Just 30 km south of the booming port town of Mombasa, residents of two tranquil Kenyan villages are making history.
Here, amongst the mud-walled houses and coconut trees, the people of Gazi and Makongeni villages have become the world’s first communities to harness the carbon market through mangrove conservation.
The Mikoko Pamoja (‘mangroves together’) project is restoring Gazi Bay’s coastal ecosystems, with community members planting thousands of mangrove seedlings each year and trading the resulting carbon offset on the global market – protecting the coastline, restoring local fisheries, and bringing in over $25,000 for community initiatives in the project’s first two years alone.
Community scout Shabani Hamisi guides visitors through the mangrove forest that lies between Gazi village and the shores of the Indian Ocean. Mangroves are amongst the world’s most productive ecosystems, preventing erosion, providing a rich habitat for coastal fauna and storing as much as five times the carbon of other tropical forests.
Mikoko Pamoja Project Coordinator Josphat Mtwana (left) and community volunteer Boniface Mutisya measure a mangrove tree during a census activity. Mangroves’ dense root systems slow down tidal waters, allowing sediments to settle. The low-oxygen conditions beneath mangrove forests slow down the decay or organic sediments, resulting in much greater amounts of carbon accumulating in the soil.
A volunteer from Gazi village records data on mangrove growth. Globally, mangrove forests are being lost at a rate three to five times faster than other forests, with over one third of the world’s mangroves lost over the last 100 years.
A volunteer from Gazi village readies a mangrove seedling to be planted. Mikoko Pamoja members are currently planting some 4,000 mangrove seedlings every year.
Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute Chief Scientist James Kairo holds a mangrove seedling while talking to visitors at the Mikoko Pamoja project site.
“Here in Gazi we get 1.5 tonnes [of carbon] per hectare,” Kairo says. “That is the carbon stored below ground – and if you add the one which is stored above ground, which is up to 500 tonnes, we are talking about 2,000 tonnes of carbon in the system.”
Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute Chief Scientist James Kairo and Lab Technician Hamisi Kirauni plant a mangrove seedling at Gazi Bay. Under Mikoko Pamoja, local residents are working with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute and the Kenya Forest Service to protect 117 hectares of forest – about 20 per cent of the area’s mangrove coverage.
Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute Lab Technician (and former fisherman) Hamisi Kirauni displays a fish caught in the waters off the Gazi Bay mangrove restoration area. Mangroves provide an important breeding habitat for aquatic wildlife – with some 75 per cent of commercially fished species either spending part of their life cycle in mangrove ecosystems or depending on the habitat for food.
Women retrieve water from a system built with profits from Mikoko Pamoja’s sales. In its first two years, the project brought in more than $25,000 for community initiatives.
“We have provided fresh water to the community either by installing water points or by bringing piped water to people’s houses,” local officer Ann Wanjiru says. “We have bought about 700 textbooks for local schools, and we have improved the infrastructure in the schools by renovating classrooms that were previously leaking.”
Mikoko Pamoja is a project of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute. The Mikoko Pamoja model is now being expanded to nearby Vanga Bay as part of the Global Environment Facility-backed Blue Forests Project, effectively tripling the area of mangrove protected and the carbon credits sold.
A collaboration between UN Environment, GRID-Arendal and a wide range of national and international partners, the Blue Forests Project aims to achieve improved ecosystem management through the first global-scale assessment and demonstration of how the values associated with coastal carbon and ecosystem services can be harnessed to achieve goals in climate change, conservation and sustainable management.
The expansion of the Mikoko Pamoja model to Vanga Bay is one of eight Blue Forests Project sites – in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Kenya, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique, the United Arab Emirates and the United States – piloting approaches to coastal ecosystem conservation and promoting mangrove carbon finance worldwide.
Learn more at gefblueforests and see the project photo albums for Gazi Bay and Vanga Bay, or contact UN Environment Programme Management Officer Gabriel Grimsditch or Blue Forests Project Coordinator Steven Lutz.