Marine habitats in Watamu

The habitats and biodiversity of Watamu Marine National Park: evaluating our knowledge of one of East Africa’s oldest Marine Protected Areas

Atoll Research Bulletin 168, 1-45

Cowburn, B.¹ ², Musembi, P.M.¹, Sindorf, V.¹,  Kohlmeier, D.¹, Raker, C.¹, Nussbaumer, A.¹,  Hereward, H.F.R.¹, Van Baelenberghe, B.¹, Goebbels, D.¹, Kamire, J.¹, Horions, M.¹, Sluka, R.D.¹, Taylor, M.L.³ & Rogers, A.D.²

¹ A Rocha Kenya, Plot 28, Beach Road, Watamu 80202, Kenya
² Department of Zoology, Tinbergen Building, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PS
³ School of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, CO4 3SQ


Watamu Marine National Park (WMNP) is one of the oldest no-take Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the world. Since its establishment in 1968, it has been the subject of a number of scientific studies as well as suffering from a range of modern threats to coastal marine habitats. The current state and conservation value of WMNP is documented in terms of habitat, biodiversity, and available scientific literature. There were 101 published references relating to WMNP found, which mostly focus on coral reef ecology, with less attention to other topics, such as biodiversity, socio-economics, or the ecology of non-coral reef habitats. The habitat map produced of WMNP is the first to show this level of detail and the only habitat map of a Kenyan MPA. Nine habitat categories were mapped; revealing that the most dominant habitat type is seagrass and the least is coral reef. Species lists were collected for fish, echinoderms, molluscs, crustaceans, corals, and seagrass, and species abundances were used to estimate total species richness, species diversity and sampling completeness. There were 18 species across all groups that fall into a category of conservation concern (other than Least Concern or Not Evaluated) on the IUCN Red List and 8 species found which are currently undescribed. The findings of this paper emphasise the importance of non-coral habitats in the WMNP, such as seagrass beds, and the need for more research into the ecology and conservation importance of these habitats. The information provided in this paper provides a comprehensive overview to any scientist or conservationist wanting to carry out further work in WMNP.

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