It is of Watamu Marine Park and Reserve that American novelist, Ernest Hemingway, once said, “this cannot be less than natural beauty, the endless sand, the reefs, the lot, are completely unmatched in the world.” Watamu Marine Park and Reserve is the first marine park in Africa and one of the world’s last great natural marine reserves, where one of the world’s most famous coral reefs are protected. Allow me to suggest four exciting things you can do at this renowned park if you are planning to visit.
1. Peek at the Curious Life of Green Turtles
Catch young green turtles as they emerge into the daylight at the turtle breeding beach just next to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Marine headquarters. You can also stay on to see the young creatures as they work their way to the ocean. The entire spectacle is an initiative of Watamu Turtle Watch (WTW). WTW is a local marine conservation organisation which engages the local community to protect marine life. They have a particular focus on sea turtles through a direct payment programme which pays local fishers for tagging and releasing sea turtles caught in their fishing nets.
For every turtle released, the fishers receive compensation for their time, efforts and potential damage to fishing gear. The payment provides an incentive for releasing the animals instead of killing them. After the release of the turtles, WTW volunteers get notified and rush to the landing site. The volunteers then measure and examine the animals as well as place ID tags on them before the turtles return to freedom. Other marine life includes dugongs and crabs. Dugongs are enormous vegetarians that supposedly inspired ancient seafaring tales of mermaids and sirens.
2. Visit a Coral Garden in a Glass-bottomed Boat
This unique coral garden at Watamu Marine Park is only five minutes off the shore. It is accessible in glass-bottomed boats which you can hire from the local guides.
3. Explore the Secrets of Mida Creek
Mida Creek is a beautiful brook with a forest of highly diverse mangrove trees. You can see species such as the Spurred mangrove (Ceriops tagal), the dye-making Red mangrove (Rhizophora mucronata) or the medicinal Large-leafed mangrove (Bruguiera gymnorrhiza). Other varieties include the Grey or White mangrove (Avicennia marina) and the Apple mangrove (Sonneratia Alba) whose ripe fruit people say tastes like cheese. The mangroves provide refuge to a variety of both resident and migrant bird species.
4. Snorkel and Deep Sea Dive
Snorkel at some of the most beautiful spots at the Kenya Coast and see if you can spot over one hundred types of coral resident here. While you are at it, also try to identify about six hundred fish species and many other marine creatures that have made Watamu Marine Park a favourite underworld destination amongst snorkelers and divers.
Watamu Marine Park is a case of a park within a reserve. The 2,471-acre Watamu Marine Reserve encloses the marine park. Both came into existence in 1968 as Kenya’s first marine protected areas. Watamu Marine Park is today part of a United Nations-recognised World Biosphere Reserve (WBR). Whenever you are in Watamu, make sure you explore this iconic marine park. Remember to visit the KWS website for park fees and other details.