Kiunga Marine National Reserve


A pristine string of rugged coral isles, ringed by rainbow coral reefs and a part of the enchanted Swahili realm of the Lamu archipelago, the Kiunga Marine National Reserve offers living coral gardens, sculpted coves, wheeling seabirds, rare turtles, magical dugongs and an underwater world of unbelievable colour, discovery and vibrancy.

Fact File
Altitude: sea level - 30 meters.
Area: 250 sq km.
Location: Lamu District, Coast Province.
Gazetted: 1979.
Distance from Nairobi: 976 km. Distance from Malindi 372 km.
Climate: the coast is humid with a mean annual temperature ranging from 22-34 degrees centigrade. Rainfall is around 500mm per year.
Vegetation: microscopic marine plants and dugong grass, coastal scrubland and mangrove swamps.
Marine life: fringing offshore reef with approximately 50 coral islands hosting an abundant reef fish population. Dugong and turtle (olive ridley and leatherback) are also common.
Birds: there are many seabirds in large nesting colonies and internationally significant numbers of crab plover and roseate tern.

When to go: the Reserve is open all year round.

What to take: footwear (to protect your feet from the reef), T-shirt, snorkel, mask, fins, camera, sunscreen and plenty of drinking water.

How to get there:
By road: Kiunga is a remote unspoilt village on the mainland about 150 km north-east of Lamu.
By sea: from Lamu you can get to Kiwayu Island by dhow or speedboat.
By air: there is a nearby airstrip at Mkokoni on the mainland.

The Lamu Archipelago
The Reserve is part of the Lamu archipelago, a cluster of hot low-lying desert islands that run for some 60 km parallel to the coastline of northern Kenya. The last survivor of a one thousand year-old civilization, Lamu was founded by the Arabs in the seventh century and traded for centuries thereafter in ivory, rhino horn and slaves. Today it offers a unique showcase for the traditional Swahili culture, a bustling historic town and some of the most pristine beaches in Africa.

Islands in the stream
The Reserve is made up of a chain of 51 coral islands lying some 2km offshore, but inshore of the fringing reef. They run adjacent to the mainland's Dodori and Boni National Reserves. Varying in size, the islands are composed of old, eroded coral and shelter lesser kudu, bushbuck, monkey, porcupine and wild pig.

Reefs, the rainforests of the sea
Coral reefs are one of the most fascinating ecosystems on earth, sheltering nearly one million different types of marine life. Forming only in warm seas, they are made by battalions of tiny polyps, miniscule sea anemone-like creatures that live together in colonies; some create a hard skeleton outside their bodies and it is this which eventually forms into stony coral. Coral comes in many shapes, size and colours 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.

What to see
The reef provides food and shelter for an entire community. A shifting rainbow of small fish, worms, shrimps, octopus and clams hide in the gaps while blue and yellow parrot fish use their hard beaks to chew off lumps of coral. Snappers, rubberfish, zebrafish, butterflyfish and scorpionfish shimmer in the clear waters while hunting sharks, rays, turtles and starfish prowl the reef in search of prey. Fierce moray eels hide in holes while small crabs, wrasses (long, spiny-finned fish) and sharks lurk in the caves; sea urchins, sea cucumbers, brittle stars and numerous species of mollusk feed on algae and transparent prawns dance wraithlike through the waters alongside shifting clouds of tiny demoiselle fish.

Haunt of mermaids?
The Reserve's creeks and inlets also serve as a substantial breeding ground for the rare mermaid-like creature called the dugong. A completely aquatic, warm-blooded mammal, the dugong belongs to the mammal order sirenia , a name derived from the ancient legends of Odysseus and the Sirens. Thought to share a common ancestry with the elephant, dugongs have an average length of 2.5 to 3.2 meters, may weigh anything from 140-170 kg, and live on the marine grasses growing in the shallower waters of the Reserve.

Realm of the seabirds
The outer islands of the Reserve host many seabirds. Species nesting here include roseate tern, sooty gull, white-cheeked tern, bridled tern and brown node. Crab plovers are also plentiful while other migrant waders frequent the more sheltered flats and creeks.

Snorkelling, diving and swimming
The best time for snorkelling over the reef is two hours either side of low tide, which is the time when the greatest amount of marine life is revealed. Kenya's coastal waters are warm all year round, so diving without a wet suit is also rewarding.


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