•Most of the public beach access roads along the 17 kilometres-long stretch, from the Kongo River to the North and Galu beach to the South have been interfered with.
•There has been mushrooming of illegal structures along the beach, which does not make the beaches attractive to the tourists anymore.
Landing at Diani Airport from above the Indian Ocean gives you one of the most magnificent aerial views of the World-renowned Diani Beach, in Kwale County.
The white sandy beaches, palatial homes and exotic luxury beach resorts, sets your holiday mood right.
Diani has consistently been voted one of the top beaches in the continent– voted Africa’s leading beach destination six times in a row since 2014 by the World Travel Awards.
It is popular with families, honeymooners, backpackers and water-sports.
From visiting its marine national park, diving with dolphins and sea turtles, spotting whale sharks, kite surfing, skydiving and nightlife, Diani offers a range of activities for all ages.
However, illegal constructions, sand harvesting, dumping, quarrying and uncontrolled investments are threatening to turn the celebrated destination into an ugly scenery, an eyesore and a turn-off to holiday makers and investors.
Trying to access public beaches will tell you why there has been a public outcry over blockage of beach access roads and encroachment.
Most of the public beach access roads along the 17 kilometres-long stretch, from the Kongo River to the North and Galu beach to the South have been interfered with in one way or another by different actors.
There has been mushrooming of illegal structures along the beach, which does not make the beaches attractive to the tourists any more. Diani, Tiwi and Galu beaches are all affected.
“Beach access roads are under a threat. We might not have these public access roads for use in the near future,” Seif Dzochera, a Kwale resident says.
A spot check by the Star revealed blockage of public beach access road and illegal structures on riparian reserves.
Some of blockages and illegal structures are at Bidi Badu, massage parlours at Mwaepe fish landing site, Mvureni fish landing site, Trade winds (proposed stalls by Kwale county government), beach access road between Leisure Lodge and Leopard Beach Hotels, Forty Thieves and Amigos.
Watatu Watano beach access, Mvureni beach access road, among other roads around Diani have either been encroached on or fully blocked.
A report by South Coast Residents Association (SCRA), a vocal local group, last year revealed a number of illegal structures, where construction work was done without valid permits.
“Illegal building activity may be due to profitable speculation with and exploitation of valuable real property,” SCRA notes in its report.
A local group-Kwale Civil Society Organisation has been protesting what they term 'illegal' constructions in the area, which have been ongoing with the knowledge of the Kwale county government.
The beach-line has seen mushrooming uncontrolled bars and restaurants built to water levels, massage parlours and dens likely to attract illegal activities including drug peddling.
Bar in a mosque
While it is a taboo to put a mosque together with a bar, things are different at Diani where an Italian investor and his Kenyan spouse have managed to construct an alcohol-selling restaurant within the iconic Kongo Mosque.
The duo has entered into a deal with a section of the leaders at the mosque to put up the Estuary Beach Resort and Restaurant.
Access to the beach for the driving pubic also comes with parking fee.
Documents seen by the Star show the project's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was done after the project was underway, which is against the law.
EIA is part of the project development process and is usually done at the initial stages of the project development.
It is a decision making tool and should guide whether a project should be implemented, abandoned or modified prior to implementation.
Further, the EIA states that the project to have five sections including a wine and spirits partition.
During a meeting with the mosque custodians, it was stated that they would not allow the sale or consumption of alcohol on the mosque grounds, the Star established.
The project failed to meet the public participation aspect as required, with the residents of Mwakamba saying they were never consulted.
Neither was Kenya Wild Life Service, the affected Beach Management Unit and other major stakeholders, investigations by the Star revealed.
On June 17, a joint team of KWS and Nema officers visited the Kongo mosque area by the river mouth, northern Diani beach.
“The structure was in the process of being wired and plumbed, so nearing completion,” Adam Tuller, KWS Honorary Warden, Diani Beach, notes in a report, which has poked holes on the project's EIA and its development.
“It was observed that there was no board as is customary at a construction site listing consultants and Nema license and approval numbers,” Tuller said.
While the team was briefed of intentions to run a kite surfing school, and that the structure being completed was to be a bar and restaurant in support of the intended kite surfing school, there is no mention of this in the EIA document submitted by NEMA registered audit lead expert-Fredrick Owiti.
On July 21, Kwale Civil Society Organizations, consisting of eight signatories, wrote to the department of physical planning protesting the project.
“The said resort has been established on a community land which is registered by trustees as Kwale Islamic Centre with special conditions (Sharia compliant),” the letter reads in part.
The Kwale County physical planning office has since distanced itself from the project, saying it was not approved.
“It was never granted permission,” Ali Budruma from the physical planning office told the Star on telephone.
“We have a lot of unapproved buildings in Kwale,” he said, noting lack of enforcement officers and budgetary strains as major challenges hindering the office from dealing with rogue developers.
“We only have three enforcement officer serving the whole of Kwale county,” he said.
Political interference and corruption also remains a challenge in controlling construction and land issues in the region, locals say.
The coral reefs at Diani are yet another endangered ecosystem with sand harvesting at the shores of the Indian Ocean.
Last year, tourism stakeholders raised an alarm over dredging activities for port infrastructure development off the coast of Tiwi and Waa beaches.
A study conducted between July and September pointed out that the activities were interfering with the marine ecosystem.
There was also dumping of dredged material, which destroys corals acting as buffers to the coastline, which would eventually make the beaches unsafe, as the corals prevent infestation of the beaches by large sea creatures such as sharks.
“If sand harvesting in Diani continues, Diani beach value and aesthetics will completely be eroded and destroyed,” the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers (KAHC) report reads in part.
Last Tuesday, Two men died after a quarry collapsed at Maweni in Ukunda.
The quarry caved in as the two were harvesting sand, burying them alive.
Msambweni sub-county police commander Nehemiah Bitok said the two were trapped in a mass of stones and sand.
Rescue efforts by locals were hampered by lack of proper equipment.
“We believe, it was only the two trapped, but we will try hard to rescue any other survivor,” Bitok had said.
Residents are now concerned about what they term “illegal quarrying”.
Though there is a Kwale County Quarrying Act that has been brought into law to license and control the industry, quarrying activities remain uncontrolled, residents say.
“What is evident is that many terms of the Act are not being complied with and need to be addressed by the relevant authorities who, up to now have not exercised their duties with regard to the Act,” SCRA says in a report.
In some cases, the quarrying utilizes electricity which is illegally obtained by direct connection from the Kenya Power lines.
“The quarrying activities in the Diani and Tiwi area are well known, and likely to be illegal, yet none of the officers from the Kwale government or NEMA have addressed this illegality for more than the two years that substantial quarrying using electing cutters in the area has existed,” residents lament.
Tourism stakeholders, led by the KAHC have been pushing for the adoption of legislation to regulate beach activities, but counties are yet to take them up.
“We have drafted bills for Kwale and Mombasa but they (legislators) are yet to initiate the processes to adopt them. They are just sitting on them,” Sam Ikwaye, KAHC executive officer told the Star.
The bills are meant to manage developments at the coastline to ensure only sustainable investments are made for the future of the coast region, where beaches remain a critical element of the tourism sector, the backbone of the regions economy.
Beach management falls under the devolved governments and residents are counting on coast counties to introduce legislation to regulate their shore zones.
Residents are hoping both the national and county governments will address the illegal structures along the coast line, uncontrolled beach bars and restaurants, illegal allocation and blocking of public beach access roads, beach erosion and lack of solid waste management.
They are also hoping challenges of decaying organic matter will be addressed, sanitary facilities at public beaches put in place, and an end to interference with the marine ecosystem stopped.
These, they believe will help save Diani beach from loosing its glamour as a leading beach destination in Africa.