Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park and Reserve
Altitude: sea level to about 5 meters.
Area: 39 sq km. (Kisite Park: 28 sq km. Mpunguti Reserve 11 sq km).
Location: Kwale District, Coast Province. The Marine Park lies 6 km off the Kenyan Coast (at Shimoni) and 8 km north of the Tanzanian border. Distance from Nairobi: 550 km from Nairobi. Distance from Mombasa: 120 km.
Islands in the stream
The Park, which was established to protect the scenic islands and special habitats of a wide range of endemic marine animals and breeding migratory birds, lies in the coral gardens beginning about 1 km south of Wasini Island. This trapezoid section of the Indian Ocean encompasses four small, arid coral islands, each with considerable areas of fringing reefs. Kisite Island features an exposed sand bar and the surrounding pellucid waters offer perhaps the most rewarding of the snorkelling sites.
Essentially unspoiled (there are no roads or cars on the island) and entirely different in terms of culture and landscape from the mainland, this peaceful island invites exploration. It features a picturesquely sculptured rocky coastline, low rag-coral forest cover, numerous venerable baobab tees and two small Muslim villages, the most frequently visited being Wasini Village, whose friendly and welcoming villagers inhabit a settlement believed to have been founded by Chinese and Arab traders some four- hundred-years ago; and which still features the ruins of those civilizations.
Petrified coral gardens
Once below the waves, but now merely washed by the incoming tide, these rather surreal grey-white coral gardens lie directly behind Wasini Village. Run by the friendly ‘Wasini Women's Cooperative Boardwalk' (offering guided walks, cool drinks and a handicraft shop), the two-and-a-half acres of petrified coral gardens and mangrove swamps can be explored by means of a meandering timbered boardwalk leading in a circuit around the site.
The Kenyan Barrier Reef
The most outstanding feature of the Kenyan coast, the pristine and well-developed coral barrier reef extends all the way from Shimoni in the south to Malindi in the north, without significant break, except at the mouths of the rivers.
Reefs, the rainforests of the sea
Coral reefs are one of the most fascinating ecosystems on earth, sheltering nearly one million types of marine life. Formed only in warm seas, reefs are built by battalions of tiny polyps (miniscule sea anemone-like creatures living together in colonies), some of which create a hard skeleton outside their bodies, which eventually forms into stony coral. Coral comes in many shapes, colours and sizes including the open branched stag's horn coral, the pincushion-like acropora coral, the wavy branched and plate-like pavona coral, the massively solid favia coral and the convoluted brain coral.
A selection of dhow and boat safaris departs from Shimoni Pier daily. Taking around half an hour to reach the Park, most tours encompass the islets of Mpunguti Ya Chini and Mpunguti Ya Juu (upper and lower islands) and Kisite Island, a coral-encircled rock about 100 m long which features an elongated sand bar and a rocky bird-nesting site.
Due to its warm shallow waters, exceptional clarity, pristine coral and extraordinary breadth of marine life, the Park and Reserve offer an excellent dive venue for beginners and professionals alike. Some eleven prime dive sites exist in and around the area, ranging from 5-30+m in depth. Mako Koke Reef (4km to the west) is also an interesting dive site being a fine example of a rejuvenating reef.
The warm clear waters, spectacular soft corals and kaleidoscopic marine life make this Park one of the finest snorkelling venues in Kenya, the most popular areas lying in the main coral garden towards the outer edge of the Kisite anchorage area.
Visitor tip: The best time to snorkel is two hours either side of low tide, when the greatest amount of marine life is revealed. Please avoid standing on or otherwise damaging the coral
What to see
The reef provides food and shelter for an entire community. A shifting rainbow of small fishes, octopus and clams hide in the gaps between the rainbow coral; celestial-blue parrotfish use their hard beaks to chew off lumps of coral while a kaleidoscope of soup plate sized snappers, rubberfish, zebrafish, butterflyfish, angelfish and scorpionfish shimmer in the clear waters. Hunting sharks, rays, turtle and starfish also prowl the reef in search of prey while moray eels hide in holes alongside small crabs and wrasses (long, spiny-finned fish). Sea urchins, sea cucumbers, brittle stars and numerous species of mollusk also feed on the plentiful algae of these warm coastal waters and the reef features 12 species of sea grass and numerous sponges.
The Park is famous for its population of turtles: green, hawksbill, loggerhead, Ridley and leatherback.
Dolphin and whale spotting
The reef offers sanctuary to over 200 dolphins (spinner, humpback and bottle-nosed), which can be encountered singly or in schools, above and below the waves. You may even be fortunate enough to see a humpback whale (October-December). Whale sharks meanwhile are often seen around the Mpunguti islands.