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Enter an enchanted underwater realm
An enchanted realm of living coral gardens, sculpted islands, wheeling seabirds and sparklingly clear seas, this world famous Marine Park promises an underwater world of unbelievable colour, discovery and vibrancy.
“What to do”
Islands in the stream
The Park, which was established to protect the scenic islands and special habits of a wide range of endemic marine animals and breeding migratory birds, lies in the coral gardens beginning about one kilometre south of Wasini Island. This trapezoid section of the Indian Ocean encompasses four small, arid coral islands, each with considerable areas of fringing reefs. Kisite Island features an exposed sand bar and the surrounding pellucid waters offer perhaps the most rewarding snorkelling.
Essentially unspoiled (there are no roads and no cars) and entirely different in terms of culture and landscape from the mainland, this peaceful island invites exploration. It features a picturesquely sculptured rocky coastline, low rag coral forest cover, numerous venerable baobab tees and two small Muslim villages, the most frequently visited being Wasini Village whose friendly and welcoming villagers inhabit a settlement believed to have been founded by Chinese and Arab traders some four hundred years ago; and still featuring the ruins of those civilizations (the name Wasini derives from the Swahili ‘Wa-cini’ meaning ‘short Chinese people).
Crab lunches and dhow trips
Wasini Island also boasts a number of seafood restaurant, the best-known and most frequently visited being: Charlie Claw’s (who also run Dhow, dolphin and snorkelling safaris around the Marine Park as well as an internationally certificated dive school (fun dives available). Contact: Tel: +254 (040) 3202331/3203055. Email email@example.com
Petrified coral gardens
Once below the waves, but now merely washed by the incoming tide, these rather surreal grey-white coral gardens lie directly behind Wasini Village. Run by a friendly women’s cooperative (offering guided walks, cool drinks and a handicraft shop), the two and a half acres of petrified coral gardens and mangrove swamps can be explored by means of a meandering wooden board walk that leads in a circle around the site.
The Kenyan Barrier Reef
The most outstanding feature of the Kenyan coast, the pristine and well-developed coral barrier reef extends all the way from Shimoni in the south to Malindi in the north, without significant break, except at the mouths of the rivers.
Reefs, the rainforests of the sea
Coral reefs are one of the most fascinating ecosystems on earth, sheltering nearly a million types of marine life. Forming only in warm seas, reefs are built by battalions of tiny polyps (miniscule sea-anemone-like creatures that live together in colonies), some of which create a hard skeleton outside their bodies, which eventually forms into stony coral. Coral comes in many shapes, colours and size including the open-branched stag’s horn coral, the pincushion-like acropora coral, the wavy-branched and plate-like pavona coral, the massively solid favia coral and the convoluted brain coral.
A selection of dhow and boat safaris departs from Shimoni Pier daily. Taking around half an hour to reach the Park, most tours encompass the islets of Mpunguti Ya Chini and Mpunguti Ya Juu (little and large islands) and Kisite Island, a coral-encircled rock about 100m long which features an elongated sand bar and a rocky bird-nesting site. Boat safaris usually depart at 9am (no later than 11am) and leave the Park no later than 2.30pm (depending on weather conditions).
Due to its warm shallow waters, exceptional clarity, pristine coral and extraordinary breadth of marine life the Park and Reserve offer an excellent dive venue for beginners and professionals alike. Some eleven prime dive sites exist in and around the area, ranging from 5-30+m in depth. Mako Koke Reef (4km to the west) is also an interesting dive site being a fine example of a rejuvenating reef.
The warm clear waters, spectacular soft corals and kaleidoscopic marine life make this Park one of the finest snorkelling venues in Kenya, the most popular areas lying in the main ‘coral garden’ towards the outer edge of the Kisite anchorage area. Visitor tip: The best time to snorkel is two hours either side of low tide, when the greatest amount of marine life is revealed.
The Shimoni Slave Caves
Only five minutes from Shimoni Pier and well worth a visit are the ancient coral caves of Shimoni. Vast, cavernous and bat-filled, they are reputed to extend 5 km inland and served for centuries as ‘Kayas’ or sacred sites of worship and sanctuary for the local community. Latterly, in the 18 and 19th century the caves are also believed to have served as the holding areas for the thousands of slaves who, captured in the African interior, were in transit to the infamous Arabian slave markets of Zanzibar. The caves, which are run as a community project, are open from 8.30 am to 6pm (a small entrance fee is payable).
“What to see”
The reef provides food and shelter for an entire community. A shifting rainbow of small fish, octopus and clams hide in the gaps between the rainbow coral; celestial-blue parrotfish use their hard beaks to chew off lumps of coral while a kaleidoscope of soup-plate-sized snappers, rubber fish, zebra fish, butterfly fish, angel fish and scorpion fish shimmer in the clear waters. Hunting sharks, rays, turtle and starfish also prowl the reef in search of prey while moray eels hide in holes alongside small crabs and wrasses (long, spiny-finned fishes), sea urchins, sea cucumbers, brittle stars and numerous species of mollusk feed on the plentiful algae of these warm coastal waters. The reef also features 12 species of sea grass and numerous sponges.
The Park is famous for its population of turtles: green, hawksbill, loggerhead, Ridley and leatherback (the largest of all seven species of turtles).
Dolphin and whale spotting
The reef offers sanctuary to over 200 dolphins (spinner, humpback and bottle-nosed), which can be encountered singly or in school, above and below the waves. You may even be fortunate enough to see a humpback whale (October to December). Whale sharks, meanwhile, are often seen around the Mpunguti islands.
Kisite Island, realm of the seabirds
Kisite Island, a small waterless coral island 8km south of Wasini Island, is flat, treeless and often only visible as a sandbar. At its tip is a rocky outcrop, which makes an ideal seabird habitat supporting an abundance of pelagic-feeding birds including a breeding colony of roseate terns and nesting sooty terns.
There is no accommodation within the Park/Reserve, but plentiful accommodation options exist in nearby Shimoni including a selection of seven economically-priced KWS self-catering ‘bandas’ or chalets (offered inclusive of bedding, towels, cooking equipment, bathrooms, showers and communal eating area. Contact the Warden for further details)
The majority of people in the area surrounding the Marine Park and Reserve are either Mijikenda or Swahili. (The people of Wasini Island are Ki-vumba).
The Mijikenda (Bantu)
‘Mijikenda’ means ‘nine villages’ and reflects the fact that the Mijikenda are made up of nine groups: the Giriama, the Kauma, the Chonyi, the Jibana, the Kambe, the Ribe, the Rabai, the Digo and the Duruma. All are engaged in agriculture, primarily in the exploitation of the coconut palm.
The Swahili (Bantu)
A Swahili-speaking coastal people, largely Islamic by religion, the colourful Swahili people are mostly fishing and farming folk. Many are also skilled craftsmen, their shipbuilding and woodwork being especially famous, while their ocean-going dhows still ply the coast between Africa and Arabia.
Altitude: Sea level to about 5 meters.
Area: 39 sq km. (Kisite Park 11 sq m. Mpunguti Reserve 28sq km
Kwale District, Coast Province. The Marine Park lies 3-8 km off the Kenyan Coast (at Shimoni) and 6km north of the Tanzanian border.
Distance from Nairobi: 550 km from Nairobi.
Distance from Mombasa: 120 km.
Gazetted: Opened June 1978.
Climate: The coast is humid with a mean annual temperature ranging from 22-34. Rainfall is around 500mm per year.
Sea grasses and marine algae.
Fauna: More than 250 recorded species including: corals, sea urchins, cowrie, starfish, various crabs, sergeant-major fish, parrotfish and butterfly fish.
Birds:Many seabirds in large nesting colonies and internationally significant numbers of crab-plover and roseate tern.
When to go: The Park is open all year round. Snorkelling is good all year (optimum October–March).
What to take: Footwear (to protect your feet from the reef), T-shirt (to protect your body from sunburn), snorkel, mask, fins, camera, high-protection sunscreen and plenty of drinking water.
How to get there: The Park can only be reached by boat. Contact the KWS Warden (the KWS Headquarters is 200 meters south of the main Shimoni Pier).
Sporting facilities: Swimming, sailing, snorkelling and diving
Other facilities: The KWS HQ at Shimoni also offers a selection of economically-priced self-catering accommodation, a picnic area and an excellent information centre.
Open: Daily 8.30am – 6.00pm.
Current entry charges: Obtainable via KWS HQ. Tel: (Nairobi)+254 (0)20 501081/2, 602345. Email kws[a]kws.org website www.kws.org .
SmartCard’ required?[ At present this Park does not operate the SmartCard system. Entry is by cash only (Ksh or US$).
The Warden: The Warden’s office, Information Centre and KWS self-catering accommodation facilities are located 200m south of Shimoni Pier. The Warden can be contacted at:
PO Box 55 Ukunda, Kwale District, Coast Province.
Tel: (Shimoni) +254 (0)40 52027
Check local weather/marine conditions before entering the Marine Park or Reserve.
Be aware that some marine life is dangerous – do not touch anything under water.
Do not damage or remove the coral; it is a living organism, which takes many years to form and also plays host to many rare and endangered species.
Do not stand on the coral or destroy it with your diving/snorkelling fins.
Do not remove any shells, starfish or any other sea flora or fauna, especially those deriving from turtles and whales.
Never dispose of litter on the beach or in the sea (plastic refuse, when ingested, causes the deaths of hundred of the Park’s turtles annually).
Avoid restaurants that serve undersized crabs and lobsters as this contributes to their rapid demise.
Support traditional coastal livelihoods and never give money to children on the beach or in the villages – this can encourage them to stay away from school.
Respect the cultural heritage of Kenya – never take pictures of the local people or their habitat without asking their permission, respect the cultural traditions of Kenya and always dress with decorum.