In 2019, in the company of his friends, Steve Misati visited a mangrove ecosystem along the Kenyan coast, a visit that made him fall in love with the ocean and mangroves.
“It was instant love. The ocean and the marine ecosystem gave me a therapeutic reception and vowed to go back,” said the 24-year-old data scientist.
But the massive destruction of the mangrove ecosystem disturbed Misati and he set out to find a solution and restore the marine beauty.
Misati founded Youth Pawa, a nature restoration and ocean conservation organization focusing on climate justice advocacy and youth empowerment.
The organization embarked on a mangrove Restoration Eco-Project to restore hundreds of acres of mangrove forests that had been destroyed through logging.
“I saw the effects of climate change and it was evident that we were losing our natural defences against climate change. Mombasa has seen floods due to deforestation, causing sea levels to rise faster and coastlines to change,” said Misati.
Miritini village, where Misati is leading the community project, excessive deforestation of mangrove forest has left the shorelines bare thereby exposing marine species to dangers brought by high sea tides, rough sea waves and erosion.
“Destruction of the mangrove ecosystem has left the soil loose while marine resources are exposed to hot water due direct sun rays hitting the shore bed” Misati narrated.
According to Misati, there was no practical action by the authorities to save the situation. He came up with the idea of restoring the degraded mangrove forest and sold it to family and friends who helped him fundraise the initial capital.
“I had to step in and fill the gap. The community was destroying the ecosystem and doing nothing about it. My friends and family helped me raise the initial Ksh 80,000 which was used to purchase the seedlings as well as carrying out community sensitization events,” said Misati.
In 2021, they planted 400 tree seedlings during the launch of the project and managed to plant a total of 6300 seedings by the end of that year.The project then set a target of planting ten thousand mangrove trees yearly.
Misati’s project uses a participatory and community-based approach, which involves creating awareness and training the community on both restoration and conservation of the coastal ecosystem.
“With the young people largely involved in the project, we use both the creation of social media online campaigns, and also organizing bi-monthly workshops to sensitize the community on the importance of what we are doing” Misati said.
In 2022, the second year of the project, Misati and his team planted a total of 7226 mangrove tree seedlings.
In the first quarter of 2023, the project planted 2684 Mangroves.With 84 Volunteers involved, the project has seen the restoration of some 3.6 ha degraded land with focus being on restoring 5.2 ha.
The planted mangrove seedlings have registered a 92% survival rate.
Misati noted that a geo mapping survey established that some 33 marine species were back into the restored ecosystem.
Steve’s phenomenal work received international recognition that saw him win The Stem Prize 2022 from the Iris Project.
The Iris Project is a global programme to celebrate, reward, and support young people who are accelerating action to protect and restore nature as a core solution to the climate crisis.
The prize has enabled him to plant more mangroves and run more community workshops to role this out further. He is recording data so that other young people around the world can replicate what he is doing.
Misati through his organization, is also teaching his community about alternative ways they can sustain their livelihoods other than depending on mangrove wood logging.
“We are working on initiating bee keeping projects for community members as an alternative source of income because this will help keep the forest safe from logging,”
The project also has a component of collecting plastics and using them to make artistic items for sale.
Young people involved in the project have also been trained in IT skills like graphics and web design.
“I believe that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one first step, and through this initiative, I see myself and my community bringing back the thriving and amazing mangrove ecosystems that used to exist here in Mombasa” he said with a smile filled face.
Mangroves are a vital part of the coastal ecosystem. Being one of nature’s most effective tools in the fight against climate change, mangroves make coasts more resilient to disasters, they are essential for the health and productivity of coastal communities.
Over the years, the high dependency on mangroves by communities along Kenya’s coastline has resulted in massive degradation of mangrove forests, exposing communities to danger. The extensive logging provides mangrove wood, which is a low-cost, strong, and long-lasting building material. In fact, the majority of the beach hotels that sprang up in Kenya during the tourism boom used mangrove wood as a building material. This wood is also used in coastal communities to build boats and houses.
The majority of local people depend on these trees for sustaining their livelihoods, and this has led to massive loss of these ecosystems over the years. About 20% of mangrove cover has been destroyed due to unsustainable harvesting.
Due to uncontrolled harvesting of mangroves, Kenya lost about 20% of its mangrove cover between 1985 and 2009, an average of 450 hectares of mangroves every year.
With a total of 60,000 hectares, mangrove trees represent approximately 3% of natural Kenyan forest cover.
With the ability to store huge stocks of carbon in both above and below ground components mangroves are the best carbon fixers on the planet. On average, an acre of mangroves can keep upto 1,000 tonnes of carbon stock which is more than twice the carbon stock of upland forests and five times that of savannah forests.
“We cannot have a healthy and safe community here on the coast if we cannot take care of these ecosystems. It is our duty and responsibility to see our mangrove environment thrive again. A sigh of hope is restored and our defence is assured” Misati concluded.