Big Ship’s solutions for a flourishing Kenyan coastline

The densely populated low-income regions of the coastal city of Mombasa in Kenya often struggle to maintain a healthy living environment. Lack of waste management facilities and extensive environmental degradation often exacerbate these problems. To alleviate poverty and prevent further damage to the environment, a group of conservation activists founded Big Ship in 2010. The organization is dedicated to providing community-focused solutions to local problems in Mombasa. By addressing these challenges, the organization targets several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including those relating to socio-economic growth, environmental restoration and sustainable lifestyles.

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A group of Kenyan women wearing purple and blue robes with white caps and smiling at each other

Large pillars of large ships

Big Ship is founded on three pillars. The first is the Urban Resilience Pillar, which serves underprivileged urban populations in the city. As Mombasa has a high population growth, its low-income settlements are also on the rise. In the light of SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, the organization strives to strengthen the resilience of these marginalized groups. The team supports community members to increase their socioeconomic status through training and mentorship.

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The second pillar is the collection of waste resources (RECO). Waste facilities are not able to keep up with large amounts of waste. In fact, the city produces 19,000 tons of waste every month, 10% of which is plastic-based. This often results in rubbish piling up in illegal landfills. Over time, and especially during the rainy season, the waste penetrates freshwater and marine ecosystems. As Mombasa is highly dependent on marine resources for its economy, the city becomes more vulnerable to environmental degradation caused by pollution.

The third pillar on which the Big Ship is built is the Mangrove Conservation. Mangrove forests are a key component of marine ecosystems. They protect the country from strong waves that can degrade shorelines, provide homes and sources of food for communities and absorb pollutants from the air. In Mombasa, Tudor Creek is home to a large mangrove forest of various species spanning 1,641 acres (4,054 acres). Despite these Tudor Creek mangroves acting as the lungs of the city of Mombasa, human-related factors have severely damaged this ecosystem.

The city’s resilience

To achieve each of the organization’s goals, Big Ship carries out various projects throughout Mombasa. Following Big Ship’s first pillar, Urban Resilience, the team is working to empower communities with a focus on young people, women and other marginalized individuals.

One such example is the organization’s Boresha Jamii project. The Swahili phrase translates to “Improve Society” in English. This project deals with SDG 1, No Poverty, and SDG 8, Decent work and economic growth. The Boresha Jamii Urban Resilience Program works in collaboration with the Big Ship’s Volunteering, Internship and Mentorship Program (VIMP) to provide individuals with life skills and entrepreneurship training.

Thanks to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, marginalized communities in Mombasa have become even more vulnerable to the effects of poverty. Through VIMP, Big Ship supports individuals, especially young people and women, to develop their careers. Participants interact with experts in different fields and explore careers they are interested in. Thus, they build skills and improve their knowledge within their field (s) of interest. In addition, participants are guided by industry experts, which further improves their career path.

Someone standing in a landfill

Waste management and resource collection

Big Ship’s second pillar, the Waste Resource Collection, is one that was more of a challenge for Big Ship to work towards. Due to widespread waste management thinking, the region has faced extensive problems, including incorrect waste disposal and lack of recycling systems. In turn, this has resulted in long-term effects on society and the surrounding ecology. To combat this compiled the Big Ship Resource Collection Project (RECO).

RECO has two main objectives: to raise awareness of waste management practices and to facilitate capacity building to recycle resources. These initiatives create a circular economy by maximizing resources that would typically be thrown away.

To create awareness, Big Ship caters to the young. They are taught the organization’s attitude and behavior change concept (ABC). Through this, young people are encouraged to change their way of thinking about waste management and resource recycling. In addition, resource collectors are employed to collect and transfer resources that can be recycled or reused, activating the possibilities for waste recycling. Over the last few years, this effort has reduced plastics at the main landfill by 60%.

A stork is standing in a mangrove wetland

Mangrove restoration

Big Ships flagship project, #BringBackTudorCreek, is the most important initiative working to meet their third goal. The mangrove restoration works to preserve and restore deforested and / or degraded mangrove ecosystems. As Mombasa attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year for its beautiful beaches, it is important to ensure that the coastline is well maintained.

Currently, 80% of the mangrove forest in Tudor Creek has been depleted. This is due to unsustainable extensive pollution and deforestation. This causes damage not only to the environment but also to the marginalized communities living near Tudor Creek, which depend on the income ecosystem through tourism, food sources and energy needs.

Using the 10,000 plastic yogurt containers collected through RECO initiatives each year, Big Ship plants mangrove seedlings along the creek. These yogurt pots can be used to propagate seedlings up to 50 times each, unlike regular polyethylene bags, which can only be used once. Through afforestation, Big Ship planted over 300,000 mangroves on 200 acres (494 acres) of shoreline in Tudor Creek. The seedlings have a survival rate of 95% and rebuild the marine ecosystem so that aquatic life can thrive again.

To further sustain the project, Big Ship helped members of the local community start their own beekeeping in the newly regenerated areas. This helps to protect the mangroves from clearing and prevents the landfill from being used as a landfill. As a result, the creek is flourishing and is no longer threatened by harmful resource utilization, including mangroves used for construction and charcoal.

Big Ships community-focused solutions are key to tackling local challenges in Mombasa. By enabling society to manage waste and maintain the coastline, socio-economic development is growing in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.

+ Large ship

via Al Jazeera

Photos via Pexels


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