Bronwyn Larner’s Diary
Tidal Forests of Kenya

August 3, 2009: An epic job, a bit of footy, and goodbye
August 1, 2009: Counting spiders and moths
July 30, 2009: Getting to work
July 28, 2009: Crab burrows and snails
July 26, 2009: Mangrove marathon
July 18, 2009: We're off!
June 10, 2009: Team Briefing
August 3, 2009: Ground truthing
July 31: A bit of R&R
July 29, 2009: Coconuts for lunch
July 27, 2009: Surveying the plots
July 25, 2009: Meet the mangroves
July 6, 2009: Mangrove 101
May 15, 2009: Wow, Kenya!

August 3, 2009: An epic job, a bit of footy, and goodbye

Soccer Today was our final day in the field. We had to finish counting other fauna in the remaining 6x6 meter plots. This was quickly finished by three groups and the next task was to plant three plots of 144 mangrove trees. The seedlings we planted were approximately 12 months old and in a greenhouse in the intertidal zone, allowing the mangrove seedlings to get the right amount of inundation by sea water. It was an epic job for the team of 15: some to dig, some to remove the plastic bags from around the seedlings and the rest to actually plant the new mangroves and backfill the holes. Quite a satisfying way to finish off our field work and leave our very own little bit of mangrove forest of over 400 trees. Lunch today was to be our last at Gazi which was a feast of mangrove mud crabs, just like we have in parts of Australia. After lunch we had a footy match against the local junior team, where we lost 3 – 1. I am unsure whether our game was hindered or helped by the coconut trees in the middle of the pitch. We were quite pleased with our performance despite spending most of the match defending. It was a great afternoon. After dinner we headed down the beach for a bonfire and some Kenyan cane spirit. After a great 10 days I can’t believe we are leaving tomorrow.
1 comment



August 3, 2009: Ground truthing

Today was spent doing more ground truthing for the satellite imaging. We measured more 10x10 meter plots, counting and measuring all mature and juvenile mangroves. For lunch we had a traditional African meal hosted by the women of Gazi in the ruins of the former Sultan of Zanzibar, which was also a housing point for slave trading in the area in the early 19th century. More data entry after lunch and some talks by Ray and Tim about themselves and their respective regions of the world. Dinner was quite a treat as were were split into small groups and were fortunate enough to eat at a Gazi resident’s private home. This was quite a highlight as not only was the food great but the chance to chat (with the help of one of our Kenyan Earthwatch volunteers acting as translator) about life in Gazi and Australia and the contrasts between them.
0 comments



August 1, 2009: Counting spiders and moths

Sample We headed back to Kinondo to finish the faunal counts on two remaining plots. Some of the group worked on biomass and the remaining few (including me) began a faunal count on other fauna not included in the initial faunal count of snails and crabs. We worked through each 6 x 6 meter plot counting all spiders, flies, moths, other insects and insect nests. This proved more difficult than it sounded, as flies and moths have the tendency to move. We were often wondering "Is that two moths, or just the same one?" The afternoon was spent entering data and sieving soil samples that were collected three days ago. After dinner we headed to some of the local hotspots at Diani Beach and ending up at Ukunda listening to some traditional music of the area.
0 comments



July 31: A bit of R&R

Elephant When you work as hard as we have been, you deserve a day off. So for a bit of R & R we were up at 5:30 am and headed to Shimba Hills National Reserve inland from Diani Beach, 40 km down the road. In the reserve we found a number of animals including elephants, giraffe, warthogs and all number of antelopes and buffalo. After picking up a ranger to help keep us on the right track we set off on a 2km walk down a steep path to a spectacular waterfall. On the return walk to our van the steady trip up the hill was still quite enjoyable even in the hot Kenyan sun. After spending several hours exploring the park we retreated to the coast and the white sands and blue waters of Diani Beach. We all enjoyed a relaxing lunch and drink by the Indian Ocean and even treated out Kenyan Earthwatch volunteers from Gazi to their first experience of the western culinary delight of pizza. After sunset weWaterfall  made our way back to Gazi, for dinner. After dinner and washing up we checked out the local cinema, which consisted of a TV and DVD player in a small room. After insisting that we did not need to sit in the front row (which was already occupied), we settled in to watch a Tanzanian movie in Kiswahili. After about 5 minutes, the movie was turned off and replaced with the Nigerian movie “My Sin” as it had English subtitles. We told them not to change it on our behalf, but the audience had discussed and agreed (unbeknown to us) to change it as it was one of the village favourites. After a big day, bed was well received.
0 comments



July 30, 2009: Getting to work

Today we worked on some other research taking place in Gazi Bay led by Bernard Kirui. He is mapping mangroves of Gazi and will eventually expand this to the whole of the Kenyan coastline. Satellite images have been collected indicating areas of different vegetation. Our job today was to search for particular mangrove stands and set out 10 x 10 meter plots and then survey all the mangroves within the plot. This ground truthing exercise, aided with a Global Positioning System (GPS), could then be used to check the accuracy of the satellite image. A muddy day was had by all and some of the plots were hard work especially with over 100 mature mangroves present. After lunch the team split into a group for data entry and a group continuing ground truthing. We had an interesting talk from Mrs Chao Hannah about the Kenyan education system. It was an eye opener, especially coming from Australia, where education is relatively affordable for all social classes. Statistics for enrolments were 84% primary, 25% secondary and only 2% of Kenyan students continue on to further education. After dinner we had talks from Robert (one of the Kenyan Earthwatch volunteers) about life at a Kenyan University and from Gustavo about the life and times of Gustavo Maranes.
Content currently unavailable. Please check back later.
0 comments



July 29, 2009: Coconuts for lunch

Volunteers_with_gazi_students Today we headed back to Kinondo to finish off the faunal surveys. As the spring tide was retreating the sediment was drying out so we had to finish the faunal surveys otherwise the crabs would close their burrows making them impossible to count. Our break during the day consisted of fresh cocoanut milk and flesh picked by our KenyanLecture_on_kenyan_medical_system  mangrove colleagues. We had finished by early afternoon and after lunch, more data entry. Prior to dinner we had a talk from Bernard Kirui (from KMFRI) about the concept of payment for the protection of ecosystem services. This is a potential initialtive to promote conservation and regeneration of mangrove forests and also serve as an income to the Gazi community.
0 comments



July 28, 2009: Crab burrows and snails

Ray_bron_tim_weighing_sediment This morning started with a talk by Langat about carbon cycling which helped us get a good background for some of the work we will be doing for the Earthwatch expedition. This morning was spent at the plantation at Kinondo. A better tide enabled us to have a more productive day doing faunal surveys and biomass surveys. Faunal surveys involved counting two types of crab burrows and two types of snails. This was to investigate the repopulation of mangrove plantation with fauna as it grows. For the biomass surveys, teams had to measure the height and diameter of randomly selected trees in a 6x6 meter plot containing 121 trees. Leaves were also counted along with dead and damaged leaves. The afternoonGustavo_entering_data  was spent doing data entry and drying sediment samples. We had a talk from Amina Juma from the Gazi Women’s mangrove boadwalk, discussing the future plans for the boardwalk. After dinner we headed to Msembweni to a local pub, owned by Michael’s (one of the Kenyan students volunteering) father.
0 comments



July 27, 2009: Surveying the plots

Planting_grid After an early start we headed to one of the research sites to perform biomass and faunal surveys. We experienced our first problem: the tide. Mangroves are intertidal species so we had to wait for the tide to retreat before we could head to the study site at Kinondo. This wait was a good oppourtunity to learn the finer details of measuring the biomass and counting snails and crabs. The group was split in half; I was assigned to be in the fauna group. We had to count the numbers of two species of crab burrows and snails according to size. Another issue: with the fresh high tide and the moderate rain the ground around the mangroves quickly became waterlogged making it very difficult to count crab burrows. The experiment consisted of plots of mangroves, either one of three single species, two species planted together or three species. Due to the weather and ground condition, we only managed to count three experimental plots. The other group had to measure biomass, by measuring trunk diameter, leaf count and estimation of height. After a late lunch we headedTeam_mangroves  to the primary school at Gazi for the opening of a new administration block funded by Earthwatch. Two of the local Earthwatch volunteers, Michael and Robert, who attended Gazi primary school and are now studying at Kenyatta University, spoke about their journey and how any student from Gazi Village can achieve their dreams. Prior to dinner Mama Nico’s (our cook’s) husband spoke about the Kenyan medical system. At the hospital he works at in Msambweni, more than 50% of the hospital admissions are due to malaria. Hopefully the weather is a bit better tomorrow to enable us to survey more plots.
1 comment



July 26, 2009: Mangrove marathon

Meet_the_mangroves Today, after another tasty swahili meal (I am enjoying the delicious food) we headed to the lab in Gazi Village where Martin and Kairo (another principle investigator from the Kenyan Marine Fisheries Research Institute, KMFRI) gave us some interesting lectures on mangrove ecosystems and fauna of the mangrove forests. After a brain overload we were ready for the ‘mangrove marathon’ where we walked through the mangroves looking at the different mangroves species and the fauna. The marathon slowly turned into the ‘mangrove slog’ as the mud became deeper – speed seemed to be one’s best friend. We had lunch at the Gazi Women’s boardwalk, which is a boardwalk through the mangroves which provides an income to the Gazi community and provides awareness about the mangrove ecology to locals and tourists. We saw previous plantations from previous Earthwatch groups and saw the impact of mangrove deforestation. After dinner we finished off with a talk by Hamisi, one of team from Gazi, previously a fisherman now working for KMFRI, about life in Gazi.
0 comments



July 25, 2009: Meet the mangroves

Forest_edge Jambo! I have spent the previoius week on safari through the Maasai Mara and Serengeti parks where I saw a plethora of amazing African animals (and yes, I did see the ‘big five’). I arrived in Mombasa this morning from the overnight train ready to meet the rest of the Earthwatch team at the New Palm Tree Hotel. After meeting Gustavo and Ray we headed into town for a feed and to explore Fort Jesus. At 2 o'clock Tim and Martin (one of the principle investigators from Bangor University Wales) also turned up and we were ready to head to Gazi. First we had to cross the Harbour at Linkoni, which seemed like a long wait for the ferry. On the way Martin told us how the rain is late this year, and has driven the inland dwelling Maasai people further afield, even as far as Gazi. This has caused some social and environmental problems in Kenya. We arrived at Gazi Village where we quickly settled in and went for a walk around the area and had our first introduction to Kenyan mangroves. After a hearthy Swahili dinner we introduced ourselves and spoke about our hopes , fears and expectations for the expeditition then headed to bed ready for the next day’s marathon.
1 comment



July 18, 2009: We're off!

Well, the adventure begins! I left Perth 10:30 last night and am currently in Dubai waiting for my connection to Nairobi. When we arrived in Dubai at 5:30 in the morning, the temperature was a chilly 34oC (93F) - quite a contrast to the winter in Perth, but a good acclimatisation to the Kenyan weather. Received emails from Tim, Raymond and Gustavo in the last few days, who all seem to be excited about the expedition too, with their travels beginning soon. A couple more hours of time to kill at the airport, then off to Africa. Better run -- got to do some duty free shopping. Until next time.
2 comments



July 6, 2009: Mangrove 101

Jambo! Habari gani?
It is less than two weeks to go before I fly to Kenya! I have had my last vaccination, acquired malaria tablets and have booked a return train ticket from Nairobi to Mombasa (the rendezvous point for the expedition). I am getting more excited but am trying to stay focussed at work. Evenings at home are spent poring over maps and guidebooks getting ready for my adventure. Will and I (the Western Australian Earthwatch participants) have appeared in Alcoa of Australia's magazine and on the Alcoa Intranet and I am often getting quizzed about Earthwatch, the expedition, mangroves and how to apply next year. Despite needing no prior knowledge on mangroves for the expedition (as project staff will provide introductory lectures and training), the scientist in me cannot help doing a bit of pre-reading. Some facts I would like to share that I have discovered from my readings include:

  • Mangroves sequester 1.5 metric tons/hectare/yr of carbon
  • Mangroves are known as the rainforests by the sea.
  • Large stretches of the sub-tropical and tropical coastlines of Asia, Africa, Oceania, the Americas and the Caribbean are fringed by mangroves
  • Mangrove forests were once estimated to cover over 32 million hectares. Now less than 15 million hectares remain
  • Where the mangrove forests have been cleared, problems of erosion and siltation have occurred
  • The root structure of mangroves can attenuate a wave's energy, reducing the damaging effects of storm driven waves from hurricanes and tsunamis
That's all for now; my next blog entry will probably be from Dubai as I wait for my connecting flight.

Content currently unavailable. Please check back later.
0 comments



June 10, 2009: Team Briefing

In the last few weeks I have been preparing for my adventure to Kenya. I have been to the travel doctor twice now for various immunisations, with one more visit to go. I have obtained visas for Kenya and Tanzania (why Tanzania you ask? Since I am going all that way to Kenya, I will spend some extra time in east Africa and go on a safari to the Masai Mara and Serengeti). I have purchased a Lonely Planet guidebook to familiarise myself with the country and culture. A few weeks ago Gustavo (a fellow expeditioner based in Brussels) organised a phone conference between the 2009 Tidal Forests of Kenya volunteers. Gustavo, Tim (from Suriname), Ray (from England) and I introduced ourselves and discussed the trip, exchanging tips on what to bring based on other volunteers’ experience.

I have also been reading up on the project. We will be based at Gazi, which is 55 km south of Mombasa on the coast. Gazi Bay is surrounded by mangrove forests which is used by the locals as a fishing ground and wood source. The degradation on the mangrove forests has resulted in erosion and a declining fishery resources. This is the fifth year of the mangrove research project. We will be measuring the physico-chemical and biological properties in the sediment to investigate the recovery of the mangrove forest after restoration. We will also be monitoring tree growth and survival and faunal colonization and planting new tree plots. We will also be working on carbon sequestration experiments to determine what becomes of the carbon stored below the surface in harvested forests and how to encourage new plants to grow in these harvested regions. This will help manage the sustainability of the mangrove resources in this region.

The more I read the more excited I am getting about the expedition, but for now I have to stay focused on my work, try not to daydream too much (well, no daydreaming in work time anyway!) as I still have a month and a half to go.  Until my next entry, Kwaheri! (that’s Swahili for goodbye)

0 comments



May 15, 2009: Wow, Kenya!

Hello, everyone. My name is Bronwyn Larner, and I am off to Kenya in July, as I was lucky enough to be chosen as an Earthwatch fellow for 2009.

I joined Alcoa in 2006 as a research chemist in the Process Measurement Group of the Technology Delivery Group (TDG), Alcoa’s refining research and development team based at Kwinana near Perth, Australia. Prior to that, I did a Ph.D. in analytical environmental chemistry, investigating trace metal mobilization in contaminated Antarctic sediment after doing an applied science degree, majoring in chemistry.

My current role involves working within a team at TDG, researching better ways to measure the Bayer aluminum refining process and products. As a whole, TDG aims at improving the efficiency, productivity, and product quality of the Alcoa World Alumina (AWA) alumina refineries. TDG also has an environmental program focused on reducing the waste and environmental impacts of the Bayer process.

I was thrilled when I opened my email one morning and received a note from Earthwatch stating I have been chosen as a 2009 Alcoa Earthwatch fellow. I read on, seeing that I had been assigned to an expedition entitled “Tidal Forests of Kenya.” Wow, Kenya! I have travelled to northern and southern Africa, but not to the eastern region.

I navigated my way to the Earthwatch website to find out more. The project will involve carrying out plantation experiments to rehabilitate degraded mangrove stands in Gazi Bay. We will be performing experiments that involve intercropping various mangrove species to see the resulting growth and the effect on the soil and fauna, as well as investigating the carbon cycle in mangrove forests. This will be a fantastic opportunity to learn and contribute to the sustainability of mangroves in Kenya and experience the Kenyan culture and environment while we’re there.

I have always had a keen interest in the environment, which has grown in the last few years as I have become more aware of the challenges the world will face in my lifetime. This is one of the reasons I applied for the Earthwatch fellowship.

Climate change, retreating glaciers, loss of species, deforestation, and decreasing water resources are just some of the issues. Participating in an Earthwatch expedition will be a great way to learn about some of these issues first-hand, and I can pass on what I learn to my friends and family.

Even around the workplace we can make a difference, such as reducing the amount of waste generated, recycling paper, and turning off lights and computers when not in use. If we all do our bit, we can contribute toward one of Alcoa’s corporate goals of reducing the company’s environmental footprint.

0 comments




Click image to enlarge.