Tourism stakeholders in Kenya and local residents of Diani Beach south of Mombasa are up in arms over plans to extract some 5 million tons of sand from award-winning Diani tourist beach.
A recent meeting of the South Coast Residents Association, which is based in Diani, discussed issues surrounding the EIA now circulating for the construction of the new Standard Gauge Railway Terminal and related works at the port of Mombasa. The railway project, elsewhere hailed as a game changer and the project of the century, requires sand in enormous quantities to mix into concrete and technocrats and bureaucrats in the government and among the companies benefitting from the construction contracts, have set their eyes on the south coast beaches. It is there that they propose to syphon away some 5 million tons of sand, which in the opinion of environmental experts would result in the death of the reefs and the subsequent destruction of the Diani beaches, along which dozens of resorts have been built.
The meeting was held at the Kaskazi Beach Hotel and was well attended, not only by association members but also by hotel, resort, restaurant and other business owners who depend on tourism. Also present were Kenya Wildlife Service representatives, environmentalists, and marine scientists.
Local government representatives and the fishing community also were present in large numbers to oppose any plans to wreck their future should permission be granted to remove such massive quantities of sand.
An email copied to this correspondent, with a request to publish it and generate international support against what has been described as lunatic and ludicrous plans, reads in part as follows:
The meeting was conducted by Professor Jacob Kibwage who teaches at the University of Nairobi. He is licenced by NEMA and is an environmental advisor. In attendance was also Mr Kwai representing the China Roads & Bridges Corporation.
Prof. Kibwage gave an outline of what the project was about, including the construction of a new KPA terminal at Port Reitz where all the rubbish was being dumped out at sea, approximately 4km off shore. The new railway terminal will also be at Port Reitz but for the construction of the railway line for which 5 million tons of sand would be required and which would be taken from our ocean bed along Diani Beach,. The sand would then be washed at Port Reitz and then used. The new railway could expand the tourist sector.
Mr Hamisi Mwandaro our Sub-County Administrator then took over and
introduced the Chairpersons of various organizations, conducted the meeting from there translating into Swahili for the sake of our fishermen.
The SCRA Chairperson informed members that early October the dredger was spotted near the Mwachema River (Tiwi River) in Diani and subsequently making its way past Diani, harvesting sand and churning up sand. An alert was sent out to Government bodies and the hotel industry, while SCRA members started to send in more and more information – name of the ship, photos of it sand harvesting, position of the ship and the route it was taking. KPA denied knowledge of the ship until SCRA produced a copy taken from Internet of the port movements indicating this ship was berthing there!!!!
SCRA emphasized the damage such a dredge was doing by killing off our reefs from sand deposit, killing off fish (no more fishing for our local fishermen an used as an example the Tiwi/Waa area when two years back KPA had sand harvested there leaving a dead reef, jobless fishermen who to date have not been compensated in spite of promises). Details of all this were highlighted in the latest SCRA Newsletter. SCRA emphasized that our County Governor, H.E. Salim Mvurya and his team had recently spent a lot of money in DESTINATION KWALE in trying to lure tourists back and that our beaches were awarded THE BEST BEACHES IN THE WORLD. Actions by this sand harvester would destroy all this.
SCRA (and everybody else during the meeting) said an alternative to using our Ocean sand should be found. Moreover, taking Ocean sand, washing it in Mombasa (where there is already a shortage of water) is a very costly way to do this. SCRA also pointed out how could a dead and dirty beach “expand the tourist area”?
Many participants including marine experts, voiced their concerns including:
a) Killing of our mangroves at Gazi – mangroves which produce oxygen and filter the air we breath.
b) How come such a marine project was undertaken without consulting any marine experts/scientists on the impact this would have.
c) By removing the sand just across from the reef the hydrology in the area would change and a real possibility that the tides would take the sand from our beaches to fill the gaps and we would remain with sandless but rocky beaches as has happened in front of Sand Island in Tiwi.
d) The Tiwi Fishermen reiterated that they are still jobless as no
fishing can be done in their area, and it is 2 years now that they cannot afford to send their children to school.
e) The tourist industry would totally collapse which tourist wants tocome to an area which is just rocks, no diving, no fishing etc.
f) The filthy which is being dumped outside Mombasa into the Ocean will also impact us, as the tides will slowly bring this filth ashore along the coastlines.
g) The fishermen were worried as they would no longer have a job.
h) The reef would die.
i) Heavy metals from the mud dumped off Likoni could contaminate the ocean.
j) No scientific studies done nor a proper EIA document produced but merely a slide show praising the new railway.
Our Kwale County Minister of Tourism, Hon Adam Sheik, expressed his
disappointment that his Governor had not been consulted on such a project.
within his County, and the response from our County Government was a
definite NO to this project being undertaken here.
What is clear, even though the EIA was not available for more detailed study, is that one of the Kenya coast’s best attractions is in danger of being annihilated with no mitigation available to make up for the massive loss of sand and the reef destruction which goes along with it.
As if tourism to the south coast of Mombasa had not enough problems as it is, given the present circumstances, this is yet another clear and present danger to the survival of beach tourism, once a flourishing industry and now just a punching bag in the power plays which are going on between groups with vested interests.
Across the border in Tanzania it is fishing with explosives which destroy more and more of the reefs and the marine life, and in Kenya it is sand harvesting and dredging with ultimately the same sad outcome, that the reefs will be gone.