Some Lamu residents on Tuesday told a five-judge bench that the ongoing construction of multi-billion Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor has violated their rights to cultural life.
Mohamed Somo, Lamu Beach Management Unit chairman, said the LAPSSET project has distorted the heritage of Lamu Island, which is a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) world heritage site.
He urged Justices, John Mativo, Jaden Thuranira, Pauline Nyamweya, Joel Ngugi and Joseph Onguto sitting in Malindi to suspend the project until the government observes environmental remedies on protecting and conserving marine life.
Mr Somo said that the ongoing dredging at the Indian Ocean in Lamu for the construction of Lamu port has destroyed mangrove forests, sea grass, and coral reefs which are fish and turtle nesting areas.
“This has led to dwindling amount of fish has affected the cultural and socio-economic life of residents who solely depend on fishing for their livelihood,” he said.
A marine biologist was also among the witness in the petition against the Attorney General, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), among other government department linked to the LAPSSET project.
Mr Somo said they were not involved in the project which begun in the year 2012 and fishermen have never been compensated to date despite it destroying their fishing areas.
“NEMA went on to grant licence to implement the project disregarding the environment and social impact assessment study report for construction of the first three berths of Lamu port and,” he added.
Mr Somo said that part of the report conducted by Coastal Oceans and Research Development (CORDIO) experts recommended they be given modern fishing vessels to enable them proceed with fishing at deep sea.
“Our main concern is the project has denied us our livelihood,” he said adding that “Lamu Island is known for indigenous fishing methods and housing system and the port will destroy our heritage.”
His sentiments were supported by Dr David Obura, a marine life expert with 25 years’ experience and the CORDIO director who said Manda bay in Lamu has the largest mangrove forest in Kenya.
“The mangroves protect the reefs from strong waves and it is the home for various rare marine species such as turtles and dudong that had disappeared for the last 70 years,” he said.
Dr Obura said he has studied the ocean terrain of the area and even snorkelled to observe the coral reefs at the seabed which are on threat of destruction due to water pollution and dredging activity.
“In the year 1994 to around 1995, the ocean water was clear and you could observe marine life with ease but it has now turned brown due to siltation caused by the dredging activity,” he added.
During cross examination, Dr Obura said the coral reefs, mangroves and other marine lives can be saved by replanting them after completing the dredging activity caused by LAPSSET project.
“Although, mitigation to coral reefs is to avoid sea pollution caused by oil spillage, plastic disposal and ensure the water does not go above a certain level to allow waves wash them away,” he said.
However, he said that replanting of mangroves, sea grasses and coral reefs is not a guarantee that the marine life will bring them back to their original status since some species will have died.
Another witness, Francis Dyer, an environmentalist, said respondents disregarded UNESCO report on “ the reactive monitoring mission to Lamu Old Town Kenya” before initiating the LAPSSET project.
“UNESCO also made recommendations on fishing plans, planting mangroves, the need to survey coastal morphology and protection of the universal value of Lamu to include tourism and culture,” he said.
The petitioner lawyers, Christine Nkonge and Lempaa Suyianka said they have three more witnesses to testify before concluding the matter.
The judges adjourned the hearing to Wednesday when the court will visit the site at Lamu Island and its environs adversely mentioned in the petition.
By CHARLES LWANGA, Daily Nation
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