Conservationists say the seismic survey and oil drilling within the forest will endanger the globally endangered mammals, birds and world-famous Kipepeo Butterfly Project. Arabuko Sokoke is also home to four globally endangered mammals and six globally threatened birds.
The exploration will be conducted in block L16, which covers the forest and the larger part of Kilifi County. The exploration would take three months and if oil or gas is found, most of the forest will be in danger.
The government contracted CAMAK Energy Kenya limited, who gave the subcontract to Chinese company BGP to implement the seismic surveys.
Block L16 covers Arabuko Sokoke including the section of the marine protected area, Magarini, Watamu, Kilifi, Ganze, and Malindi. BGP Company has pitched camp at Gede to begin the project. Conservationists including community forests associations and non-governmental organisations have now submitted a petition demanding that the project stops.
They say the vital Environmental Impact Assessment was never conducted. Those who signed the petition include Arabuko Sokoke Forest Adjacent Dwellers association, Jilore Community forest association, Sokoke Forest Community Association, and Gede Community Forest Association.
Others are Arocha Kenya, Local Ocean Trust, Watamu Turtle Watch, Community Empowerment and Development Agency (Kilifi), Nature Kenya, and Coast Farm Forestry Association.
“There was no stakeholder participation or consultation, no EIA has been presented to the key stakeholders,” said the petition in part.
“It is unthinkable that today, an oil company would consider drilling through the protected last remnant of the East African Coastal forest, at the risk of all the biodiversity it contains. Yet that is exactly what CAMAC and its sub-contractor BGP are planning to do,” says Nairobi-based conservationist and bird expert Fleur Ng’weno. Separately, community members said withholding information from them was against the constitution.
“The activity has been marred by a lot of secrecy, selectivity and discrimination on who should or should not get information; the project is coming using the top down approach where orders are given from above. This does not augur well with the community since they see it as being forced on them,” they said in a petition.
They termed the unique ecosystem of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest as too sensitive to allow any disturbance. Francis Kagema, the coast region conservation coordinator at Nature Kenya, said they learnt of the project at a later stage and realised there was no community participation.
“Work has already started, BGP has pitched camp next to Gede ruins,” he said. Kagema said the petition was delivered to Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi, National Environment Management Authority and Kenya Forest Services to take action.
BGP is expected to clear sections of the forest for roads to transport heavy equipment to the exploration sites.Kagema said the company might use diatomite explosions for the seismic surveys.
“All the works will affect land owned by locals together with ocean there has to be a compensation plan and rates be made public but nothing was done,” he said.
A letter availed to the Star indicated that work was to begin last month. “BGP Intends to commence its work before the end of October 2014 in the field. This is therefore to request you to alert other local administrators in the county sub counties and locations about the presence of this firm on the ground,” said the letter dated October 19, 2014, and signed by Wang Lijiang, the party chief of crew for BGP Kenya.
The petition also touched on the major conservation hotspots which would be affected by the exploration works in Block L16.
They included Sacred Kaya Kauma, Arabuko-Sokoke National Forest, Dakacha Woodland Important Bird Area, Sokoke Crater (Nyari), Watamu Marine National Park, Malindi Marine National Park, Matsangoni caves, Gede Ruins National Monument, Mida Creek Important Bird Area,Sabaki River Mouth Important Bird Area among many other unique and sensitive sites and ecosystems.
The threat to Arabuko Sokoke is the latest onslaught on protected forests at the coast. A few kilometres away, sacrilegious land-grabbers are even kicking out of the forests the feared Kaya elders, who are the custodians of the region’s culture and history.
Independent reviews show that between 30 to about 300 hectares of the sacred forests are threatened by loggers and ‘developers’. Kaya elders say huge chunks of land amounting to more than 80 per cent of the sacred forests in Kwale and Kilifi have been taken over by developers including foreigners.
The forests serve as ceremonial sites, burial grounds, sources of medical plants and spiritual centres for the Mijikenda. The elders term the encroachment as “defilement” and threatened to cast a curse.
“Our people lived in these forests many years ago. They used to offer sacrifices whenever there was famine, diseases or solve other major problems hence hold a sacred history for us,” says Mwinyi Dzilala, an elder at Kaya Waa.
*Alphonce Gari – The Star