Marine and Coastal Resources Governance

Kenya has established standards to manage the coastal resources and environmental quality through installing both domestic and international laws. 

Domestic Laws and Regulations


Environmental Management and Coordination Act, 2015

This act commenced in 2000 and was later amended in 2015. It provides for the establishment of an appropriate legal and institutional framework for the management of the environment and for the connected sectors and underscores the need for integration in the management of the environment and its components in Kenya.

The act restricts the carrying out of certain activities in rivers, lakes and wetlands ecosystems without an Environmental Impact Assessment being undertaken and subsequently an approval by the National Environmental Management Authority being granted. Section 42(2) empowers the Minister to declare any part of, amongst others, a coastal zone to be a protected area.

Fisheries Management and Development Act, 2016

This is an Act of Parliament to provide for the conservation, management and development of fisheries and other aquatic resources to enhance the livelihood of communities dependent on fishing and to establish the Kenya Fisheries Services; and for connected purposes. 

Wildlife (Conservation & Management) Act by the Kenya Wildlife Service

Marine protected areas are areas of coastal waters designated as marine parks or marine reserves which are protected under this Act. In marine parks, no form of resource exploitation or extraction is allowed whereas in marine reserves, limited human activity including exploitation of resources is allowed. 

Merchant Shipping Act

The Merchant Shipping Act 2009 makes provision for, among other, the registration and licensing of Kenyan ships and ancillary matters; prevention of collisions and pollution; safety of navigation and cargoes; maritime security; the control, regulation and orderly development of merchant shipping and related services. The Merchant Shipping Act has a crucial role in regulating shipping activities in the inshore areas and extending to the EEZ, providing for maritime safety and security and pollution control and environmental conservation. 

The Kenya Maritime Authority Act

This act commenced in 2007 and provides for the establishment of the Kenya Maritime Authority as a body with responsibility to monitor, regulate and coordinate activities in the maritime industry.

National Oceans and Fisheries Policy

The overall objective of the National Oceans and Fisheries policy of 2008 is “to enhance the fisheries sector’s contribution to wealth creation, increased employment for youth and women, food security, and revenue generation through effective private, public and community partnerships”. The policy seeks to address, among other issues, unsustainable utilization of fisheries resources, resource use conflicts, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of a comprehensive legal and institutional framework for effective fisheries management. 

Maritime Zones Act (Cap. 371))

This act was adopted in 1989 and consolidates Act to consolidate the law relating to the territorial waters and continental shelf of Kenya, to provide for the establishment and delimitation of the exclusive economic zone and to provide for the exploration, exploitation, and management of maritime zone resources.

Territorial Waters Act Cap 371, 1972

Kenya has a coastline measuring 247 miles from the Somalia to the Tanzania border. It is along this coastline that the 1972 Act of Parliament extended the territorial jurisdiction outward from the old distance of three miles to twelve miles. This breadth is measured from a baseline along the low water mark, or where applicable from a straight line which closes the indentations of the coastline. This means that all waters within the base line or the straight line along the indentations are regarded as internal waters of the coastal state. As we shall see below, under international law the scope of jurisdiction of the coastal state over internal or inland waters is more comprehensive than that over the territorial waters. It is interesting to note in this regard that Section 4(2) of the Kenya legislation defines the territorial waters to include ‘any part of the open sea’ that the’ territorial- sea includes any Inland waters of Kenya.

The Continental Shelf Act Cap 312, 1975

The Kenya Continental Shelf Act (No, 3 of 1975) came into effect on 4 April 1975. It represents one of the many national efforts during the last three decades to declare and define a coastal state’s territorial claims over the marine resources adjacent to its coast.

Coast Development Authority Act (Cap. 449)

This is an Act of Parliament to provide for the establishment of an Authority to plan and co-ordinate the implementation of development projects in the whole of the Coast Province and the exclusive economic zone and for connected purposes. The authority is the Coast Development Authority of Kenya and the Act defines its powers, functions and internal organization.

International Laws and Agreements to which Kenya is Party 

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982)

Popularly known as UNCLOS, the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty, this international agreement defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.

Convention on the Conservation and Management Measures of High Seas Resources

This agreement promotes compliance with international conservation and management measures by fishing vessels on the high seas. The agreement applies to all fishing vessels used or intended for fishing in the high seas.

The African Convention for the Conservation of Nature & Natural Resources (Algiers, 1968)

This convention encourages conservation, utilization and development of soil, water, flora and fauna for the present and future welfare of mankind, from an economic, nutritional, scientific, educational, cultural and aesthetic point of view.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered species of Wild Fauna & Flora (Washington, 1973)

The Convention regulates international trade in endangered wild animals and plants. This Convention covers animals and plants, whether dead or alive, and any recognizable parts or derivatives thereof (art. 1).

Lusaka Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna & Flora (1994)

The objective of this agreement is to support member states to reduce and ultimately eliminate illegal trade in wild fauna and flora. Parties have adopted and enforced measures with a view to investigating and prosecuting cases of illegal trade, to co-operate with one another and with the Task Force, to provide the latter with relevant information and scientific data, and to encourage reporting of illegal trade by the public.

Convention on the Continental Shelf (Geneva 1958)

This convention supports Kenya in defining and delimiting her rights to explore and exploit the natural resources of the continental shelf. The convention gives Kenya sovereign and exclusive rights over the continental shelf for the purpose of exploration and exploitation (art. 1). Such exploration or exploitation must not cause unjustifiable interference with navigation, fishing or the conservation of the living resources of the sea, or with oceanographic or other scientific research (art. 5).

Convention of the High Seas (Geneva 1958)

States undertake to draw up regulations to prevent pollution of the sea by oil from ships and pipelines or resulting from the exploration and exploitation of the seabed (art. 24). They further agree to take measures to prevent pollution of the sea by dumping of radioactive waste and to cooperate with international agencies in taking such measures to prevent pollution of the seas or airspace above them resulting from radioactive materials or other harmful agents (art. 25).

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (1971)

The objective of the Convention is to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands. Each Contracting Party agrees to designate at least one national wetland for inclusion in a List of Wetlands of International Importance (art.2.1), and to consider its international responsibility for the conservation, management, wise use of migratory stocks of wildfowl when modifying the content of the List (art.2.6). Contracting Parties undertake to establish nature reserves in order to conserve wetland resources and to increase waterfowl populations through management. Parties further agree to co-operate in the exchange of information as well as in the implementation of the Convention, especially in the case of wetland extending over the territories of more than one Contracting Party, and to train personnel competent in the fields of wetland management and research (art. 4 and 5).

International Convention for Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)

MARPOL is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes. The Convention includes regulations aimed at preventing and minimizing pollution from ships – both accidental pollution and that from routine operations – and currently includes six technical Annexes. Special Areas with strict controls on operational discharges are included in most Annexes.

The Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.

Convention on Biological Biodiversity (1992)

This Convention supports Kenya o conserve biological diversity, promote the sustainable use of its components, and encourage equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. Such equitable sharing includes appropriate access to genetic resources, as well as appropriate transfer of technology, considering existing rights over such resources and such technology.

The Convention places a duty on States Parties to conserve biological diversity within their jurisdiction, as well as outside their jurisdiction in certain cases (art. 4); requires States to cooperate in preserving biological diversity in areas out of national jurisdiction (art. 5);  conferring responsibility on States Parties for the formulation and implementation of strategies, plans or programmes for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity (art. 6).

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.

One of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted is Goal 14: Life below water, which aims to sustainably manage, use and protect marine and coastal ecosystems from pollution, as well as address the impacts of ocean acidification. Learn more about SDG 14: Life below Water.

Marine Protected Areas

Target 5 of the SDG 14 is to conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information by 2020. Nairobi Convention is supporting Kenya meet the obligations under SDG Targets 14.2 and 14.5 and Aichi Target 11, besides other SDGs by publishing the Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Outlook for the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region.

Kenya has made significant progress towards increasing the total coverage of MPAs. The current six MPAs protecting over 825.3 square kilometers of oceans have led to increased revenues and income for local tour operators and fishermen, enhanced biodiversity protection, and discouraged destructive fishing practices. Find out more about the Marine Protected Areas in Kenya at the Nairobi Convention Dashboard here.