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Marvellous Mangroves: Dr Wanjiru's Story

Caroline Wanjiru was supported by Earthwatch to complete her PhD. Her project focused on mangroves, ecosystems which are not only incredibly biodiverse, but that protect coastal communities from extreme weather events and support livelihoods.

We asked Caroline a few questions to find out more about her work. 

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

My name is Caroline and I am a Kenyan citizen. I work at Kenyatta University as a tutorial fellow. I also work in several research initiatives within the coastal region and especially those that revolve around mangroves, fisheries and resource management.

Can you describe your PhD project? What made you want to do this particular project?

My PhD project investigated the determinants of mangrove use by fish and crustacean communities in Vanga. It focused on how mangrove forest quality affects the structure of fish and crustacean communities, most of which offer a source of livelihood for coastal populations.

I have lived in a fishing village for the last 20 years and the area has over 600 hectares of mangrove forests which has been degraded over time. I was thus interested in finding out how loss of habitat quality would affect the fish. The study was however carried out in a different village in the south coast. The study covered 14 sites across the Vanga mangrove system.

What were the key findings of your research? Did you find out anything that was unexpected or surprising?

The key findings for my research were that:

  • there were consistent sites that supported fish in terms of biomass and diversity, whilst some did not;
  • fish and crustaceans preferred different sites such that the sites that were good for fish tended to be the worst for crustaceans;
  • the Complexity Index, which was used as a proxy for mangrove quality in this study, affects the fish and crustaceans differently;
  • some seagrass metrics like distance, area and perimeter were also important in influencing the fish and crustacean communities in the mangroves. Interestingly again, the influence was different for fish and crustaceans.

What are the wider implications of your findings?

Based on the results from my study, the management approach to the Vanga seascape cannot be simplistic. A complex approach to mangrove management is needed, one that appreciates that the assorted microhabitats in the seascape support an array of ecosystem services.

What is your favourite memory from your PhD research?

My favourite memory from my PhD studies was the field work. I enjoyed being in the village where I did my work. I also looked forward to being out in the field every day despite the fact my team and I had to endure a lot from the elements - rain, heat waves, even the boat getting stuck in muddy mangrove areas!

What do you plan to do next?

I am currently teaching at the University, and I am also getting ready to write manuscripts for my papers. In the future, I plan to get more into governance of marine resources and see where I can add my input in helping the communities.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

The only addition is that I am very grateful for the two year support that I received from Earthwatch. Thank you for believing in me and I am so glad that I did not let you down.

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