Marine Protected Areas in Kenya: perceptions of local communities of costs and benefits of MPAs and their governance

Master Thesis


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This study aimed to examine the perceptions of two local communities living adjacent to Mombasa Marine National Park and Reserve (MMNP&R) and Kuruwitu community closure (tengefu) in Kenya regarding the benefits and impacts of the MPA on their livelihoods. A secondary aim was to compare the perceptions of these two communities in relation to the MPA management models employed at the two study sites. The research employed a case study approach and undertook focus group meetings and key informant interviews at each case study site and with relevant organisations. Key findings from the research revealed that both sites experienced diversification of livelihoods, however the diversification was for different reasons. The Bamburi community members stated that the park generated benefits such as new forms of employment linked to tourism, beach security, increased variety of corals and fish species as well as improved infrastructure. The Kuruwitu community perceived the closure to have resulted in various benefits but in particular social benefits, such as women empowerment, ownership of resources, co-existence among resource users and community exchange visits were highlighted. However, both cases also identified various negative impacts including tensions due to an increase in migrant fishers, illegal access and poaching and the use of unsustainable gear. Furthermore, the direct resource users (fishers) in both case study sites felt that their fishing grounds had been drastically reduced due to the establishment of the park and tengefu which negatively affected their fish catches and livelihoods, leading to decreased support for the conservation initiatives. Therefore, the fishers in both study sites were more negative about the protected areas compared to the other resource users. Kuruwitu, in particular, identified perceived fear of the loss of their marine area to privatisation, inequitable sharing of benefits by their leadership group and limited involvement of women in decision- making as primary negative concerns. On the other hand, concerns about minimal involvement in management decisions during and after park inception were expressed by participants at the Bamburi study site. In addition, the lack of transparency in the management and use of revenue derived from the state- run MMNP&R further aggravated tensions between the state and the adjacent communities as well as severe penalties set for transgressions on locals by marine park authorities at MMNP&R. With the introduction of co-management through the Beach Management Units (BMUs) in Kenya in the year 2007, it was expected that stakeholder participation would be increased, however, the Bamburi community lamented over lack of proper representation within the BMUs which they claimed gave outsiders more power. While both communities, especially Kuruwitu identified a number of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) that aided in fulfilling the community’s socio- economic and ecological objectives, they were much more central to achieving socio-ecological objectives at Kuruwitu than at Bamburi. These NGOs and other stakeholders, however, became much more engaged at MMNP&R after the inception of the BMUs. Based on the findings, it was evident that the community- based co-management conservation approach at Kuruwitu generated more social benefits to the community than the state-centred co- managed conservation approach at MMNP&R. Loss of access to traditional fishing grounds, perceived loss of benefits and increased social costs triggered illegal access into the state park, therefore, fuelling conflicts and exacerbating tensions between the community and the state as well as tensions between various management institutions regarding overlapping mandates. Implementing genuine co-management approaches are key to fostering inclusivity, accountability, legitimacy and support for marine conservation initiatives.