Indigenous women restoring mangroves

Greening the blue: How to restore mangroves in Kenya

A virtual journey across Kenya’s mangrove restoration projects with Levis Sirikwa.


If a three-year-old child asked you what environmental stewardship is, how would you answer them?

Brainstorming session on restoring our mangrove ecosystem.

I believe the environment is a key stakeholder and should be given a seat at the table when planning resource use from ecosystems, and even when developing restoration initiatives. Let me explain how.

Giving the mangrove ecosystem a voice during mangrove restoration in Mombasa, Kenya.

Let’s take a virtual journey across Kenya’s active mangrove restoration projects, based on the model used in our Greening the Blue initiative. The model acknowledges and embraces the language of five main stakeholders.

Who are these main stakeholders in the mangrove restoration space? The first is the mangrove ecosystem itself. We listen to what the ecosystem tells us through bioindicators, and we comply. For instance, if there is a lack of neighboring forest patches, a lack of signs of natural regeneration and poor soil substrate (sedimentation), then the message is clear: “Do not plant trees here yet!”

We then proceed to plant trees in areas with positive bioindicators. When we comply, the ecosystem cooperates, and this has always led to a high survival rate.

A degraded site, but not suitable for planting yet, with negative bioindicators.
A degraded site, suitable for planting, with positive bioindicators.

The second stakeholder is the local or Indigenous community groups. These groups are the immediate beneficiaries of the goods and services provided by mangrove ecosystems as they live in close proximity to them. They interact with the ecosystem on a frequent basis and understand it as part of their home. In other words, these Indigenous people are in sync with the mysteries of the mangrove forests that visitors may not understand.

Indigenous women restoring mangroves.

The third stakeholder is the government – the custodians of the mangrove forests under Kenya’s constitutional framework. They provide policy guidance and protection against malpractices in the mangroves that lie beyond the power of the local community.

Kenya Forest Service officials (in green uniforms) in the mangrove ecosystem.

The fourth main stakeholder is the project’s financial backers. In our case, this is the Global Landscapes Forum, which provides support through the Restoration Stewards program.

Finally, there is us – the Ceriops Environmental Organization, completing the list of five main stakeholders under the Greening the Blue initiative’s model. In most cases, we, the scientists, represent the voice of the environment when we insist that we should follow what the bioindicators in the environment tell us and complement the restoration process.

This journey should be jointly undertaken by these five stakeholders, and we must be in one accord for the objectives of the model to be realized. In this article, we will use the case of a project recently funded through the Restoration Stewards program to amplify this amazing journey.

The selected degraded mangrove site.

Initial steps: Planning

The five stakeholders convened a roundtable discussion on the mangrove restoration activities to take place. The key questions covered the availability of the necessary resources (finances, human capital, suitable degraded sites, mangrove seedlings and time), defining the scope of mangrove restoration and confirming the availability of the team on the ground, which required the physical presence of at least three of the five stakeholders.

Confirmation of the nursery stock and site dynamics.

Checkpoint 1: Site assessment

We checked the suitability of the degraded site in terms of soil substrate and site hydrology. The soil substrate was thick and muddy with frequent tidal flooding. These were the bioindicators that the site was suitable.

We also checked the availability, number and health of target species in the nursery banks. We chose Rhizophora mucronata (loop root or red mangroves), also called Mkoko in the local dialect.

Preparing the site by digging holes.

Checkpoint 2: Site preparation

Next, we prepared the selected sites for planting. This entailed digging at the recommended line spacing and depth, removing the recyclable yogurt polypots from the mangrove seedlings and transporting them to the specific holes from the selected nursery batches.

Transferring seedlings from the nursery to the holes dug.

Checkpoint 3: Mangrove planting

Once the site had been prepared, with the required holes dug as instructed and mangrove seedlings dispatched in the respective holes, we planted the mangroves in a coordinated manner. With our team of 21 people, we planted 2,000 red mangrove (Rhizophora mucronata) seedlings over a total area of 4,920 square meters.

Confirmation of all seedlings having been planted.

Checkpoint 4: Housekeeping

After planting, we reconvened to check if all the mangrove seedlings placed at the holes had been planted, collected the polypots and took them to the nursery site for the next potting batch. During this time, we also collected any propagules readily available and stored them in moist conditions for nursery preparations.

The propagules collected were set up in close proximity to the site to be planted as replacements in the future, which is a monitoring intervention based on the survival dynamics of the planted trees. We carried out a final briefing, including a vote of thanks, observations, next steps, and announcements.

Checkpoint 5: Monitoring

This activity is in progress: our team visits the sites to check on the growth performance and survival of the planted seedlings on a monthly basis. This will last 12 to 18 months. The scientists check for any unusual patterns and intervene by providing recommendations to the community. The other stakeholders are informed of progress at the site.

Satellite imagery of the planted site, zoomed in and out.

Checkpoint 6: Sustainable conservation

We have two critical questions to answer here: how do we protect the planted trees from illegal logging, and how do we sustain community-based active restoration practices?

This project will support sustainable beekeeping through the procurement of beehives and by providing training on sustainable and profitable mangrove honey production. This is a nature-based solutions approach.

The planted trees after 30 days.
A beehive set up in the mangrove forest.

Upon achieving this component, the Greening the Blue initiative model will have achieved its three main objectives:  “to green the blue,” “to establish and grow the blue forest” and “to restore the ecosystem functions of the degraded peri-urban mangroves in Kenya.”

Article tags

community-based mangrove conservationmangrovesrestoration stewards

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