The Kenya Coast is endowed with some of the world’s most valuable coastal and marine resources that not only support economic activities but also the livelihoods of its people. The resources include mangrove forests, estuaries and deltas, sand dunes, beaches, coral reefs, and seagrass beds, among others.
Nine different mangrove species can be found in Kenya, with mangrove forests estimated to cover 54,000ha. Another important ecosystem along the Kenyan coast is seagrass beds. 12 species cover a surface area of about 3,400ha, with the most common being the Thallasondendron ciliatum. Seagrass beds provide habitats for commercial fisheries and serve as important foraging grounds for endangered marine species such as dugongs and turtles. Kenyan coral reefs, in which 250 coral species can be found, extend from the Tanzanian border in the South to the Somali border in the North, covering an area of 621.55km2 . The best reef development is found in the fringing reefs in the southern part of Kenya coast at Diani-Chale and Kisite-Mpunguti MPA.
The Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) has partnered with marine scientists in the region to monitor coral bleaching, mortality, and effects on the benthic structure. Coral bleaching impacts are monitored by use of sea temperature maps generated from satellite sea-surface temperature data. These maps help the managers understand the level of temperature stress on the corals.
The indo-pacific bottlenose and humpback dolphins are the most common dolphin species found in Kenya, while the humpback whale is the most common among the whale species. Dugongs (Dugong dugon) are found in Malindi Marine Parks, Kipini, Lamu archipelago, Gazi, Msambweni and Kisite marine parks.
In 1995, observed species along the Kenyan coast included the sperm whale, humpback whale, Bryde’s whale, Minke whale, Killer whale, and melon-headed whale.
Dolphin species included the bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, humpback dolphin, spinner dolphin and spotted dolphin. Additionally, Fraser’s dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, and the striped dolphin are also found in Kenya’s marine waters.
There are five key bird habitats along the coast, namely the Sabaki estuary Mida Creek, Chale Island, Malindi-Watamu area, Kisite Island, Kiunga Marine National Reserve and the Tana Delta. These form Kenya’s network of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) based on designation criteria prescribed by BirdLife International.
Deltas and estuaries found in the coastal region of Kenya include the Tana delta and Sabaki Estuary in Malindi.
Five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles are found in the Kenyan ocean waters: the Green, Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Olive Ridley, and Leatherback.