A throwback to 2023: My experience as an Ocean Restoration Steward

If I had to describe my experience in the Restoration Stewards program in one word, it would be “rejuvenating.”

During my time with the program, I have worked closely with local community groups to restore the peri-urban mangrove ecosystems in Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city. Mangroves are the only gazetted forests on Mombasa Island. 

Our experience with the Restoration Stewards program was highly invigorating for me and my team. In the pictures that follow, I’d like to share some highlights from with the world a bit of our restoration journey throughout the past year.   

Degraded site before planting (18th August, 2023). Suleiman Fada

Mangrove seedlings used for planting the site (18th August, 2023). Suleiman Fada

Our team and local community members in action  (19 August 2023). Suleiman Fada

Team debrief after planting (19 August 2023). Suleiman Fada

Team group photo after planting (19 August 2023). Suleiman Fada

Planted site one week after planting (27 August 2023). Suleiman Fada

Mangrove honey brand (MUIBEE) created through the support of the project. Also shown are honey and mangrove propagules and seeds, which illustrate the role of mangrove honey in conserving the mangrove ecosystem (5 October 2023). Zipporah Chalwa

Attending a GLF workshop, represented by Zipporah Chalwa (14 October 2023). Zipporah Chalwa

The GLF and CERIOPS teams at the planting site (18 October 2023). Suleiman Fada

GLF Events Project Officer Venetia Galanaki at work on the mangrove site (18 October 2023). Suleiman Fada

How has the Restoration Stewards program re-energized our work at CERIOPS?  

In many ways! 

First, the program granted us a platform to manage a mangrove restoration initiative by ourselves in the best way we know, through the hands of the local community group (Amani Jipange) in Mwakirunge. Through this collaboration, we achieved tangible results, enhanced community trust and goodwill, and opportunities to establish further partnerships. 

Secondly, we got to share the story of this incredible ecosystem to the world. By sharing our Greening the Blue mangrove restoration model, we have continued to attract more partnerships in the mangrove restoration space. 

Lastly, after gaining visibility through the program, we were approached by several organizations seeking to learn more about our work. Notably, we were approached by the Global Mangrove Alliance to support the development and the publication of the best practice guide Including Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK) in Mangrove Conservation and Restoration, targeting practitioners and researchers acting in the field.

Fruits of our labor and moving forward

Propagule hunting for replacement planting (20 March 2024). Levis Sirikwa

During our monitoring activities, one of our interventions was replacement planting in areas of the planted site that had experienced higher levels of mortality. 

Thankfully, at our restoration site, we encountered minimal cases of mortality – roughly 2 percent. In these cases, we engaged a community member in a replacement planting activity. Together, we directly planted mangrove propagules in areas where the site conditions were optimal. Red mangroves (Rhizhophora mangroves) were used since the site was already zoned with the same species.

Assessing propagule maturity (20 March 2024). Levis Sirikwa

Personally, the program has given me renewed energy and a new approach to landscape and seascape restoration. 

I was given the chance to develop my abilities and connect with interesting and like-minded people. For example, I got the opportunity to enhance my knowledge in landscape restoration dynamics courses through a partnership between the University of Ibadan, CIFOR-ICRAF and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF).

Overall, I feel like I have grown tremendously in my career. 

My team and my community have been equally empowered: we all now look at mangrove restoration and conservation from a very new perspective! The community group carrying out active mangrove restoration understood that it is no longer just about planting mangrove trees, but rather about growing these trees by protecting them and conserving them. 

We also learned that planting is not always the solution to landscape restoration and that we are not doing mangrove restoration for ourselves, but for our children and their children. 

What kind of environment would we want them to inherit from us? This question not only gave us the drive to work tirelessly beyond our targets during our time with the Restoration Stewards program, but it continues to haunt us in 2024 up until we give up the ghosts!

The mangrove site 7 months after planting (20 March 2024). Levis Sirikwa

Here are some of the main lessons learned we learned on our journey:

  • We developed synergistic partnerships in mangrove restoration through our participation in the Restoration Stewards Program. These were and continue to be a valuable asset.
  • Local ecological knowledge plays a vital role in the success of landscape restoration. Integrating it with academic knowledge is essential for overall success.
  • The best lessons always come from nature. We should always observe, listen and embrace nature to understand it.
  • The ecosystem is always finding its own ways to adapt to climate change by regenerating naturally. This can be observed in the photo below, which shows buds or young trees growing from the roots of the knee-shaped mangroves (Bruguiera gymnorrhiza).
  • Assisted natural regeneration techniques through conservation initiatives are cost-effective and directly enhance the livelihoods of local coastal communities living adjacent to the mangrove ecosystems. We were able to support this approach by kickstarting beekeeping with one of our community groups (Majoreni BMU) in the mangrove ecosystem with the prospect of producing mangrove honey.

The unique traits of the site (20 March 2024). Levis Sirikwa

Beehive delivery to the local community, Majoreni BMU, fostering mangrove conservation through beekeeping (21 April 2024). Levis Sirikwa

Beekeeping community training (21 April 2024). Suleiman Fada

Beekeeping for mangrove honey production (21 April 2024). Levis Sirikwa 

By fostering partnerships, we have been able to achieve major milestones in the rehabilitation of our degraded peri-urban mangroves in Mombasa. I have been rejuvenated to continue advocating for mangrove restoration and conservation initiatives in Mombasa and the rest of the world. 

Once a Restoration Steward, always a Restoration Steward. All I have is a heart of gratitude to the Global Landscapes Forum. Asante sana 😁