Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Mombasa's Ocean Pollution

For World Oceans Day 2013, I designed a poster to be used by Eco Ethics Kenya, showing how local pollution contributes to the degradation of the oceans and ways of further preventing this. It coincided with this year's theme "Together we have the power to protect the oceans."

Friday, 7 June 2013

Likoni Fishermen

Fishermen fixing a net

The life of a small-scale artisanal fishermen is hard anywhere in the world, but here in Mombasa and along the East African coast, it is especially hard. The over fished waters and the lack of infrastructure makes fishing an unprofitable business, yet many continue, as this is all they know. As numbers of fish continue to drastically decline, the fishing techniques adopted by the fishermen become increasingly ruthless.

Unsustainable fishing techniques are one of many problems that threat the marine eco-system. For this reason, the Kenyan Department of Fisheries has enforced laws and regulations so fishing communities can take responsibility over the management of their fisheries resources. These are regulated by Beach Management Units (BMUs), which constitute of local fishermen and ladies. The idea is that after training from the government, the stakeholders should have the capacity to regulate each other and make decisions.

Thus far, BMUs have reduced the use of destructive fishing gears and the harvesting of undersized fish by 40%, but even thought they have played a role in the improvement of fisheries practices along the coast, there is still a great deal of work left to do. The improper management of some BMUs and the lack of regulation has resulted in basic regulations being broken. Targets are not being meet because of this, and even though there have been some areas of development, overall, the Kenyan Coast has far from recovered.

So, when I organised a meeting with the Likoni BMU, just South of Mombasa Island, I should have known better then to have expected to see an example of a perfectly run fishing co-operative. Consisting of over 600 fishermen, the Likoni BMU is one of the largest in Mombasa County. The management site stretches from Likoni Ferry, all the way down to the beginning of Tiwi, where there is another group of fishermen who are part of Kwale Beach Management Unit. Because of this, regulation and monitoring can be very difficult. This often leads to badly kept and often fragmented records. This can be frustrating for NGOs and government departments who want to help BMUs. 

Map of Mombasa and the Likoni BMU site

Like most BMUs, Likoni has a number of Bandas that are dotted along the beaches in it’s management area. Bandas serve as a sheltered area where meetings and training session can be held; where fish can be cleaned and traded. It’s a communal space and structures vary from basic huts to concrete buildings. The Likoni banda was built in 2007 by Eco Ethics International and the Lighthouse Foundation, two organisations that work with coastal fishing communities in Kenya.

Likoni Banda

The banda is situated two minuets away from Likoni Market. This is where I met the fishermen who were to show me around. I wasn't quite sure about their positions in the BMU, but was told they could answer any questions I had. We talked by the banda for a while, then was shown around the site.

The banda lookes out over the creek towards Mombasa Island and sits on a cliff, with stairs going down to the waters edge. It can be seen clearly from the south side of Mombasa Island. Walking up to the cliff to see the view of the Island, I noticed I was stood on a massive pile of rubbish that went down to a small patch of sand. The smell was horrendous and it was clear that this rubbish was being washed by the waves into the creek. It wasn't a pretty sight, and I was a little surprised that this was happening so close to where the fish was being handled.

Huge pile of rubbish outside the banda

I was told that I had missed the early morning catch, but had arrived just on time to see a late fishermen come in. I was told that the catch would be small, due to the size of fishermen's dhow and also because he was by himself. This would also suggest that he caught the fish using a line as it requires more then two hands to pull in a net. This method is preferred as it’s a more sustainable way of harvesting fish. As I also saw, the catch did not vary in size and species, as it otherwise would have if a net were being used. The only fish caught was the white snapper, an easy fish to catch along the reef. It bites on to inexpensive bait such as squid and is a good enough size to be marketable.

Fishermen coming in

The catch

The fish would normally have been weighed before being taken to the market. Two shillings for each kilogram is given to the BMU, kind of like tax that keeps the BMU running. This was not done with the late fishermen. I thought it may be because he arrived late. But when I asked to see inside the banda, I realised why the catch was not weighted. The place was a shambles, a mess beyond repair. The building was not being used and was covered in a thick coating of dust. This included the weighing scales. It was obvious the banda had not been used in a long time, and when I tried to take pictures, I was hurried out to see the selling of the white snapper in the market.

White snapper

A little dismayed and annoyed I walked up to the market to find a pleasant hubbub of activity. The selling and buying of fish was exciting. I’ve always been told that fresh fish should never smell fishy, and I must say, there was only a very slight hint of fishy odour in the air. The flies on the other hand were feasting, and I don't blame them, there was an incredible array fresh seafood.

Changu Fish
Selection of fish



Rabbit fish

Talking to the fishermen, I began to realise that this was the low season for catching fish. They told me how this time of the year is hard for them, so sometimes they have to use nets. This results in some obscure species being caught. Rays are normally not eaten, but because they are caught up in the nets, they are flogged at the market for a cheap price.

Sting Ray

Further down the fish market I noticed a large collection of shells and conches. All of which are illegal to remove form the ocean bed if still alive. I wasn't all that impressed, especially when I saw the insides of a live spider shell being hung out to dry. I asked if the meat was eaten at all, and was told that it was only for decorative purposes. The shells are sold to tourists and locals who visit the beaches up and down the coast. Sold at 1,000 – 4,000Kenyan Shillings, I began to realise that this was a means of making a living during hard times. Although it’s not good for the ocean, it does mean that the fishermen’s family can be fed, clothed and schooled for the coming month.


Spider Shell drying

By the shells I also saw a shark’s jaw and a dried out puffer fish. I was not sure what their purpose was, and was little worried to ask as I got the impression that the fishermen were getting rather suspicious of my presence and picture taking.

Shark teeth

Dried out puffer fish
I took my pictures said my good byes, then headed for the ferry back to Mombasa Island. I began to  get the feeling that I had over stayed my visit, and that certain people were expecting me to pay them for allowing me to be there. The experience was confusing as much as it was frustrating. I had learnt a great deal, but nothing really that made me feel confident in the Likoni BMU. I left the market feeling disheartened by what I had seen. It is sometimes hard to see such things because you realise these practices mean the eventual demise of the artisanal fishermen, but at the same time I cant help but empathise with the struggles they seem to go through. It’s difficult enough to get farmers to see the long-term benefits of sustainable farming practices, but for fishermen it is a great deal harder as they can't see first hand their resources. This has led to project failure in many places.

Bellow is a short film made by Austin Humphries, a PhD student interested in how humans have altered the coastal ecosystems. The film shows techniques used along the Mombasa Coast to revive fish stocks but also the problems faced. It's an unbiased account of the struggles faced by fishermen, and the destruction done to the once colourful shallow waters of the East African Coast:

Mikono ya Wavuvi (In Fishermen's Hands) from Austin Humphries on Vimeo.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Fundi’s Shack

It’s funny how you can find inspiring ideas in the most unexpected places. For the last four months, I’ve been walking past a bicycle fundi on my way to work, not really paying all that much attention to his set up. Up until a few weeks ago, we had only exchanged greetings, but that changed when I noticed a group of guys sat on what looked like computer monitors. I was intrigued and so decided to venture over and  take a closer look. What I found in the fundi’s shack were some fantastic examples of how E-Waste can be reutilised for everyday use. I discovered the shack is shared with three ladies who cook and serve food throughout the day. In the “kitchen” area, I noticed the very practical use of old fridge doors, used for storing fruit and veg. I liked what I saw, so I promised I’d come back to try their food.

On my second visit, I sat down for a cup of chai and a warm flaky chappatti. The ladies were in the process of making pilau, which smelt incredibly fragrant. I asked if I was allowed to take pictures, and although I was granted permission, no one could quite see what the fuss was about. I did try to explain to them why I thought it a cleaver use of waste materials, but as cultural differences go the idea wasn’t grasped, and chuckles and giggles made me realise that the monitor stools and the fridge doors were just another example in many of Kenyan resourcefulness. 

ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is probably one of the worst plastics for recycling, but because of its durable nature, it’s used a great deal in casings for electronic goods. This has meant, that not only is there a vast amount of e-waste that we will have to deal with, but it also a huge amount of plastic that can not be recycled. As e-waste becomes an increasing problem here in Kenya, creative solutions will be required to deal with the various components that come from electronic goods. This should be taken into consideration with the product’s life cycle, which sometimes will never have a “grave”. What I saw at the fundi’s shack made me realise, that because of the resourcefulness of Africans, there must be many examples in the least expected places on how to reutilise obsolete products in new exciting ways. Solutions are always there, but it’s up to the individual to be adaptable, as my friend the fundi has been.