As part of the preparations for the mangrove planting I went on a 4-hour hike through the mangrove forest with Kahindi, one of the guys from Watamu Turtle Watch to find out which mangrove species have seeds that are ready for collection. Kahindi explained the differences between the various mangrove species, and by the end of the hike I was able to tell them apart. Walking through the mangroves was like entering an enchanted world, and I felt very privileged to be able to experience it up close and personal, and to be able to contribute to its conservation.
Sometimes we had to wade through shallow creeks or mudflats, and we saw all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures along the way. My special friends were the crabs. At low tide thousands of tiny little crabs scurry through the sand, and it looks like the whole sand is moving. But they get fewer and fewer as you get closer because they vanish into little holes in the ground. It is a little bit like playing musical chairs, though, because sometimes there are not enough holes for everyone, and some crabs get left behind, and desperately try to hide themselves in the sand, hoping they won't be seen.
Another highlight during my time in Watamu was a trip to Kirepwe Island in Mida Creek in a dug-out canoe. We visited that island to inspect the state of the mangroves there, and one of the fishermen brought us over there in his canoe. I was sitting in the prow, looking out across the blue water and the blue sky, separated by a green belt of mangroves, while the two guys behind me were paddling and chatting away in Swahili - and I could not for the life of me imagine how I would ever go back to sitting in my office again for 8 hours a day...
On reaching the island we walked along the shore to assess the mangroves, and when lunchtime approached we stopped at a shamba (small farm), where the farmer climbed into a tree and cut down a coconut for each of us. On the way back to where we had left our canoe we passed the most massive baobab tree I have ever seen. It dwarfed all the other trees and looked like a dinosaur among them. We also came across another ruined village, similar to the ruins at Gedi (see Must-See Tip). Even though the Kirepwe ruins are on a lot smaller scale than Gedi they have the same mysterious atmosphere.
The whole trip to Kirepwe had taken a lot longer than we had anticipated, so while we were gliding back across Mida Creek towards the mainland I had to send a text message to someone I was supposed to meet in order to cancel, and it felt really weird to be sitting in the prow of a dugout canoe sending texts from a mobile, like two worlds colliding.
By far my favourite activity in Watamu was to release turtles back into the sea that had accidentally been captured by fishermen in their nets. The fishermen ring Watamu Turtle Watch if they catch a turtle, someone drives out to the landing site to pick the animal up and to compensate the fisherman for the damage that the turtle has caused to the net. The turtle is measured and tagged and then released back into the sea on the protected beach in the Marine Reserve. It was just the best thing ever to put them back into the sea and to see them dash away in the crystal-clear water, knowing that without the guys from WTW it might have ended up on someone's dinner plate.
Have a look at my turtle travelogue for more pictures of turtle releases.