In August last year, Malindi residents woke up to find a permanent sea wall being constructed within 30 metres of the high water mark in front of the Billionaire Resort.
The club, owned by Italian billionaire Flavio Briatore, is now fighting claims that the 100-metre long sea wall is to shield visiting international celebrities and high profile personalities who want to sun bathe privately.
The sea wall stands two metres above the high-tide mark and is ten metres thick. It is made of corals, properly enclosed in wired gabions.
Conservationists have challenged the construction, saying apart from blocking a large section of a public beach, the wall is harming the environment and marine life that rely on that beach for breeding and survival.
Due to the pressure of the ocean water being blocked by the wall, there has been massive erosion at some sections of the resort’s seafront. The management unsuccessfully tried to stop the erosion using sand bags.
Marine biologist Casper van de Geer of the Watamu Turtle Watch says the wall is an environmental disaster. Two other Malindi establishments - the PB house and Sheli Sheli House – have similar but smaller walls, all which the scientist says are calamitous and should be demolished.
“Apart from the geophysical impacts, there are serious ecological ramifications. The sea wall has not only destroyed a significant area of breeding ground for endangered sea turtles, but the structure also has further impacts on the ecosystem inside the Malindi Marine National Park. Sea grass beds and coral reefs will be negatively impacted, which in turn will impact the number of fish in the area.”
Casper says the construction flouts the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act which provides for a total conserved foreshore area of 60 metres. “In this case, the 30 metres of foreshore area protected by the Malindi-Watamu Marine National Reserve falls within the 60 metres of foreshore protected under EMCA legislation,” he says.
Malindi North Residents Association has also questioned the sea wall’s legality.
The association claims that neighbours and area residents were neither consulted nor involved by the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) with respect to the Environment Impact Assessment as required by the law.
Robin Hollister, the chairman of the association, says it’s illegal to build a permanent walls within the 60 metres from the high water mark.
“The law says you cannot build a permanent structure within 60 metres from the high water mark. It is however possible for one to build a temporary fence that cannot destruct natural flow of sea water,’’ he says.
Hollister says the Billionaire wall is within the Malindi Marine National Reserve, a well-known Unesco-recognised turtle breeding ground that is under 24-hour surveillance.
“Since this area is within the marine park, turtles usually lay eggs on shore and go back offshore to lead their normal life,’’ Hollister says.
During the low season (kaskazi) the sand builds up and the sea wall disappears. It resurfaces during the high season. Hollister points out that some commercial properties, such as White Elephant and Rosada, have maintained a natural beach frontage, proving that there is no need to build seawalls.
Kenya Wildlife Service leased part of their land for the development of the Billionaire Resort and benefited from some development projects within the Malindi Marine Park.
“KWS cannot let its cordial and beneficial relationship with Billionaire Resort be at the expense of national interest and the environment,’’ Hollister says.
Kilifi County assembly Committee on environment recently toured the controversial sea wall. Arafa Salim Baya, a nominated MCA and a member of the committee, says: “Despite being within the marine park and the public beach, the developer never consulted locals through public participation.”
The MCAs have petitioned the management to produce a comprehensive report and approval permit from Nema.
Samuel Lopokoiyit, the officer in charge of Nema, Kilifi County, said they want to get facts before taking any action.
He said two more investors have built walls within the 30 metres from the high water mark. These are PB house and Sheli Sheli House.
Lopokoiyit says after case study, it will be easier to come up with recommendations which cannot be challenged in court by those affected. “We have formed a committee to do a case study and develop a road map to solve the problem,’’ he said.
He said the effects of the erosion was complex because the beach sand is always moved by the northeast winds and then swept away by the south east winds.
The differences, he said, are noticeable after every three months.