The Kenya Marine Mammal Network: cetacean research and citizen science
Michael Mwangoâ€™mbe, Sergi Perez-Jorge, InÃªs Gomez, Arthur Tuda, Nina Wambiji, Steven Trott, Jane Spilsbury
Until recently, the abundance and distribution of marine mammals in Kenya coastal waters was not well understood. Prior to 2011, research was mostly limited to a wide coastal aerial survey in 1996 conducted by the Kenya Wildlife Service, which reported the presence of 8 species of dolphin and whale. In 2011, in order to fill the data gaps, Global Vision International partnered with Watamu Marine Association and Kenya Wildlife Service to set up a multi sector coalition - the Kenya Marine Mammal Network (KMMN), a new platform to collect nationwide data through designated surveys, opportunistic sightings and citizen science. From 2011 â€“ 2018 KMMN efforts have recorded and compiled data on 24 species of marine mammals inshore and offshore, with a total of 1,406 reported sightings, and determined preferred â€˜hotspotsâ€™ for inshore (resident and migratory) populations in the Malindi - Watamu Marine Protected Area and Kisite - Mpunguti Marine Protected Area.
KMMN effort and data has helped in increasing public awareness of marine mammals in Kenya and the growth and popularity of dolphin and whale watching, resulting in economic benefits to both the coast tourism industry and to impoverished coastal communities. The KMMN demonstrates the value of a coalition of organizations working together to develop national conservation management strategies for marine mammals, to boost eco-tourism activities and to address the increased anthropological threats in Kenya waters and the Western Indian Ocean. It also highlights the value of data collected through citizen science which brings the public and science closer together, promoting marine mammal research and effective conservation efforts in Kenya.