Lamu county has a mangrove cover of 33,500 hectares, which translates to about 60 per cent of Kenya's total mangrove cover.

For many centuries, mangroves have been an important trade item, helping to build a prosperous coastal Swahili civilisation.

Globally, mangrove forests are rare and cover only around 152,000 km2 in 123 tropical and sub-tropical nations and territories. This is less than 1 per cent of all tropical forests worldwide, and less than 0.4 per cent of the total global forest estate.

The mangroves are, however, disappearing three to five times faster than overall global forest losses, with serious ecological and socio-economic impacts. Current estimates indicate that mangrove coverage has been divided by two in the past 40 years.

As the world marked the ‘The International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem' yesterday, the Kenya Forest Service took stock of its efforts.

The KFS Lamu office, along with state players and NGOs, form community-led initiatives to restore degraded mangroves for sustainable use both by locals and the environment.

In Lamu, over 30,000 families depend directly on the mangrove logging trade for survival.

This lifeline was, however, shattered when a logging ban was declared by the government in February last year. The ban sought to increase the forest cover and curb illegal logging, which has massively destroyed water towers.

It was finally lifted in February this year, much to the Lamu community's relief. The lift only applies to Lamu and remains in force in the rest of the country.

The loggers are, however, required to practise mandatory replacement and planting of mangroves to maintain the required forest cover.

KFS Lamu Forest conservator Evans Maneno says the reception has been positive and that local loggers have been able to replant over 200,000 mangroves since the ban was lifted.

Speaking on Thursday, Maneno said involving local communities in mangrove conservation efforts is critical to the success of any management intervention, adding that it can be achieved with rigorous stakeholder collaborations.

“With support from The Nature Conservancy and the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, we launched the partnership, which will also help transform the degraded mangrove forests to uniform stands of higher productivity,” Maneno said.

He said the partnership move is also geared towards strengthening mangrove management in Lamu Island and the archipelago.

Mangroves are an integral part of the ecosystem in Lamu and other coastal counties as they provide habitats and ample breeding grounds for fish. They are also largely used in the region for wood and boat building.

Lamu old town is a historical town, whose entire architecture is said to be tied to mangroves. Mangrove wood and extracts are also used in tannins and dyes, and in traditional medicine.

Maneno says over-harvesting, converting mangrove areas to other land uses, infrastructure development, pollution and climate change have contributed to a loss of one-fifth of Kenya’s 60,000 hectares of mangroves since 1992.

“Over 60 per cent of Kenya’s mangroves lies in Lamu county. Introducing a restoration programme is paramount since it helps to improve mangrove management to sustain the blue economy associated with them,” he said.

The newly launched community-led partnership has already begun undertaking various activities, including field-based training in Faza Island to guide the local community and partners on mangrove restoration and management. It is also establishing mangrove nurseries and demonstration plantations in degraded areas of Pate and Kiunga.

Maneno says all activities in the initiative are aligned with Kenya’s National Mangrove Ecosystem Management Plan of 2017-2027.

He said a mangrove restoration protocol prepared for the Western Indian Ocean region by regional experts will be used to provide step-by-step guidelines to successfully plan and implement the entire mangrove restoration programme in Lamu county.

The International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem, adopted by the General Conference of Unesco in 2015, aims to raise awareness of the importance of mangrove ecosystems as “a unique, special and vulnerable ecosystem". It also promotes solutions for their sustainable management, conservation and uses.