MALINDI, September 30 – When one thinks of Malindi town, the picture that comes to mind is of calm waters and palm-backed beaches dotted with a number of resort complexes catering mainly to package tourists, with luxury accommodation, fine cuisine and excellent service.
The north coast was once remote and inaccessible, covered in lush forest and renowned for its slave trade and tropical plantations, but today little of the forest remains and it has become part of Kenya’s mainstream tourism.
The region’s popularity is due to its image as an idyllic haven with white beaches and azure waters, where sheltered waters protected by coral reefs invite underwater exploration.
Approximately 183 species of corals belonging to 59 genera have been recorded. The total area of coral reef is approximately 50,000 hectares; one of the best known reefs being located between Malindi and Watamu.
However, this aesthetic piece of tourist attraction is on its way to extinction due to the death-dealing effect of climate change.
For this reason, the theme for this year’s world tourism day was centered on the effects of climate change.
In Kenya, the week was marked with activities in Malindi and Watamu under the theme “Tourism responding To the Challenges of Climate Change”.
According to environmental experts if not put in check, one of Kenya’s top tourist destinations could melt into oblivion.
Renaissance Institute for Environmental Research and Development Managing Director Professor Joseph Muga told Capital News in Malindi that global warming will cause the volume of water in the Indian Ocean to increase, thereby eroding the coral reef.
“Coral reefs normally thrive in seawater temperatures between 77 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit (25-29° C) depending on their location. But the narrow temperature range for healthy coral is very close to the lethal temperature,” the professor explained.
He said that as a result of this, the coral reefs would die.
“An increase of one or two degrees above the usual summer maximum can be deadly,” he hypothesized.
He further warned that this increase in capacity of the Indian Ocean could lead to the submergence of all of the coastal towns including Malindi thus sounding a death knell on the tourism industry in the region.
Researchers have said that global warming and environmental deterioration will almost certainly persist and become more acute, increasing the frequency of bleaching cycles at the coast.
According to Tourism Assistant Minister Cecily Mbarire, green house gases are to blame for climate change in the country.
“The thinning of the ozone layer, which shields living creatures from damaging ultraviolet radiation, may also bear some responsibility for the recent demise of reefs,” the assistant minister said.
Ms Mbarire however laid the burden of blame on human irresponsibility, especially when it comes to environmental conservation and preservation.
An example is the cutting down of mangrove trees which survive in saltwater and filter impurities, for timber and fuel.
Alex Thoya who is a tour guide at the Mida Water Creek on the outskirts of Malindi told Capital News that they have resorted to planting fresh mangrove trees to preserve the forest.
Mr Thoya further observed that this lack of sensitivity by humans on the mangroves was leading to disastrous effects.
“If you play with Mother Nature, Mother Nature will return the play back to you,” Mr Thoya summed.
However despite all this destruction along the coast, well-meaning individuals have come up with initiatives to salvage the situation.
Turtle Bay Beach Club hotelier Collins Obure has introduced an initiative to reduce the emission of green house gases form his hotel. He has a built in incinerator which ensures that all waste from the hotel is properly disposed of and destroyed.
Mr Obure further revealed his intention to explore the use of solar energy as a means of ensuring that the environment along the coast was conserved.
All in all the proliferation of the effects of climate change on tourism especially at the coast needs to be looked into and mitigation measures put in place to prevent its negative impact along the shores of the Indian Ocean.
Such action would ensure that Kenya not only protected its top foreign exchange earner, but also the magnificent beauty of the coastal ecosystem.