVI Kenya

Karibu Tena (Welcome Again!)


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. 


 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.


 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. 


 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.  


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

Cleaning The Beaches Of Wasini Island

Friday the 27th of November celebrated the Muslim holiday Ede.  The Mkwiro villagers were busy all day cooking feasts with their families, and to join in the fun we decided to dedicate our day to cleaning up their beautiful mangroves.  Mangroves are home to many critters and we spent much of our clean-up avoiding crab holes and watching the crabs scurry out of our way.  We spent about two hours cleaning up garbage and debris that has accumulated over many years on the beach.  At high tide the water reaches up high enough to carry this garbage back out to sea and so it is important to keep it as clean as possible.  In the future, the villagers will participate in the clean-ups and learn the importance of protecting their beaches.  After seeing the amount of garbage we collected in just a small area in a short time I think it will occur to them how much is actually littered. Hopefully it will come as a shock and they will want to change their habits.


 Beach clean up

Two hours in the hot sun was hard work, but it was very rewarding to know we were directly affecting the environment. Among the trash was some pretty neat stuff too! I found a shipwreck emergency packet of drinking water from a Chinese ship and there were plastic bottles that would crumple at your touch, they must have been decades old.  The trash we found can be burned, and the glass can be recycled.  Mohammed, a man in the village, uses flip flops for jewellery and so we donated the ones we found to his workshop!


 Marine team in the mangroves

I look forward to doing more clean-ups with the community involved and passing on the awareness of the environment. If only twelve of us participated in the beach clean-up and left with over 15 bags full of trash, old flip flops and glass bottles, imagine what the community could do. A little bit will certainly go a long way. 


Sarah Watson collecting flip flops and water bottles

Is Kisite-Mpunguti MPA Offering Dolphin-Watching Tours?

As part of the socio-economic impact of the dolphin-watching industry in Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Protected Area, GVI carried out a study to evaluate the quality of the talks offered during the dolphin-watching tours. The aim was to find out the knowledge of the tour guides and captain on numerous areas and indicators. This study was undertaken between July and September of 2009 by GVI staff and volunteers, which accompanied 12 tourist dhow trips, assessing 15 guides and captains. 

Unfortunately when analysing the assessment forms and categorising the areas into either insufficient or sufficient, the vast majority of trips proved to be overall insufficient.  In fact only 3 areas – presentation, duration and route and information on KMMPA – were deemed as sufficient in over half of the trips.

The first assessment was on the presentation relating to information provided on the company, crew and boat given at the beginning of the trip.  In 5 of the 12 trips only the names of the crew were given.  However, 7 proved to be sufficient providing information in a very warm and friendly manner covering all three areas.  

The information provided on the duration and route of the trip is the second area deemed to be overall sufficient.  Ten trips gave full details regarding the structure of the day, detailing the period spent searching for dolphins, snorkelling and the break for lunch.  However, 2 trips failed to mention this area at all!

The final area assessed as sufficient was for information provided on the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Protect Area.  In this area 7 of the 12 trips provided good information on the difference between the Marine Park and the Marine Reserve (three of them offered by the same tour guide).  However, again 5 trips failed to provide information, merely pointing out where the MPA was.


 GVI volunteers on board a tourist dhow

Information provided on the local area also proved to be very insufficient.  With only 6 trips mentioning Shimoni, by providing a brief history and information relating to the slave caves.  Additionally, only 6 made mention of Wasini, detailing the coral board walk and village tour.  Only 1 trip discussed Mkwiro, and even that it was only to advice that it was a fisherman village.   The remainder of the tours provided no information whatsoever on the surrounding areas.

Similarly, not one of the tourist dhows discussed anything to do with the local oceanography.  For example no information was given regarding the geographical location in the Indian Ocean, of the important nesting turtle site in Funzi Bay, nor the important fishing ground of the Nyuli Reef.

Insufficient information was also provided in the area of health and safety, with the average time spent discussing this being less than 30 seconds.  Advice was given to maintain the balance of the boat, however nothing was discussed relating to the life jackets, life rings, first aid or fire extinguishers.  All 12 dhows failed to provide sufficient information. 

Another area in which most of the tourist dhows surprising failed to provide sufficient information on was that of the marine species.  Considering the tourist dhows were actually providing a dolphin-watching tour only 2 of them provided detailed information relating to the species of dolphins that could be found in the area and their habitats.  However 10 of them failed to spend even 30 seconds doing this.  Furthermore, not one of the dhows mentioned the possibility of sighting humpback whales, their characteristics or of their migration pattern through KMMPA.  With GVI having 7 sighting of humpback whales during this study period, there is clear evidence of this migration!  Similarly, when discussing the snorkelling that would be taking place as part of the tour none of them mentioned the likelihood of spotting turtles or of the species they may see in the area. 

All 12 tourist dhows also failed to discuss KWS or the Code of Conduct introduced in 2007.  No mention was made of the requirement of dolphin watching dhows to maintain a distance of 100m from groups of dolphins, that they should try and have only 2 boats around a group at one time, and to steer around a group.


 Tour guide approaching a tourist

However, on a positive note the analysis on the interaction of the tour guides is good.  The vast majority of guides were answering questions raised, and there were being interactive with the tourists.  They had a good approach and were very friendly.  Friendly suggestions were to spend less time on personal phones and not to throw cigarette ends into the MPA.

This study showed an urgent need to train the dolphin-watching guides and captains on different areas, mainly on health & safety, history of Shimoni area (Shimoni, Wasini and Mkwiro), Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Protected Area boundaries and regulations and dolphin and whales identification, biology and ecology.

The Socio-economic Impact Of The Dolphin Watching Industry In The Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Protected Area (KMMPA)

The activity of dolphin (whale)-watching is described as “the commercial observation of cetaceans in their habitat from a platform on land, sea or air” (Hoyt 2001).
The dolphin-watching industry constitutes an emergent business in many coastal areas around the world and has seen spectacular growth over the last fifteen years. The industry began in the 1950’s in San Diego (California) and has since expanded as far as Antarctica. During the 1960’s, the industry grew significantly in the United States and Canada, followed by Australia, New Zealand, the Canary Islands, Japan and Norway in the 1980’s (Hoyt 1995, 1996) and, Iceland, Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Tonga in the middle of 1990’s.

In 1998, the number of dolphin-watching tourists totalled around 9 million, estimating the volume of income generated to be 1 billion US Dollars, doubling the income in 1994 (Hoyt, 2001). In 1998, of those nine million participating in dolphin-watching trips, one million were from the United States alone. More recently, other countries and regions such as the Canary Islands and Canada have reached similar volumes. Australia and South Africa are expected to double their numbers from 500,000. (Hoyt, 2001)
This activity has been developed in more than 492 communities with the majority experiencing a real transformation. Dolphin-watching provides important incomes, creates new activities which generate new employment and moreover, constitutes a very useful tool to study marine mammals and marine environments.
Whale and dolphin watching have become an increasingly popular and financially important tourist activity along the East African coast.  Currently, dolphin research and conservation efforts are being undertaken in Tanzania (Zanzibar) and Mozambique within the Sustainable Dolphin Tourism in East Africa Project. However, to date, few studies of cetaceans have been undertaken in Kenya and there is an urgent need to initiate research to aid future conservation and management of the species found in Kenyan coastal waters.


A bottlenose dolphin being watched by tourists in the KMMPA 
Global Vision International (GVI) Kenya has set up a new project focused on the dolphin-watching activity of Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Protected Area (KMMPA). The objectives of this project are to collect information about the socio-economic impact of tourism operation on the area and to analyze the sustainability of increased levels of human-dolphin interaction.  Further, to identify existing problems and to propose constructive changes to respective government institutions that would help boat operators, tour companies, and the local residents in running the activity sustainably. These objectives will in turn add value to the Code of Conduct for KMMPA, developed by Kenya Wildlife Service in 2007.
 1. Analysis of the socio-economic activity (dolphin-watching) in KMMPA.
 2. Impact of tourist dhow boats on the cetacean population.
 3. Education and awareness of boat operators and tour guides.

The data will be collected through interviews to tourist, boat operators, hoteliers and local community members in Mkwiro, Shimoni and Wasini. Also, GVI research vessel will assess the impact of this tourism investigating the abundance, distribution and behaviour of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus). Moreover, we will compare sightings and behaviour on different areas and with different levels of tourism activity that will allow us to evaluate the Code of Conduct. And finally, GVI will create awareness and education of local dolphin species and habitats engaging the boat operators and tour guides in different projects so as to promote conservation issues.

Hoyt, E. 1995. The Worldwide Value and Extent of Whale Watching: 1995. Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Bath, UK. pp. 1-36.
Hoyt, E. 1996. Whale watching and community development around the world. Keynote lecture to the International Whale Watching Festa ’96. The International Whale Watching Forum (Japan). Zamami, Okinawa, Japan, 9 Mar. 1996.
Hoyt, E. 2001. Whale watching 2001:  Worldwide tourism numbers, expenditures and expanding socioeconomic benefits. International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port, MA, USA, pp. i –vi; 1-158.

A Whale Of A Day

On Sunday we were rewarded with yet another amazing sighting of Humpback Whales. It has been the sixth sighting since the beginning of 093 Expedition. This time, a mother Humpback Whale and its young calf were socializing in the channel between Mkwiro and Shimoni, so close to our Base Camp that we were able to see them from the land.


 The mother

It didn’t take us too long to prepare the cameras and GPS and jump into the boat to spend some time watching the pair as they slowly cruised in the channel. They seemed very relaxed in this calm and shallow waters; the young calf was lying on its back showing its distinctive white pectoral fins, while the mother rubbed her body from underneath. We were just overwhelmed by the beauty and the magnificence of the moment!


The calf showing its pectoral fin  

But the main show was yet to come…after a short diving period, the calf breached more than half of its body clearly out of the water just about 30m away from our boat…Whoww! Sunny Sunday Mornings at GVI’s Mkwiro Base.  


The pair together

During the last year (2008) we had a total of 6 sightings of 15 Humpback whales inside our study area. And from the start of July 2009, GVI has already seen 14 Humpback whales in 7 sightings. We are now sharing this data with other organizations collecting data on Humpback whales (a network that involves almost 100 whale-watchers along the East African Coast, from southern Mozambique to northern Unguja Island, Zanzibar) and contributing to have a better understanding of the migration pattern of this species.