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2021 Whitley Award
Sammy Safari Kenya Coastal and Marine
Transforming the future of sea turtles through coastal stewardship

Along Kenya’s coast, the future of life above and below water relies on sustainable management by communities. Sammy will use his Whitley Award to turn the tide for fishers, mangroves and turtles in East Africa’s oldest reserve.


Coastal Watamu in the Malindi Watamu Marine National Park and Reserves is home to over 600 species of fish across its reef and seagrass habitat, as well as seven species of turtle including green and hawksbill. Their migratory routes pass through its stunning lagoon, bordered by the widest range of mangrove species on East Africa’s coast.

Aerial view of Watamu National Park and Reserve


This previously small fishing community experienced a tourism boom accounting for up to 50% of income. COVID-19, however, has caused hotels and businesses to close and unemployment is now widespread in an already impoverished area. Pressures on natural resources are mounting with a surge in illegal fishing, a high risk of mangrove cutting and endangered turtles exposed to poaching – a major concern for the area.

The team on turtle hatching watch CREDIT Corey


Sammy has dedicated his life to working with these communities. Through his anti-poaching team and extensive network of informers, he will ramp-up efforts to reduce illegal poaching and bycatch. Alternative livelihoods will be developed that lessen reliance on extractive practices, boosting household income and food security. There will be a focus on local stewardship and female engagement in resource management. Red worm farming will also be introduced to halt wild bait digging, which hinders mangrove regeneration.

Msitu womens group

Sammy and his team will:

  • Strengthen governance of coastal areas, working with Kenya Wildlife Service and communities to reduce turtle poaching.
  • Protect nesting green, olive ridley and hawksbill turtles, and reduce bycatch.
  • Create non-extractive, sustainable livelihoods for three coastal communities and elevate income by 30%.
  • Stop mangrove loss due to bait digging in Magangani and replant at least 5,000 seedlings to restore fish and wildlife nursery habitat.

Top facts:

  • Malindi-Watamu Marine National Reserve is the oldest reserve in East Africa.
  • Mangroves are important natural storm barriers and provide a nursery ground for fish.
  • 17% of the community rely on fishing and tourism for their income, with over half living below the poverty line.

“We must learn, understand and then teach others that our natural resources are critically important for present and future generations. Our lives depend on it.” Sammy Safari

Image credits: Johann Vorster (cheetah, Wildlife Warriors team, Paula Kahumbu), Kathy Karn Photography (African savannah elephants). Film credits: Save The Elephants, Dereck Joubert.