Community Marine Conservation. The start of the Locally Managed Marine Area movement in Kenya in response to the decline of fish in Kuruwitu, on the North Kenya coast.

Des Bowden
Published: 28 August 2018
Last edited: 02 October 2020
remove_red_eye 7007 Views


Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association(KCWA) was set up in 2003 by members of the community concerned about the degradation of their seas. Over-fishing and effects of climate change needed to be addressed before the marine ecosystem was damaged beyond repair. Fishers and concerned residents who remembered how healthy and productive the sea had been in the past felt it necessary to act before it was too late. In 2005 they took the unprecedented step of setting aside a 30-hectare Marine Protected Area (MPA). This was the first coral based Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) in Kenya. Twelve years on, the area has made a remarkable recovery. With fishing prohibited within the MPA, fish have grown in abundance, size and diversity. Fish catches in the area have improved,and alternative income generating enterprises have been introduced. Kuruwitu has become a model for sustainable marine conservation. The KCWA share their knowledge with other local and regional coastal communities.


East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Coastal forest
Coral reef
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Open sea
Seamount / Ocean ridge
Access and benefit sharing
Fisheries and aquaculture
Indigenous people
Legal & policy frameworks
Local actors
Sustainable financing
Sustainable livelihoods
Loss of Biodiversity
Ocean warming and acidification
Sea level rise
Tsunami/tidal wave
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of access to long-term funding
Physical resource extraction
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of technical capacity
Poor governance and participation
Lack of food security
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 4 – Quality education
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 14 – Life below water
Aichi targets
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Sendai Framework
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030
Target 3: Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to GDP by 2030
Target 4: Reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities, including through developing their resilience by 2030
Target 5: Increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020
Target 6: Enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of this Framework by 2030


Kilifi, Coast Province, Kenya
Show on Protected Planet


Kuruwitu is mostly a subsistence-based fishing community and relies on the local marine resource for its livelihood. The increase in population meant more fishers in the area leading to overfishing. Desperation meant smaller fish were being caught often using unsustainable fishing techniques. Smaller catches led to a reduction in income to an already impoverished community who had no other skills other than fishing. The fishing grounds became unsustainable, and fishers were no longer able to feed their families leading to increased crime. One of the significant challenges was getting the majority of fishers to come together and understand that the closure would benefit them in the long term. Working towards a solution of sustainable fisheries the situation of illegal nets needed to be addressed. Funding was required to replace the nets and to initiate alternative enterprises. This was difficult with a new, unproven project. Poaching from the minority also needed to be addressed.


Improved catches benefitted the fishing community and livelihoods improved. KCWA engaged youth in non-marine based income activities and training. A women's group was set up, and a marine-based education programme was established for local children.

How do the building blocks interact?

Although the set-up of an MPA is complicated and relies on many interactive factors, three main ingredients need to be present throughout - legal framework, management and community buy-in and benefit. They are all connected and need to work separately and in unison. An institutional framework with legal requirements and management procedures is necessary to create a solid foundation. For conservation to work in areas where poverty is present, there has to be a welfare component.



The development of sustainable non-fishing based initiatives has shifted dependence on subsistence fishing taking pressure off the fishing grounds. Fish stocks have improved dramatically within the LMMA, and an independent report shows a considerable increase in fish biomass and biodiversity of all marine life in the area. This has increased fish catches in the neighbouring fishing grounds improving livelihoods. Turtles and nests in the area are protected through a community compensation scheme. Communities from along the coast and from other neighbouring countries visit Kuruwitu to see our living classroom. At least 20 other similar projects have started by other coastal communities inspired by KCWA. KCWA demonstrated the importance of community involvement in natural resource management plans; a principle that has influenced a change of policy away from the state to the local communities. Kuruwitu has been chosen to pilot a co-management initiative working with various stakeholders covering an area of approximately 100 square kilometres. This is one of the first collaborative management schemes of its kind on the Kenyan coast and will set a precedent in the future.


Des bowden

Up and down the Kenyan Coast there is a remarkable upsurge in communities beginning to think differently about the marine resources they depend on. A new generation of fishers is looking for ways to responsibly manage their resources to ensure not only their own future but beyond. For generations, fisherfolk all along the Kenyan coast have been able to both put food on the table and make a subsistence living from fishing. However, there came a point where the size of fish and the numbers caught began to reduce to a point where they could no longer live this way. In a very short period, fisherfolk were facing the collapse of the only livelihood they knew. This slow-burn crisis focused attention on a closer look at the issues affecting what was, and in most cases, what wasn't being landed in their nets. ‘We never questioned how we lived. Our fathers and grandfathers were fishermen, and in our village, it was the only path we knew. When our nets began to fail, we were faced with an unknown future.' Dickson Juma, Fisherman. The main factor identified was the overpopulation in the area which led to overfishing. A community body, the Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association (KCWA) was set up to ensure the community had a say in the management of the resources they depended on. With the help of strategic partners, institutional frameworks and legal structures were set up. After an in-depth consultation, in 2006 the Association voted to close off part of the lagoon area a marine protected area. The rejuvenation of fish stocks in the area was visible quickly, and the fishermen’s catches in the surrounding area began to increase. Funding support helped KCWA set up corresponding alternative income generating enterprises training fishers and their families in other vocations and creating employment taking pressure off the fragile marine environment. Fifteen years on and the trickle of visitors is a modest but steady stream who are happy to pay to snorkel within the healthy and vibrant marine protected area. In 2017, the KCWA was the proud winner of the UNDP's Equator Prize is awarded to recognise outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Recognition for the hard work and sacrifice of the community for a larger, common goal, has been an important milestone in the project's development. 

Contributed by

des.bowden_36050's picture

Des Bowden United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association, Oceans Alive Trust, Coastal Oceans Research and Development – Indian Ocean (CORDIO) East Africa, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Western Indian Marine Science Association (WIOMSA), Watamu Marine Association (WMA)