I have always marveled at the wonders of the sea; beautiful marine creatures that are awe-inspiring to watch. But one trip on a glass-bottom tourist boat a few months ago made me promise to go back for more, and I hadn't found the time until now. I wanted to see the coral bed under the cool waters off the Indian Ocean coast again.
Coral reefs are among Earth's most diverse, productive, and beautiful ecosystems, and have become exciting spots for tourist who admire water life and sports. Its now not uncommon to see tourists in glass bottomed boats being ferried to coral gardens for viewing.
Coral gardens have also been popular spots for water sports tourism especially diving. I joined this custom safari with a group of friends on this fine May morning that combined a variety of both marine and terrestrial research together with community development projects within the tropical environment of East Africa.
The safari was also a learning experience that examined how the local communities affect and utilize the region's natural resources, and aims to assist these communities to profit from their resources in a sustainable manner. As such it focussed on fun as well as three main elements, marine life, research and the impact of development upon it.
Famous for its vast stretches of casuarina-fringed white sandy beaches, the coastal resort of Malindi, a pristine town in Kenya, is easily accessible by both road and air, and has great beauty and diversity of marine life.
The coral reefs are home to more than 140 species of hard and soft corals. The reef plays a diverse role. As well as bio-diversity strongholds, they are breeding grounds for fish and other marine life, a vital barrier against the force of the sea, protecting marine organisms and tourist recreation, they keep out dangerous sharks common to the deeper waters, and their color and the exotic coral fish they support provides a major attraction for tourists.
Gambi, our guide, had told us that the Malindi Marine Reserve was Kenya's first having been opened in 1967 and has been designated World Biosphere Reserve since 1979. The coral reefs fringing Kenya's coastline harbor has an abundance of colorful marine life.
"Please do not damage or remove coral. It is a living organism which takes many years to form and is host to rare and endangered species",Gambi reminded us as we boarded the glass-bottom boat.
Coral reef eco-tourism is successful in many developing countries, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, although it is just picking up in East Africa and only a handful of operators run coral reef expeditions and safaris.
On this occasion, we did not want a diving safari which we had done previously; just time out there unraveling the mysteries of the coral reefs from the comfort of our glass-bottom boat. The weather was good, proving us with a generous rendezvous.
During the brief lecture at sea under the penetrating African sun,Gambi told us that there were more than 200 coral types and 1500 fish species in the east Africa marine eco-region, that extends for about 4,600km of coastline from southern Somalia, through Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique to the north-eastern shores of South Africa.
The reefs in the region were heavily damaged by the El Niño Southern Oscillation coral bleaching event in 1998. Since then, there has been signiﬁcant recovery, although this has been patchy and inﬂuenced by many other local to regional threats. Coral reef monitoring has been conducted by many national agencies, and local and international NGOs.
The coastline supports some 22 million people who depend on the rich marine life for their livelihoods. But the resources along the entire length of east Africa are extensively used, creating problems of over-harvesting, which can destroy habitats and species alike.
Several community conservation programs, including that of the Worldwide Fund for Nature and a local monitoring body, Coral Reef Degradation in the Indian Ocean (CORDIO East Africa), are working with local people and partners to rebuild and secure a healthy environment for the future of the east Africa marine eco-region, ensuring that both marine resources and the livelihoods of coastal communities are protected.