The Kenya Sea Turtle Conservation Committee (KESCOM) was established in 1993 out of a necessity to address the plight of marine turtles in Kenya. Its membership draws from individuals, government institutions, NGOs and the private sector and has a current membership of 250. It represents a national integrated approach contributing towards global efforts in turtle conservation guided by the following four broad objectives thus; development and implementation of awareness and research programs, capacity building of turtle conservation groups and local communities, encouraging and enhancing community participation, Liaising with conservation partners at the national, regional and international level to promote the conservation of sea turtles. The establishment of the committee followed increased reports of turtle mortality mainly occasioned by fishing activities, poaching and trade in turtle products and a regional acknowledgement that populations were declining not only within the Western Indian Ocean region but also the world over. Initial efforts to implement conservation and management objectives were limited to the Mombasa area (especially the area around the Mombasa Marine National Park and Reserve) with the support of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Baobab Trust.
Overtime, increased support from the local community, cooperation of government institutions and NGOs as well as private interests and volunteers, KESCOM has to date established eighteen community based Turtle Conservation Groups (TCGs) along the Kenyan Coast. The activities of TCGs involve collection of turtle data and information at the ground level and engaging local communities in the conservation process through education and awareness programs, beach patrols and surveillance-to protect turtle nests and nesting females, tagging of sea turtles, and fishermen-turtle-release programs. They also participate in beach-clean up events and currently some of them are involved in habitat protection measures mainly focusing on mangrove replanting. The groups include (from south to north-coast); among others Bodo Turtle Conservation Group, Funzi Turtle Club, Boabab Trust, Kilifi Community Conservation Group, Watamu Turtle Watch, Robinson Island Turtle Conservation Project, Tana Friends of the Marine Environment, Lamu Marine Conservation Project and WWF-Kiunga project. Their activities cover 51% of the Kenyan Coast and adjacent waters.
The data and information collected by TCGs is organized into to a national database managed by KESCOM. About 2000 turtles have been tagged and we have had two international tag returns; from Somalia and Tanzania thus justifying more the need for regional collaboration in research and monitoring between the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) range states.
This current status of sea turtle exploitation in Kenya spells a major challenge to conservation and management efforts especially given that a large percentage of mortalities are human caused and mitigation measures partly involve major socio-cultural as well as socio-economic shifts. Furthermore the legislation, which protects sea turtles in Kenya i.e., the Wildlife Act (Cap 376) and the Fisheries Act (Cap 378) does not provide for the protection of habitats within which sea turtles occur except for nesting and foraging areas falling within the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). And the lack of adequate financial and human resources continues to considerably slow the pace of conservation action.
Among KESCOM’s future plan of action is to strengthen its institutional partnerships and stakeholder involvement in conservation. In addition we are supporting TCGs to identify potential sources of alternative livelihoods and spread out our efforts to other major areas of Kenya’s marine environment within the next few years through engagement of stakeholders in the tourism industry, local communities and donors. In addition plans are already in place to transit to a broader marine conservation program (especially of habitat conservation) utilizing sea turtle as a flagship. Eventually KESCOM intents to shift actual conservation and management responsibilities to the local people but through a gradual process and play more of a coordinating role.