27 March – KPA stakeholder meeting

The week of 25-30 March was heated in Mombasa. Public outcry on the ongoing dredging/dumping and sand harvesting by two vessels was growing to a fever pitch, resulting in the Cabinet Secretary (Minister) for Transport, Mr. James Macharia, putting a stop to the activities with a tweet on 26 March 2019.

A meeting was called by Kenya Ports Authority on 27 March, in which the two principal stakeholders fighting the activities, David Obura (from a science perspective) and Mohammed Hersi with Sammy Ikwaye (from tourism) faced off with the project teams – KPA itself, the Japanese firm (Toyo Construction), the Dutch engineering firm (Boskalis) that owns the dredger at the center of the controversy, the firm running the environmental component of the project, BAC Engineering, and the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

The purpose of this post is to outline my understanding of what was decided as the next course of action, as these begin to unfold. This is partly to try and allay fears among stakeholders that the one visible step so far is all that will happen, but also to compensate for the formal meeting minutes not capturing the full scope of change that I and Mohamme Hersi and Sammy Ikwaye pushed for as stakeholders. A journey of 1000 miles begins with a step, and this is to outline what next we want to happen after the first step.

This post reflects my perspective as a researcher more than that of my tourism colleagues. Also see this KPA web-page for documentation on environmental matters.

Summary – what was agreed and why?

In general
The problem is in large part one of communication/engagement, and improper environmental planning. Communication will be resolved by providing more information and openness of project/KPA processes to stakeholders, while the environmental planning component can be resolved by appropriate studies and communicating their findings openly.
The dumping location is legal, so clear communication on the decision identifying it, and credibly demonstrating to the public the lack of impact shown by monitoring, are priorities. Further steps can be made to improve these studies, and if appropriate, make further decisions based on this.

See further details here.

Sand harvesting
The current degree of impact needs urgently to be determined, and based on this, next steps identified. This experience will be used to assure appropriate design of marine monitoring for mega-projects, and improved decision-making on use of resources, including through Strategic Environmental Assessments to facilitate long term and multi-sectoral planning.

See further details here.


Why was the meeting called?

First, it is important to understand that two independent activities are underway, and confusion between them is part of the problem in the public debate and in the press. The two activities are:

1) dredging within the port and dumping the collected material offshore, and
2) harvesting of coarse sand from the coral reefs off Waa and Tiwi (at 30-60 m depth) to be used in landfill for terminals within the port.

While separate activities, the vessel Willem van Oranje was doing both in a rotation that takes about 6-7 hours. Starting off Tiwi it would spend about 2 hours collecting sand, move to the port terminal area to discharge this sand onto the growing Phase II of the Container Terminal, turn around to deepen the turning basin for ships that will the terminal, move to the point 3 km offshore of the harbour entrance to dump this mud in waters 200 m deep, and then move south to the Tiwi reef to start again.

On a separate contract, the vessel Jun Hai 6 has been dredging within the port for the Kipevu Oil Terminal and dumping this material offshore, then returning and repeating, a cycle of about 2 hours.

The public and different stakeholders have voiced concern over multiple aspects of these activities:
– damage being done with dumping dredge spoil, and confusion over where the dump site is, with reports of dumping close to the reefs at Tiwi and Shelly Beach;
– the impact of sand harvesting off the reef on coral reefs, seagrass beds, turtles, fish and fisheries, and beach sediment dynamics;
– licensing, oversight and monitoring of the activities by NEMA;
– impacts of dredging within the port on fish and fisheries, mangroves and other biota;
– impacts of ‘land reclamation’ for terminal construction, though in reality this is not reclaiming of areas that used to be land, but of turning parts of the sea into land.

As a marine scientist having worked on several marine environmental impact issues in Kenya, my main concerns were about the total lack of information on these activities – in particular the dumping location for dredge spoil, compliance with the vessels on using a legally designated site, and impacts of dumping there; and on sand harvesting off the coral reefs and the lack of information about potential and realized impacts, and any sense that mitigation actions were being put in place to minimize damage. The other concerns are also valid, but these are the ones I believe are most significant and needing urgent attention.

Back to the meeting
KPA chaired the meeting, both a full meeting among the stakeholders listed and a smaller technical meeting to identify the next steps forward. To my mind their intentions seemed correct – to clearly resolve the conflict, because of the sensitivity of the topics, and that future development plans, and branding as a Green Port, need a long term strategic approach that combines environmental stewardship, stakeholder interests alongside the need for growth in the country’s main port.

We identified several steps, addressing each of the issues separately – dumping and sand harvesting. These are not fixed steps committed to by those present, but they do represent a common ‘vision for the future’ for resolving the conflicts and moving forward with solutions.

Dumping – what next?
Step 1 – A first necessary step is to clear up confusion about the legality of the current dump site, whether the dredging vessels are using it correctly (and not dumping elsewhere), and whether impacts of dumping are acceptably low.

KPA indicated that a public notice in the papers is the way this is normally addressed, and prepared the notice that came out on 30 March 2019.

To back up the notice, KPA committed to providing documentary evidence was on their website (here). This includes minutes from the multi-agency meeting designating the current location (in 2011) and results from monitoring to date to show minimum impacts (e.g. to the reefs 3 km away).

Track logs of the dredgers indicate they have been using the designated dumping site, which is legal. It is difficult, therefore, to argue for the dumping not to resume, unless data can be produced to support a reason. It is likely, therefore, that dumping will resume.

Step 2 – I felt that a 2-page brief or factsheet describing the issues more expansively and from a stakeholder/science perspective, would also be useful, and hence the web-page available here. This presents a map showing the dumping site rather than just UTM points which few people understand, and explanation of the relevant issues from my perspective. It will be adapted in coming weeks to clarify issues that may come up from different stakeholders.

Next steps – But in addition to these, as stakeholders we pushed that the suitability of the site needs to be credibly demonstrated, and this may take new data and studies. These could be done through improved monitoring once the stalled dredging/dumping activities are restarted, and/or through independent research studies, for example by national or other researchers with suitable skills and methods. IF impacts are found to be significant and not acceptable, then it would be appropriate for the multi-agency decision of 2011 to be revisited, and a new dump site designated (likely farther offshore). If the studies find no or acceptable impacts, then there is no good reason for changing the dumping location and this issue can be settled once and for all.

KPA did acknowledge these concerns, so I feel that as a science-based stakeholder we need to accommodate for the resumed dumping activities to be monitored and studied in greaer depth, and call for accountability to release the results to support the greater public scrutiny and confidence-building that is sorely needed.

Sand harvesting - what next?
Step 1 – The monitoring plan established for the project was not suitable for documenting impact, as during the meeting no facts could be presented on the presence or absence of impact. So the most urgent need was for a field visit. This was done the following day, led by myself, with the field report available here. Briefly, we found that impacts of sand harvesting are clear in the high silt load in the algae and rock surfaces of the reef – but the corals and other invertebrates are clean, and only minor amounts of silt-related stress could be seen, and patchy mortality.

Step 2 – based on these findings of moderate impact, the following changes to operating procedures for sand harvesting and monitoring need to be made:

Based on what we saw, recommendations can be made to alter sand harvesting activities to reduce impacts to even lower levels. Precautionary steps that could achieve this could include the following, among others:
o Harvesting from the outer (deeper) edge of the sand deposits to maximize distance from the reef;
o Reduce harvesting intensity below that associated with the higest-impact reefs near block 4;
o Selectively harvest during conditions that minimize transport of sediment to the reef (e.g. by tide, wind, wave and other conditions).

This would have to be accompanied by real-time improved monitoring to assure impacts are lower, and to further alter harvesting activities if impacts are observed. Appropriate monitoring could include:
o On the vessel – observation of the sediment plume from harvesting, to halt activities when it is observed to approach the reef;
o Tracking the vessel – in-water sampling of water between the vessel and the reef, and just after harvesting on reefs adjacent to the actual location of the harvesting activity;
o On the reef – addition of sampling sites the full extent of the reef adjacent to the harvest blocks (e.g. at 2 km intervals); additional use of sediment traps and reef observations to monitor silt loads;

With these adopted into the Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan (EMMP), it may be acceptable to restart sand harvesting activities, as the operating procedures will prevent the build-up of impacts anywhere close to those observed on 30 March.

In addition, the onset of the southeast monsoon is imminent. The cooler waters and rougher conditions will reduce stress to the reefs currently impacted by sediment. But the stronger onshore winds from the south may more intensively push the sediment plume onto the reefs and inshore, and spread the sediment plume over a wider area.

Next steps – More quantitative and evidence-based practices will need to be developed to improve on the precautionary approaches for resuming sand harvesting identified above. At the same time, these practices should be build into standard operating procedures for all future sand harvesting proposals, and similar approaches for any mega-infrastructure projects with marine impacts. To date, this has not been the case, and controversies have dogged all major initiatives, including the sand harvesting in the last decade and dredging/construction of the port in Lamu that is currently ongoing.

Kenya Ports Authority and the project team indicated a strong willingness to undertake these next steps

Restarting dumping and sand harvesting?
NEMA issued a stop order for the two activities, to regularise the cessation initiated by the CS Transport. It included several conditions for restarting activities, that include some of the activities listed above (e.g. the coral reef survey).

While this is controversial, based on the direct obsevation of LOW IMPACT to coral reefs of the sand harvesting so far, we do advise that on satisfaction of the NEMA terms (which should be publicly released of course) AND with clear assurances of the willingness to develop all the mitigation steps described above, that both activities do be allowed to restart.

Stakeholders will of course have to be recognized as active parties in the process. Certain grievances have not been addressed, e.g. in relation to impacts on fish and fisheries, turtles and beach sediment dynamics – but these can move forward if pursued soberly and with integrity from both sides. Stakeholder meetings to address these are urgently needed.

And we will have to keep an eagle eye on implementation and ensure that the same level of damage to coral reefs is not repeated at any point. New issues may of course emerge, but by building on the goodwill started by the stakeholder meeting on 27 March, hopefully it is possible for all parties to build bridges and confidence in one another, and resolve these without the conflict and crisis that we got to last week!