Kiunga Marine National Reserve occupies 61,776 acres of the small, unspoiled village of Kiunga, about a 150 KM road trip east of the Lamu mainland. The reserve provides exciting opportunities to explore a network of reefs along the famed Kenya coast. The reserve is also accessible by air from an airstrip at the adjacent Dodori National Reserve. You can also get to Kiwayu island by dhow or speedboat from Lamu. Here are six interesting things you can do at the reserve.
1. Explore 50 Coral Islands
Kiunga Marine National Reserve preserves a spectacular marine ecosystem made up of a chain of about fifty calcareous offshore islands and coral reefs in the Lamu Archipelago. The archipelago, a cluster of hot, low-lying desert islands, runs for some 60 KM parallel to the coastline and adjacent to Dodori National Reserve and Boni National Reserve on the mainland.
2. Catch a Glimpse of the ‘Mermaid’
The ancient mangrove forest inside the reserve provides a popular refuge for at least five species of sea turtles, three of them nesting here. But there are also the rare dugongs that have found a sanctuary here. The dugongs are an especially exciting sight you might want to pay extra attention to. Resembling large sea lions, they have almost been hunted to extinction, making them one of the rarest sea mammals. There is a high likelihood they may have been what seafarers of old mistook for mermaids, mainly because of their teats located high on the female’s chest. If you are lucky, you might catch sightings of their pups! The seagrass beds are a good feeding ground for them.
While the mangroves provide a home for the turtles, the beaches offer ideal nesting grounds. Take some time to sample some of the tidal creeks, limpid lagoons and towering dunes that enrich the beach landscape.
3. Check Out the Bat Roosts
The offshore rock formations at Kiunga Marine National Reserve shelter bat roosts and the largest nesting colony of Roseate Terns and sharks in the world. The Roseate Terns are exquisite birds of elegant proportions with their dazzling white breeding plumage, accented with a black cap, dark bill, and pale rosy breast. They usually love to nest on hard-to-visit islands.
4. See the Dramatic Three
Further out into the sea, Kiunga Marine National Reserve harbours more spectacular marine life including rays, humpback whales and dolphins. The whales leave their feeding spots in Antarctica to give birth in warm waters in East Africa, Somalia and Mozambique.
5. Try Out Some Watersports
Kiunga Marine National Reserve offers several water sporting events such as windsurfing, snorkelling, water skiing and diving.
6. Go Fishing with the Bajuni
The Bajuni people who neighbour the reserve have practised an ancient form of fishing to catch reef fish in shallow waters using woven traps. Common types of traps are the Uzio and the Malema. The Malema is a basket valve trap which resembles an oversize basket with a valve at one end that traps fish from getting in. A single stone anchors it on each side. The Uzio is a fenced trap with a narrow slit leading to an enclosed catching chamber. The fish enter voluntarily but get hampered from coming out. Nowadays, most Bajunis have abandoned these traditional but sustainable methods for more effective seine nets. The nets are, however, highly destructive. With some fortune, you may catch a few fishermen still fishing the old way. It is an interesting fishing technique to watch.
Next time you are in Lamu, spare some time to visit Kiunga Marine National Reserve and discover why most describe it as an enchanted underwater world. Check current rates at the Kenya Wildlife Service website before you go.