Community capabilities and marine governance

Conserving a Marine Protected Area and improving local livelihoods

Subject: Governance of MPAs
Location: Watamu Marine National Park and Mida Creek
Leader: Allan Majalia

Bringing people together to tackle threats to the Marine Environment

Marine Governance is the work at the intersection of biodiversity conservation and sustaining human activities dependent on Marine Protected Areas. A Rocha Kenya is working closely with Kenya Wildlife Service to identify and address issues of governance for the Watamu MPA in partnership with the University of St. Andrews. In addition A Rocha International, A Rocha Ghana and Natiora Ahy (Madagascar) have also been part of the overall project.

The project envisioned the deployment of a governance baseline tool in Kenya, Ghana and Madagascar. This approach aims to bring together interested parties to develop a common vision for a given marine protected area, to improve understanding and collective action for sustainability. The project will identify and tackle issues which are threatening or degrading the MPAs and the people who depend upon it.

A key outcome is to identify alternative livelihoods which are environmentally sustainable and to support the transition towards these activities, particularly amongst marginal groups. the project will thereby give marine protected area governance a stronger fit with poverty alleviation. It will improve the capabilities of communities to contribute protected area governance, through knowledge exchange and platforms for participation. It will enable sharing of lessons learned across networks of practice operating at community, national and international scales  through a South-South Knowledge exchange and training events.



Watamu Marine Protected Area

Marine Protected Areas (MPAS) are on of the primary vehicles for marine conservation. The terms refer to any predefined coastal or marine area that is afforded some special form of protection for the benefit of its species and habitats or the overall health of the ecosystem and where possible for the benefit of society.

The Watamu Marine Protected Area is a contiguous complex that is made up of the Watamu Marine National Park, Watamu Marine National Reserve and half of the Malindi Marine National Reserve. All these protected areas were gazetted on 26th March 1968. The Watamu MPA complex is characterized by being part of the longest fringing reef on the east coast of Africa with the most prominent habitats being the coral reef and sea grass except for Mida creek that is dominated with mangrove cover. Our key area of focus in the project is the Watamu Marine National Park and Mida creek.

In terms of biodiversity Watamu MOS is characterised by the corals reefs providing habitat to over 500 species of fist, as well as turtles, mantra rays and whale sharks. Also, it is home to 18 species which are on the IUCN Red List such as the endangered Halavi Guitar Fish and the Vulnerable Brown-marbles Grouper.

The MPA faces threats as identifies by stakeholders during a preceding scoping study that include unsustainable fishing and recreational practices; exclusion of marginal group and decline of habitats and species upon which livelihoods depend.

Marine Governance Baseline Tool

A Rocha Kenya is working with the Marine and Coast Environment Team at University of St. Andrews, Scotland, led by Dr Tim Stojanovic to implement an approach called the Governance Baseline Tool. This approach brings together organisations and communities local to WMNP, presenting evidence and trends from natural and social science assessments and allowing professional and community stakeholders to reflect and deliberate on agreed courses of action for conservation and community well being. This process is supported by the management authority Kenya Wildlife Service and their partnership in this process provides an important avenue for local input to positively impact the conservation of WMPA through the implementation of the WMPA Management Plan ( 2016-2026). It will both improve understanding of sustainability and facilitate collective action towards it, thus contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life below water.

Mitigating the effects of the Covid 19 (C19) crisis on coastal communities of Watamu

A livelihoods and well being survey was carried out and provided basic finance to survive food and income shortages during the C19 crisis, communicate C19 messages and review the success of existing alternative livelihoods initiatives.


In addition, a community ‘marine scouts’ programme provided unemployed and less-educated youth over 18 years with training and stipend pay. The programme involved the local youth in collecting data for surveys concerning village elders, community groups, fishermen groups and bird monitoring, from the villages adjacent to the Watamu MPA.

Pro-conservation Livelihoods and Community Capabilities for Marine Protected Area Governance Project

This is a continuation project- Phase 3 of the Marine Governance Project that seeks to engage all key stakeholder in improving the governance and management of the Watamu Marine Protected Area (WMPA). The project envisions creating synergies between conservation needs of the Watamu MPA and the socio-economic needs of the local communities depending on it for their livelihood and well being.

The key outcomes of the project include hosting a multi-stakeholder workshop to get feedback on the deployment of the marine governance baseline tool. It also seeks to support disadvantaged communities depending on the WMPA by implementing feasibility studies on three new environmentally sustainable livelihoods.

Watamu Marine Protected Area (WMPA) Stakeholders' Governance Workshop

On the 10-11th February 2021, A Rocha Kenya supported by Kenya Wildlife Service, Local Ocean Conservation and Watamu Marine Association hosted a one and a half days’ governance workshop for the WMPA at Turtle Bay Beach Club , Watamu. It brought together 47 delegates from different sectors who have a stake withing the WMPA. These include the local communities, government agencies, NGOs, academics and business entities.

Given that some key stakeholder were not present during the workshop,a follow up  meeting was held on 4th March 2021 at Ocean Sports where 15 participants were in attendance. These included hoteliers, residents, water sports and diving groups.

The main highlight of the workshop was the positive response from stakeholders and their commitment to working together. This led to the development of a joint vision to support the implementation of the WMPA Management Plan (2016-2026). Stakeholders then signed up to the four core ares of the management plan; Ecological Management, Tourism Development and Management, Community Partnerships and Conservation Education and the Marine Protected Area Operations and Security Management Programme. 


Please find a link to the data presented during the workshop



Under the project, the three new pro-conservation livelihoods include:

  • Carbon- Credits for mangrove and sea grass

This project seeks to conduct a feasibility study to assess whether the mangroves in Mida, Dabaso and Uyombo and the sea grass meadows of WMPA can be conserved and /or restored to offset the impacts of climate change as well as benefit local communities of Watamu. The project kick started by a site visit to Mikoko Pamoja in Gazi for a fact-finding mission and to learn on how to successfully establish a carbon credits project.

This is informed by the acknowledgement that one of the major threats facing marine ecosystems if the world are the impacts of climate change causing rising sea levels, coastal erosion, ocean acidification and rise in sea surface temperature. This has in turn affected marine species and habitats. Of particular in WMPA is evidence of coral bleaching from long-term research done by A Rocha Kenya’s marine department.

  • Eco-certification of boat tour operations

Despite the tourism industry contributing greatly toward improving the living standards of local coastal communities living adjacent to the WMPA,it had resulted in negative impacts on the habitats and species of the WMPA e.g through unsustainable practices such as irresponsible snorkeling, feeding of fish by tourists, trampling on corals and anchoring of boats on corals. The eco-certification component seeks to investigate whether a well-designed eco-certification scheme would be accepted and supported by boat operators, tourists and hotels. It aims at improving on the best practices and guidelines that boat operators and tourists can adhere to so as to protect WMPA from further damage. This could also present potential benefits to beat especially if tourist will be willing to pay a premium for a certified boat.


  • Alternative food livelihoods for fishers in closed seasons

This project entails conducting a feasibility study on engaging fisher communities in Watamu in alternative livelihoods. It aims at training them on conservation agriculture using the Farming God’s Way model as an alternative to fishing particularly during Kusi, where they struggle to get a good catch from the ocean because the sea is too rough. In the long-term, this will minimise the pressure of exclusively depending on WMPA as a source of livelihood.

Project in partnership with