Musings on mahamri and coral reefs in Kilifi

Chumani village in Kilifi, where my buddy has set up a sustainable mixed farming homestead, is a 10-minute walk from one of the most gorgeous, white sandy beaches on the East African coast. In Chumani the skies are blue, the air is warm, and the moon and stars hold a beauty contest every night.

Plus, Chumani has the most delicious mahamri this side of  Pwani, made fresh every morning by Mamake-Anna and her daughter Anna in their low thatch-roof kitchen-cum-restaurant by the side of the short stretch of road that turns off the Mombasa–Kilifi highway into the villlage and straight to Chumani Beach.

Legend has it that this road once had a big chunk of chuma (‘metal’ in Kiswahili), which slowly became a landmark. As time went on the village came to be known as the place with the chuma (Chumani).

The unassuming kitchen/resto in Chumani with hands down the  best mahamri

I was there about a week ago determined to:

  1. Spend some quality time with my friend,
  2. Fight my covid blues and
  3. Escape the prolonged wintry weather in Nairobi.

On an early morning beach walk my friend and I had fun examining the sand for sea creatures brought in by the tide. They came in all shapes, sizes and colours: we saw soft creatures with see-through bodies, blowfish skeletons, a magnificent blue button jellyfish (Porpita porpita), soft and hard corals, some alive, some fossilized.

Then we came upon a tangled mess of polythene netting the size of a football. Trapped inside it was a coral the size of a fist, still alive but fully strangled by the net and unable to break free.

We cut the plastic mesh from the coral with the only tools we had on us – our nails and teeth – and released it back into its home in the ocean.

Untangling the plastic net
coral freed

This experience reminded me of the many marine environmental publications, including a journal, that I edited and published around a decade ago. Diving deep into that content woke me up to urgent coastal and marine environmental issues, and I’m forever grateful for that opportunity.

In fact, one of my earliest forays in this field was editing—for UNEP’s Nairobi Convention program—a report on “land-based sources of marine pollution in Kenya”, code name for the unbridled assault on the Kenya’s marine and coastal ecosystems by industrial effluents, fertilizer runoff, garbage, litter, and untreated sewage.

Another little book I helped edit and publish back then, titled ‘A Schoolteacher’s Guide to Marine Environmental Education in the Eastern African Region’,  puts in simple terms how our health, safety and livelihoods all depend on coral reefs. Here’s an excerpt:

“Coral reefs have many ecological functions:
a) As part of the coastal ecosystem, they provide food and shelter to animals such as fishes, crabs, lobsters and clams, and hence support many important fisheries.
b) Coral reefs protect seashores from erosion by acting as natural barriers against wave action and storms.
c) They provide scenic and spectacular sites for tourism, especially for divers and snorkellers.
d) When coral reefs break down, the products form sand which contributes to the building up of beaches and shorelines.
e) Some coral reef animals have medicinal value.”

Everyone can take steps to protect our coastal environment. Some simple ways are: consuming less, reducing food and other waste, recycling, buying local over imported and durable over disposable, disposing responsibly,  and ‘voting with your wallet’ by buying from environmentally responsible businesses. I’ve found that an environmental mindset actually enriches my life and saves money– e.g. before rushing out to buy a new thing, I’ll think of creative workarounds that oftentimes work just fine.

As for those plastic nets used for weighing vegetables in Kenya, they must be banned… they end up as trash on land and sea, trapping and killing birds, terrestrial and aquatic animals. And they’re disastrous to the coastal and marine environment.


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