The world is stunned by the devastation from the recent quake and tsunami in Japan, but averting the planned devastation for the Lamu Archipelago cannot be sidelined. At the highest level, business as usual and not natural disaster is at the roots of current threats to one of the most internationally important ecosystems in Kenya: the Lamu Archipelago via the proposal to build a second national port for the country and situate it in the very heart of the archipelago.
The Kenyan government recently called off the bidding process for construction of three berths that would form the initial steps of this multi-billion dollar project. However, this cancellation by no means suggests that the government has changed its plans. Rather, given the stakes, it appears that those with vested interest in the port are only proceeding more cautiously to avoid any procedural mistakes along the way. Opposition is growing to this gargantuan project which is estimated to cover 1,000 acres in Lamu District, including plans for an oil refinery and terminal, international airport and railway track to Juba in Southern Sudan. In Lamu alone, 6,000 families are likely to be displaced by the project but this figure barely scratches the surface of the much larger impact the port is likely to have. Local people in the region were never consulted and widespread demonstrations ensued against the development when it was first disclosed. More recently, hoteliers in the Lamu region and locals dependent upon the tourist industry, Lamu's prominent economic base, have banded together to oppose the construction of the port which would devastate the natural environment.
The site proposed for the country's second port could not be any more damaging, ecologically. Environmental impact assessments, if ever performed, have not been made public and are unlikely to have been performed by an independent agency. If performed with any degree of transparency, they would necessarily have had to weigh the tremendous negative impact on Kenya's mangroves, corals, and threatened marine fauna. To build the port, the relatively pristine forests in the region of the port site would require extensive felling. The mangroves of the Lamu Archipelago represent 60% of Kenya's mangroves, covering some 342 km2. The port site sits squarely in the center of the archipelago which will exacerbate rather than minimize impact. Any increased rates of degradation would seriously imperil this fragile ecosystem and reduce its capacity to mitigate climate change effects. Extensive dredging, of the order necessary to allow ships to pass from the open sea into the channel, would further impact huge stands of mangroves and corals and degrade areas in the vicinity with the dumping material. Marine wildlife, in this area which is supposed to be nationally and internationally protected, would be devastated.
In 1980, 60,000 hectares off the coast north of Lamu was designated a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Project in recognition of the international conservation importance of the north-eastern coastal region. Dodori Creek, proximate to the proposed port site, sits at the edge of this biosphere reserve at coordinates 2 degrees 03'S and 41 degrees 00' E. The environmental impact alone, not to mention the effects on local subsistence fishermen and local farmers, would completely negate the intention of designation of this site to preserve in perpetuity the outstanding biodiversity, natural resources and ecology of the area through management that incorporates the full participation of local people.
Impacts on local people and wildlife from the project stand to be irreparable. In the past, local fisherman have hailed the Dodori Creek area as a shrimp sanctuary, vital to local subsistence fishermen, and defended it from outside fishing and development interests. The bay around Manda Island is protected by coral reefs and the inland channel, sheltered from the open sea by Pate Island, is known to support corals, sea grass beds and lush stands of mangroves. Several species of sea turtles use these areas regularly in the winter as feeding grounds and many species of reef fish and crustaceans feed here. The importance of this region to a critically endangered species, the dugong (Dugong dugon), is of paramount concern; these creatures rely on shallow sea grass beds exclusively for their survival. Dredging and cutting of the magnitude proposed would have a catastrophic impact on this animal, one of the nation's most threatened species, and virtually ensure local extinction.
And what of the thriving base of tourism that currently exists in the region? Sports fishermen come from all over Europe to catch and release the region's magnificent pelagic and reef species of fish. The region has enticed dignitaries and royalty for years due to its idyllic beauty, remoteness and incredible marine wildlife and nearby big game. In 1997, Princess Diana brought the two young princes to stay at nearby Kiwaiyu Safari Village within Kiunga Marine Reserve. Old Lamu Town has attracted tourists for decades with its rich history and culture which elders fear will be on the chopping block as they already watch prostitutes arriving from the interior in anticipation of the boom town to be. If a port and oil refinery were to open, an international airport would hardly be necessary as the region would lose forever its appeal, both biological and cultural.
All told, the creation of Kenya's second port stands to degrade and potentially devastate this vitally important internationally recognized site of conservation importance - the central Lamu Archipelago - and stands to benefit few except those in high places. A former minister of Parliament in Kenya, Mr Omar Mzee, was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "This is going to be a total mess. The government is thinking of the national G.D.P. This will not benefit Lamu. It never has."(NYT, 1/12/10)
We, the undersigned, respectfully ask your agency to respond to the following concerns regarding the the Government of Kenya's intentions to construct a second national port in the Lamu region.
For these reasons, we are requesting there should be independent environmental assessments done, including more than one site appraisal, and that extended cost-benefit analysis should factor into decision making regarding this internationally recognized site. Any consideration of long term costs to the country and future generation as a consequence of development of this Lamu site must clearly show that this site of national and international importance should be set aside as off limits to development.