For The Beauty Of The Earth

Exploring the Connection of People and Place


Today, I Poked an Octopus

Developing the community marine conservation project has proven to be a pretty large undertaking. It took a long time and a lot of rewriting, brainstorming and reading through the data to figure out exactly what we needed and what was feasible. Right now, our main focus is Capacity Development. This term is hard to wrap your head around but it is essentially all about people and the process of improving the effectiveness of our conservation organization.

People are both the driving force behind biodiversity loss and the reason for protecting it. Long-term conservation success depends on a developing network of individuals and institutes that are strong and effective enough to address the threats to our natural world.

I see it as foundational in any attempt to find long-term solutions to conservation issues. Just like foreign aid, outside intervention may provide a short-term fix, but it isn’t really sustainable unless it is linked to locally driven action. I would even go as far as to say unless it is linked to locally driven action, it can actually undermine what you ultimately are trying to do. The most effective and long-term solutions to safeguard species and habitats lie in local hands.

The Marine team has been doing a biodiversity census on everything in the Watamu National Marine Reserve for the past few years. They will continue the monitoring of keystone species and coral cover so that in another couple years we know the trend. There are a lot of visual clues and data hints that species are declining, sediment is increasing and overall things are getting worse, but we don’t actually have the data to know for sure.

From there we will conduct a series of PRA’s (Participatory Rural Appraisals). These community meetings and activities will help us figure out where the resources are, what kind of fish they are mostly getting, wealth distribution in the community, worldviews, problem ranking, family food analysis, seasonal calanders ect. This type of info is usually what an Anthropologist would discover in doing fieldwork, but the PRA’s are more a more direct way to figure out what is going on in a community for future sustainable development purposes. From these PRA exercises we will use the findings to develop a course that focuses on an environmental awareness gap we noticed or something that the community has expressed a desire to learn more about. We will also be doing leadership trainings so that these exercises and educational activities can be duplicated in other communities by the local people. . The hope is that eventually, this will have built a foundation for things like alternative livelihood development and a locally managed marine area.

On another note, I also teach computer classes to a few friends that live here. Most of them don’t have email accounts or facebook so it is fun to introduce them to a new way to connect with people. Also, a crowd favorite is pasting pictures into Microsoft word and distorting and shifting them all over the place. I also teach slightly more helpful things like how to save and find files on your computer and create PowerPoint presentations.

Another fun side job of mine is taking the rehabilitating Sea Turtles from Turtle Watch out for a seabath! If we have a quick healthy turtle, we either tie a string to its flipper or just try to keep up with it. If it get’s away, then it is healthy enough to be out on it’s own and escape from predators! Turtles here are a favorite food (The Giriama people apparently make a mean turtle soup). Unfortunately, if you wander through the North side of Watamu, you will find piles of turtle shells and skulls behind people’s homes. Turtle watch’s program was actually started by the community and they provide compensation for fisherman who find and deliver injured (or healthy) turtles to them instead of just removing their head.

I also have made friends with an artist who makes beautiful and strange pieces of art from things that wash up on the shore (mostly flip-flops). He also has an incredible shell collection and has given me two books to read on mollusks in hopes that I will devote my life to studying them.

Plastics Kill- Andrew Mcnorton

Plastics Kill- Andrew Mcnorton

Flip-Flip Chair is actually pretty comfortable

Flip-Flip Chair is actually pretty comfortable

Ben and I attended the Cultural day at my friend Rose’s church in Malindi! A lot of African tribes were represented in dance, song, dress and FOOD! We were given the traditional Giriama clothes to wear and people couldn’t stop laughing at us 😀

A joined in on the monthly wader bird count at the Sabaki Delta. Thousands and Thousand of Flamingos are here for a pit stop!

We also ring birds twice a month here at Mwamba! Here is Ben with a Yellow-Bill.

I have about three weeks left here to finish my project and then Ben will return from Uganda. We will then head south to Mombassa where I need to renew my visa (fingers crossed- it solely depends on what mood they are in). Ben and I have some friends in Tanzania who we will meet up with and then it is back to Nairobi to work with The Kianga Project Woman’s groups! Ben and a few others started this project back in 2007 and they come every year to work with the ladies and bring more stuff back to the states to sell. You can see all of the items and read more about the project here!

From there, Ben will head back to the states and I will spend a couple weeks during the Christmas Season in Uganda! Sara and Anthony are doing some incredibly work there and I can’t wait to visit and lend a hand.

And yes, today I did actually poke an octopus.



Party Time!

It has been a long time since my last post! That is because everyone here at the Mwamba Field Study center has been busy preparing for our big event. This beautiful brand new building is the Environmental Education Center. The Environmental Education department of A Rocha Kenya has been rapidly growing and they needed more space. In the past month we have hosted over 8 groups in the building from surrounding communities to learn about Climate Change and Creation Care. To celebrate the grand opening of this space and all it represents, we threw a party of course! Parties are a big deal here and we go all out. An African party consists of:
• Ribbons and bows everywhere
• Balloons everywhere
• Banners
• Tents
• Skits, song and dancing
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Juice with biscuits
• Sustainable Farming demonstrations
• Soda!!
• 20 speeches
• The Archbishop of Mombassa cutting the ribbon
• Butchering an entire cow (I got the chance to eat the “Head Soup”, heart, liver, intestines (more like put in and out of my mouth quickly)

That being said, these past couple weeks have been a whirlwind of painting every building and sign, meetings, my amazing boyfriend visiting, creating giant banners for each department and many other projects.

Informing guests of our marine program

Informing guests about our marine program

Archbishop of Mombassa

Archbishop of Mombassa

Directing guests in the rain

Directing guests in the rain

Turtle Power

Turtle Power

Time to Eat

Serving guests Pilau (A Kenyan rice based dish with spices such as cardamom, cinnamon and cloves



Just butchered a cow and now it is time to eat the intestines.

Just butchered a cow-now we eat the intestines.

We were expecting around 300 guests, but after not raining for 2 weeks, it rained non-stop all day! Despite the weather, we still had a good turn out of around 150! The party was also an open house for the surrounding community, partners and stakeholders. Each department had a display set up and fun activities to partake in. I set up a mini aquarium for the Marine Department. It was a lot of fun because I got a chance to go out to the rockpools at low tide and find a bunch of weird creatures that looked dangerous but were perfectly safe to hold. Brittle Stars and Sea Urchins are spikey and creeping looking and then Sea cucumbers look like leaches. They don’t exactly urge people to cuddle them, but hopefully they will make people curious!

Most coastal communities don’t know that there is a reef full of life, dolphins and whales out in the great blue ocean, they just don’t believe in those things! I have seen first hand in schools how they are taught to be careful and not go in the water because it is a dangerous place and people have gotten eaten by sharks (not true). The shark bit scares away most people. But the fact is, the only common shark in this area is the Black Tipped Reef Shark. They look terrifying and very “shark-like” but are incredibly harmless. I am actually planning to go swim with them today at low tide. At the end of the day, people only care for the things that they love, but in order to come to love something- you have to get to know it first.

In the midst of all of the chaos, I have gotten the chance to go on pizza dates with Ben and celebrate his birthday the Kenyan way (getting “washed” aka surprise soaked with water), a weekend rest in sleepy town of Kilifi/crunchy permaculture hostel called Distant Relatives, watch the BBC mini series The Honorable Woman (highly recommend) thanks to Ben bringing all his fancy gadgets, and take Bootstrap the rehabilitating Sea Turtle out for a bi-weekly swim. Thanks for all of the love and support I have been receiving from back home! I love and miss you all!

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Community Conservation

I had a visitor this morning during my tea time

I had a visitor this morning during my tea time

I must confess, I do not like blogging. Opening myself up to individuals is easy; opening myself up to the world is not. I know a lot of people where it is the other way around, but exposing my deep feelings, struggles and thought processes to an unknown mass of people is terrifying. Most of my posts so far are simply reporting on the day to day. I hope, that as time goes on, I am able to open up with some of the struggles and pleasures of living in Kenya. Until then, here are more updates!

Last week I spent most of my days visiting various community conservation projects that are already happening in Kenya! In Kilifi (about a 2 hour Matatu (mini bus) ride from Watamu) there is a Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) that was started up by the resource users-the fisherman. They noticed a gradual change and decline in their catches, so got together to figure out why. In order to determine if they were a part of the problem, they established a “No-Take” trial area for 6 months. After that period, there was a dramatic increase in the fish population and a dramatic decrease in the Sea Urchins (who are usually balanced by Trigger Fish, but with the fish decline, the Urchin population exploded and in turn led to the over-grazing of important sea grass). Seagrass is necessary because it traps toxins and sediment, keeping the water clear. Clear water is necessary for Coral reefs!

From then on, the fishermen of the village established “Kuruwitu”. Their fishing practices that had included things like Mosquito nets (which have very small holes so they catch the young fish and then the population does not have the chance to regenerate). Another issue was that the there was an influx of users due to population growth and the fact that most kids were not able to afford secondary school and therefore turned to natural resources for their livelihood. Both of these are problems currently being experienced around Watamu (where I am living) and this is what I have been working on.

Our meeting at Kuruwitu

Our meeting at Kuruwitu

It is always a beautiful thing to witness a community that recognizes and addresses it’s own problems, without the need of a western NGO, or anyone from the outside for that matter. It was very encouraging and helpful to hear their stories, as we are looking to establish community-based program here in Watamu.

The issues here, however, are even greater. Just like in many countries, many people shift to the tourism industry only to fall flat on their face when that tourism drops. Currently, there has been a travel advisory issued to most of the western countries that visit Kenya. Even though it is perfectly safe here, you can see the desperation in so many people as there are no tourists here and therefore they have no income.

So what exactly is a sustainable livelihood? I think this anthropologist’s definition is very helpful.

“A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (stores, resources, claims and access) and activities required for a means of living. A livelihood which is sustainable can cope with and recover from stress and shocks, maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets, and provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the next generation; and which contributes net benefits to other livelihoods at the local and global levels and in the short and long term “
-C. Carter in Tourism, Conservation and Development around a Marine Protected Area in Kenya

I am working on developing a sustainable livelihood diversification project that in time, will hopefully relieve some of the pressure being placed on natural resources. I am temporally calling it The Marine Ecosystem Local Conservation Cooperative (MELCC- which is how I pronounce milk! 😉 for fun. It is currently in the beginning stages and I have found myself writing at a desk most of the week. I actually think that I’m okay with a desk job in this setting since I can hear the ocean crashing, I get to watch monkeys play outside my window, and if my brain is feeling foggy I have the freedom to go for a quick snorkel.

One of the other projects we were able to visit is called Their tag line is “Effectively linking the health of the environment to people’s continued prosperity. I’m currently pursing a partnership with them to help train and work with communities to further develop their sustainable livelihood options. Their store is pretty neat too! You can buy everything from organic honey, to wild cold pressed coconut, to wild mushrooms, to eco-charcoal! All made and processed by East-African communities!

As I am going about this project it is vital for me to remember that if both habitat and communities are to survive, it is important that local people benefit from conservation.

Closing off areas might help those areas and the whole ecosystem regenerate, and therefore be beneficial for everyone in the long run. However, it will end up isolating a community from the place where they live and take away their bread. So how do we move forward? I think that sometimes it involves pausing and taking a few steps back.

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Land, Air and Sea


I arrived at the A Rocha Kenya Field Study center (usually we just call it Mwamba) last Wednesday night. So it has been a week! I wanted to post this a few days ago but it has taken me this long to get this page to load so I could post this! I had a 14 hour journey by bus from Nairobi to the coast so to be welcomed into this community with many greetings and delicious food could not have been more perfect.

The concept of time here is very different, as it is in most hot-climate cultures. In my efficient western way, I was eager to begin my work and after the third day of nobody really being able to answer me with what I should be doing everyday, I found out that usually guests are given the first week to explore and familiarize themselves with the people and place. So far, I think it’s a great idea now that I know I can just relax!

My days have consisted of helping out in the kitchen, solitary snorkeling, reading (I read the book African Friends and Money Matters in one day! I don’t remember the last time I had the chance to do that) and helping out with various research projects, I had a meeting with Peter, who will be overseeing me. Now I am able to give you the rundown of the current Marine Program, which is currently facing a lot of challenges.

Just down at the beach (which I can see from where I am currently typing!) the waters span out in various shades of green and blue. You can see the waves crashing on the distant sand bar and beyond that is the reef crest and the endless ocean. Watamu Marine Park is now part of a UN recognised World Biosphere Reserve. Within the reserve is the Marine park which spans about 10km. People are aloud to fish there only with traditional fishing methods. Discussion on the complications with poaching, using illegal nets as well as why people do it will be the topic of an upcoming post.

The Marine program here at A Rocha Kenya was established in 2010 after they realized how at risk the marine environment was. From 2010-to present the have focused on biodiversity and habitat assessments to figure out exactly what is living in the large coral, sea grass and mangrove ecosystems. There are a lot of keystone species (essential) we monitor. Their presence, absence and abundance can tell us about the overall health of the system. At this present moment, they have documented every family and are finishing up with mollusks. This morning I went on the last rock pool excursion where we sampled different areas in the rocky pools for snails.

Although all of the data has not been compiled, it is looking like there is a lack of diversity, which is not good. We kept coming across the same species of snail and there where a handful of others but unfortunately in the area we sampled today, there was quite a lack of diversity.

After years of research have been put together, we are now asking the question of what does what we found say about the impact of tourism, development, the local community, climate chance ect. I will be a part of the next phase of the program which is the social component and ultimately where my interests lie: The connection and impact of humans where they live and their dependence upon their place.

I am considered a Marine Program Volunteer and researcher but I will also occasionally be doing some terrestrial research where needed (and because I love birds). I got the chance to partake in the yearly bird ringing on Whale Island this Saturday! Ringing consists of literally putting a ring on the leg of a bird with the date and contact info.

There were three species of terns nesting on this island. It is breeding season so we went to count the adults and fledglings. Terns don’t have traditional nests so we had to look out where we stepped because there were eggs and balls of fluff everywhere! We measured and weighed the adults as well to determine their overall health. Ringing tells us a lot about birds. If someone in East Asia is ringing birds and finds one that already has a ring, it will contact us and we know that the bird has lived for X long and has managed to travel X far.


I was planning on sharing all my photos with you here, but they wouldn’t load :/. However, You can find most of them by visiting my Facebook page. 

In one quick unrelated story, I got to watch the documentary HOME last night with a bunch of Masai that traveled here to learn about creation care. Most of them had never seen images of snow, so the whole thing was very entertaining. One man said before we started “Because I have only seen a lion in the wild, I’m just letting you know that I might through a rock at it on the screen out of habit!”


The In Between

I have already technically left for Kenya! It happened so fast that I didn’t even have time to pack up my room at the Bustles (Ben is doing that for me 😀 ). I’m only a couple hundred dollars away from my support goal, which just takes some rearranging to make it work. I am still in awe at the amount of people from past and present parts of my life who have vocally supported me. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

When I began to raise support, I was very very discouraged because It was very hard to explain what I was going to be doing and why it was important. We live in a world where it is only the apparent great tragedies that move us. It is harder to see why those great tragedies happen in the first place. No I’m not doing something that sounds super sexy, like rescuing sex-trafficked woman ( which is also important). However, hopefully my work with A Rocha can help mitigate the reasons many people find themselves in desperate situations. I just wanted to let everyone reading this know that even if you didn’t support me financially, the fact that you are reading this and you care means even more to me.

I moved to Waco Texas over a year ago now and it was one of the best decisions I have made. Although I miss Philly and my dear friends there, the people of Waco have literally embraced me. I have found a beautiful community of friends there and I really am not sure if this journey would have been possible without their support. So thank you Waco!

For the sake of keeping your attention, my very long layover before Kenya will be presented in bullet points and pictures!

DISCLAMER: I’ve been using some of my own saved money for this layover. All the money given to me for Kenya is being used for Kenya-just to be clear.

  • My flight on KLM had yummy dutch food and organic juice!! (My stomach has been suffering a bit from so much dairy this week)


  • Amsterdam is insane. I biked/walked for 10 hours the first day and there too many people here!


  • They only typical touristy thing I did was visit the incredibly moving Ann Frank House. I mostly checked out sleek libraries and Cat Housboats.


  • I visited a city just outside Amsterdam that had functional wooden windmills lining the whole river and there was a chocolate factory there so the whole city smelled like hot chocolate.


  • The city of Brugge has made me cry 3 times so far. Being somewhere with so much history and in churches that are 8 centuries old is overwhelmingly beautiful.

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  • !!!! BELGIAN BEER!!!!!


  • Yes, I took a lot of pictures of the hotel where “In Bruges”  was filmed…


  • Belgium is considered the “Cradle of Lace”. Bobbin Lace is a specialty of Bruges (and very expensive to make). Just one small piece costs $10 but takes about 10 hours of work. Most of the ladies actually make more money by making lace on the street and charging people money for pictures 😉

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  • Breastfeeding in Art: St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the Lactation Miracle housed in one of the Cathedrals.

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  • Food in Europe is really not expensive if you know where to look

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Thank you so much for all your prayers. I don’t have the time, energy or $ to travel anywhere else so it is back to Amsterdam for a day before my connecting flight to Nairobi! I am more than ready to just be there.

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Zooxanthellae and the Coral Reefs: Animal, Plant or Mineral?

It is so easy for us to marvel at the sight of a giant Sequoia tree but so easily walk past a rosemary bush without even a glance. In this series of posts, I would like to bring to your attention the small wonders of the world and how important they are in the big picture.

Corals do a damn good job of impersonation a rock. But they are very much alive!

Coral Reefs are Animals, Plants AND Minerals. Coral has three very important elements and each of them play a critical role in the survival of each other. Osha Gray Davidson explains it best in his disruptive narrative on the natural history of coral reefs, The Enchanted Braid.

            Nowhere in nature are the three basic elements of the planet woven together in such close fashion- nor with such spectacular results. The coral polyp-this diminutive and deceptively simple creature, this enchanted braid of animal, mineral and vegetable- is responsible for the largest biogenic (made by living organisms) formation on the planet and the most complex ecosystem in the sea: the coral reef.

Tropical reef-building corals have tiny plant-like organisms living in their tissue. The corals couldn’t survive without these microscopic algae–called zooxanthellae (zo-zan-THELL-ee). This one mutualistic relationship has the power to dictate the rest of the ocean but only makes up about 2% of the ocean floor!

Here is an image where you are able to see the tiny Zooxanthellae:

Coral Polyps themselves are in the same family as Jellyfish. They lay down a skeleton structure made of calcium carbonate (the same compound that chalk, our fingernails and seashells are made of). About 2% of their food comes from them stinging and capturing small prey. However, most of their food source comes from the Zoox living inside the coral! These zooxanthellae photosynthasise to generate energy/food for the coral. This is why you only find coral reefs in very shallow water. In return for all their hard work, the zoox get a safe place to call home.

Building a reef can take centuries and are one of the most biologically rich ecosystems on the planet. Collectively, they harbor more than a million marine species and a quarter of the ocean’s fish spawn, feed and hide among the diverse labyrinth.

If you ever have seen bleached white coral along a beach or as decoration in homes, you are only seeing the skeletal structure of a once living organism. The zoox give coral it’s beautiful color! However, they are very sensitive. If the coral is stressed due to the following environmental factors, it will expel the zoox leading to a loss in color (hence the term bleached).

*changes in water temperature,

*changes in water chemistry (acidification)

*mineral dust from African dust storms caused by drought

*elevated sea waters

*cyanide fishing

* herbicides

* too much sediment runoff (sun does not penetrate as well)

And what happens then? If these algae aren’t reabsorbed in the near term, the coral will die, they just can’t survive long-term without them.

But could we survive without corals? Reefs make up less than 1 percent of Earth’s undersea ecosystems, but don’t underestimate their importance:

  • They shelter 25 percent of marine species,
  • protect shorelines,
  • support fishing industries,
  • provide tourist dollars—and
  • could be home to the next big, undiscovered medical breakthrough.

Help me preserve these small but essential wonders in Kenya!

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