Kenyan scientists are investigating a possible disease outbreak that is killing thousands of mangrove trees at the Coast.
This was revealed during the planting of 5,000 mangrove seedlings at Mida Creek to mark World Wetland Day after community conservationists reported to the Kenya Forest Research Institute (Kefri) a ‘strange disease’ killing the trees in Kilifi, Mombasa, Lamu and Kwale counties.
Environment and Forestry Chief Administrative Secretary Mohamed Elmi said the research will help identify the cause of the disease and how to cure the trees.
“Kefri is researching a disease that is affecting mangrove and we will get a solution very soon,” he said.
Mr Elmi said Kefri would buy 200,000 mangrove seedlings planted by women groups at the Mida creek, and urged Kenyans to plant trees from which they could earn money and also address climate change.
“One mangrove is equal to 10 trees. Kefri is doing research for forests and has been doing research for many years,” he added.
The lead researcher on the disease affecting mangroves, Dr Jane Njuguna, who is also the senior deputy director of research and development at Kefri, said a solution would soon be found to ensure mangroves continue growing healthy.
“The new disease was reported by communities living near the mangrove forest and we suspect it is caused by barnacles, which have led to the deaths of thousands of mangrove trees along the Coast,” she said, referring to the sea creature that often attaches itself to surfaces.
According to Mr Salim Athman, a resident and tour guide at Mida Creek, the disease manifests by the leaves of the Mangrove trees turning from bright green to brownish colour before eventually drying up.
“We have witnessed some mangrove trees turning from the natural green colour to light green and brown after shrinking before finally drying up,” he told the Nation adding, “The young trees dry up immediately after sprouting out from the muddy soil at the creek.”
Increase mangrove cover
Dr Njuguna said the researchers will continue working with the community to increase mangrove cover and obtain more reports about their growth across the region.
“The disease is caused by marine crustaceans, which have external shells that attach themselves permanently to trees and in the process suppresses the tree, leading to its death,” she said.
Dr Joshua Cheboiwo, the director of Kefri, said the institute had employed four ecologists who will work with the Kenya Marine Research Institute (Kemri) on mangrove research on Kenya’s coastline.
“Other than researching the disease, we also need to know how climate change has affected marine life in the region,” he added.
Dr Cheboiwo said Kefri is keen to ensure that two billion trees are planted by 2022 to meet the recommended 10 per cent forest cover for the country.
“We have already attained 7.2 per cent cover and will be planting 45 million seedlings in every county so as to meet the recommended 10 per cent cover after identifying areas where the trees would be planted such as schools, government land, and private farms,” he said.
Ms Arafa Salim Baya, a community conservationist and patron of Bidii na Kazi Women Group in Mida Creek, said residents were hopeful that Kefri will find a lasting solution to eradicate the disease.
“We had lodged complaints with the authorities about the barnacles and we are happy that researchers have begun investigations so as to get a solution,” she said.
The Kefri officials said the 200,000 mangrove seedlings raised by community conservation groups at Mida Creek will cost between Sh5 million and Sh10 million, helping the community to sustain themselves.