Inclusion in Environment Conservation

Margaret Awuor Owuor (ELP 2021) | Lecturer, School of Environment, Water and Natural Resources Department of Hydrology and Aquatic Sciences, Kenya

In May of 2021, we set off for fieldwork in the South Coast of Kenya in the Diani Chale and Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s). These are beautiful ecosystems consisting of mangroves, seagrass, and corals that are rich in plant and animal diversity such as fish, macroinvertebrates, dolphins and mangrove species. Diani Chale and Kisite-Mpunguti MPAs are located within Msambweni and Lungalunga sub-counties, respectively. These two ecosystems are found within the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region. The WIO region is ranked as a second biodiversity hotspot globally, however, the region faces several threats from increased development such as port construction in the region. Kisite-Mpunguti MPA has an area of 39 Km2 and was established in 1973 as a national park (no-take area), it was later re-demarcated in 1976 to include a marine reserve to allow for traditional fishing activities by the local communities, while Mpunguti was gazetted as a Marine National Reserve in 1978. Mpunguti covers 11 Km2 and Kisite Marine National Park covers 28Km2. Diani Chale was gazetted in 1994 as a Marine National Reserve. It is located 25 Km South of Mombasa, extending from the Northern part of Tiwi River to the Chale island and Gazi bay in the Southern boundary under the custody of the local community with less active government intervention.

The fieldwork I was engaged in is the research work of my PhD student Christine Nyangweso, and it focuses on community engagement to assess their perception of the economic value of coral reef ecosystem services in the MPAs. This research involves working hand in hand with the local community through focus group discussion (FGDs) and key informant interviews. It is a participatory process that brings together local community members from different cadres to sit in a room and answer questions. On this expedition, one experience caught our attention leading to this blog.

During one of our field days in Diani Chale ecosystem, as usual, our fieldwork starts with mobilizing community groups through community focal persons before the interviews/meetings. On this day we were set to commence the interview with one of the fisher groups in one of the Beach Management Units (BMU). As we were in the process of registering our Focus Group Discussion participants, to our surprise, one of our participants was a person who was “ hard of hear”. This person belonged to the group that Christine was engaging and she wondered why this particular participant was not responding to questions. Upon probing, she was told that “huyo ni kiziwi” which translates to “he/she is deaf”. This brought up the question of how we would engage with such a group of people in conservation activities? What would be their position in the discussion? They are interested but are unable to communicate. We did not have our Focus Group Discussion tool in brail nor did we have a sign language expert on the team. Therefore, this brings the big question, should research groups start thinking of how to engage with a group of persons living with disabilities (PLWDs)?. If we are to engage with them, what considerations should we put on the kind of facilities will we need to put in place and at whose cost?

This is all at the same time as the realization of COVID-19, which has prompted the world to start looking into incorporating COVID-19 protocols into research activities, which includes budgets for face masks, sanitizers, and vaccinations. The World Health Organization (WHO) statistics estimate that over 1 billion people live with some form of disability. This corresponds to about 15% of the world's population. But PLWDs have lived with us for a long time, despite being a minority population their views on environmental conservation matter and need to be included in decision making and planning. They are equally affected by the effects of climate change and biodiversity loss.