Lamu-Kiunga Archipelago

Location/ Description/ Jurisdiction/ Features of Potential Outstanding Universal Values/ Threats/ Management status/ Geographic scale, integrity and site type/ Other sites in the region / Key References

Location - The site is located at the northern extreme of the Kenya coast, against the border with Somalia. The Kiunga archipelago is some 60 km long, part of the string of islands that starts at Lamu Island, about 50 km to the south. The islands shelter an extensive system of creeks, channels and mangrove forests. The islands are fully enclosed within a protected areas, the Kiunga Marine National Reserve (KMNR) and adjacent to the Dodori and Boni National reserves on land. The marine ecosystem incorporates a chain of about 50 calcareous offshore islands and coral reefs.

Description - The area is in the Northern Monsoon Current Coast ecoregion, with closer ties to the Somali coast and northern locations, than to the East African Coastal Current (EACC) to the south. It experiences seasonal reversal in the flow of the two currents with the monsoon seasons. This affects the oceanography of the area, which is characterised by upwellings of cooler, nutrient rich waters. The upwelling results in a highly productive marine ecosystem with rich populations of fish, crustaceans and molluscs, and high abundance of migratory species such as seabirds and turtles. Marine habitats include extensive seagrass beds and patchy coral reefs. The intertidal environment of the creeks and basins of the region holds 60% of Kenya’s mangrove forests, some 345 km² in the greater Lamu area, of which the KMNR hosts about 40%.
The terrestrial environment is a mixture of coral rag and sand beaches, backed by coastal scrub and forest. The beaches provide nesting sites for numerous bird species and three species of marine turtle, while wildlife from the adjacent Dodori Game Reserve frequent the dunes and beaches, including African Wild dogs, buffalo and lions.
The KMNR area is renowned for its aesthetic beauty, hardy yet unique ecological conditions, species diversity, turtles and occasional sightings of dugong, whale and sharks. It is also the home to over 12,000 Bajun people who live adajacent to and within the protected area. Their livelihoods (fishing – lobster, gill, purse seining, crab  - mangrove harvesting, trade) are and have traditionally been sustained by the waters in the KMNR.

Map showing the Kiunga (blue polygon) and Pate/Manga/Magogoni of the Lamu-Kiunga archipelago. The extent of mangrove (green) and coral reef (pale orange) is shown.
© David Obura

A typical tidally-dominated channel between the islands of the Kiunga archipelago and the mainland.
© Julie Church

Jurisdiction - Kenya

Features of Potential Outstanding Universal Values

Criterion viii - Geology and oceanography
Oceanography – the area is greatly influenced by reversals between the Somali and EAC currents during the two monsoon seasons, characterised by influence of upwelled cool, nutrient rich waters resulting in a highly productive marine ecosystem with a high degree of endemism.

Criterion ix - Ecology, species and evolution
Ecology: Wide range of ecosystems from terrestrial and marine habitats including coastal sand dunes, rocky and sandy shores, mangrove forests, seagrass beds, coral reefs and open ocean.
Turtles: Three species are known to nest and feed in the area (green, hawksbill, Olive Ridley) whilst the leatherback has been sighted offshore.
Birds: Key nesting site for 10,000 breeding pairs of roseate terns
Dugong: A dugong refuge though numbers are unknown
Whales: Humpback, sei, sperm and pilot whales known to breed and feed in the offshore waters.

Criterion x - Habitats and conservation
Mangrove forests: the overall area has the largest mangrove forests in Kenya (345 km²) with 40% of this being in the KMNR. The area hosts all nine species of mangroves found in the WIO.
Coral reefs: There are approximately 180 species of corals, with a mix of East African and Gulf of Aden species adapted to the colder upwelling conditions.
Connectivity: the area has mixed species assemblages comprising East African and Gulf of Aden species, representing a key locus of genetic interaction and biogeographic changes.

Cultural World Heritage – criteria xx
Lamu island itself is designated as a Cultural World Heritage Site, for its historical and cultural significance in the Swahili and Islamic cultures of the region. Currently the WH site only includes the town, but plans are underway to designate a buffer zone to include historic sites in the general area, as far north as Kizingitini on Pate Island, just south of the KMNR boundary.

The Red Sea angelfish (Apolemichthys xanthotis), an example of the transition fauna of the Kiunga-Lamu region, as this fish is endemic to the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden, and this is the southern-most record of it’s presence.
© David Obura

Threats - The region is remote, so less exposed to fishing and other direct-uses, though this is changing as waters closer to major markets become depleted. Fisheries in the KMNR and even farther north in Somalia are facilitated by boats and container trucks bearing ice, to buy fish and seafood cheaply locally, and transport it to markets in Kenya and as far afield as Singapore for lobsters. The challenges of regulation and management of fisheries in this remote region result in heavy use of illegal and destructive gears, and no consideration for sustainability. Mangrove poles have been harvested for over a century in the area. Climate change has impacted reefs and mangroves of the area, with significant with over 90% coral bleaching and mortality recorded in 1998, and die-back of mangrove areas due to excessive fresh-water inflow. Because of the area’s remoteness, recruitment of corals is limited, retarding recovery.
Emerging threats to the region include that of insecurity due to proximity to Somalia, with growing threat of piracy in the last few years. This hampers development and management. In addition a large port development is being planned in Magogoni Creek between Manda and Pate islands and the mainland. Weak regulatory frameworks have resulted in significant conflict and uncertainty about the scale of the development, its potential impacts and how the local envirionment and people will be affected. Dredging for port construction and maritime pollution may have devastating impacts on the marine habitats and species of the region, including in the KMNR. Finally, growing interest in oil and gas exploration, and a pipeline for oil from South Sudan to the port make it likely that in future there will be a refinery at the port.

Management status - The Kiunga Marine National Reserve (KMNR) was established as a protected area in 1979, and the following year (1980) was designated as a Biosphere Reserve (Kiunga and Kiwaiyu) of 60,000 hectares under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Project with the adjacent Dodori National Reserve in recognition of the international conservation importance of the region. In 1996, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) formed a working partnership to develop long-term management strategies integrating conservation and development priorities, and several private and civil society groups are also active in marine and cultural conservation in the region. Extension of the Lamu Town Cultural World Heritage buffer zone to include other parts of the historic archipelago to Pate Island would mean the entire archipelago would be designated for cultural or natural values under some form of management.

Geographic scale, integrity and site type - In geological and natural terms, the KMNR and the broader Lamu-Kiunga archipelago are an integral unit, representing the entire Northern Monsoon Coastal Current eco-region in Kenya. Lamu Town is already a Cultural World Heritage site, complementing the KMNR. However the port development at Magogoni represents the single largest threat to the integrity of the natural and cultural systems of the area.

Other sites in the region - None

Key References – Bakker et al. (2010); Church & Obura (2004); Gubelman & Weru (1996); Obura & Church (2004); WWF (2004). --> References