Twenty-three commercially important reef fish species risk local extinction in Kenya. This finding has enabled the development of specific steps to ameliorate or reverse the decline of these reef species.

Kenya’s marine and coastal environment is of high ecological and economic value with its natural bounties, including beaches, mangroves, coral reefs, plants, and animal life. However, the increase in the population, unplanned development of towns and the effects of climate change are accelerating environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. This loss is severe in marine ecosystems since coastal communities depend on them for daily livelihoods, food security and protein intake. The collapse and extinction of these reef species could lead to the loss of substantial livelihood among Kenya’s fishers.

FAR-LeaF Fellow Dr Levy Otwoma’s research is titled “Quantifying local extinction and shifting baselines of Kenya’s exploited reef fishes.” He says conservation strategies require understanding which species are likely to endure, adapt or go extinct because human impacts, such as overfishing, habitat loss and climate change extinction in diverse coral reef systems, are difficult to determine. This is due to limited funding for sufficient sampling and robust statistical analyses to estimate local extinction. Identifying species at risk is crucial as even local extinctions affect dependent communities' food security and well-being and ecosystem functional diversity, productivity, and resilience.

The pattern of extinction in tropical marine fish species is rarely investigated, particularly in poor coastal nations where assessment is critical as coastal communities and trade networks are often in proximity, and people depend on these fisheries for protein and livelihoods.

Article submitted by Levy Otwoma

Archaeological records reveal that Swahili people have exploited marine resources for millennia. A holistic understanding of reef fish species’ status is needed to counter the continuing loss of yields, income, and degradation of coral reefs.

Dr Otwoma (right) conducting interviews with local fishermen at the Kibuyuni landing site in Shimoni, Kenya


The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.