Not far from Watamu Town in Kilifi County, a regular environment conservation group has moved away from what is normally entailed in average conservation and makes use of its mangrove protection activities to earn an extra income.
The Dabaso Creek Conservation Group, is a community based environmental conservation group which initially only thrived on the ideals of protecting mangroves which grow in the Mida Creek.
The 32km2 cove with its wide beds of sea grass and coral, hosts acres of the tropical tree and is home to many species of fish, sea turtles, crustaceans and birdlife.
The groups’ chairperson, Benjamin Karisa, says the 30 members sought to run an alternate activity to boost their income.
Thus they hatched the idea of fattening crabs, which they, at first, sold to local tourist hotels along the coast.
The giant mud-crab called Scylla serrate, an ecologically significant species largely inhabiting estuaries and mangroves swamps, was their crustacean of choice, since it grew big in size when mature and was a favourite for making dishes.
Soon however, they realised that they could make more money, if instead of selling live crabs, they made delicacies from them and exclusively served these dishes in their own eatery.
This notion created the Crab Shack, an exclusive eatery situated among mangrove trees on one edge of Mida Creek.
The eatery is a modest wooden structure, with boardwalks for the guests to use to reach it from the sea’s edge.
But despite its minimalism, it is ever swarming with visitors, including tourists and locals, all looking to sample the different dishes made from crabs.
The restaurant, which, opens out to views of Kirepwe Island, situated in the creek also provides a good spot for bird watching, since Mida Creek is a stopover of sorts for many migratory birds and hence a protected site.
The creek is also among the beautiful natural attractions on the Kenyan coast, and at the eatery, guests can also, for a small fee get guided tours enjoying scenic sceneries.
While in no way domineering in mien, Crab Shack still offers panoramic views of the sunset in the evenings.
To start with, the crabs are first sourced from local fishermen, delivered to the establishment then weighed and those weighing about half a kilo are sent to the restaurant’s kitchen.
The smaller crabs weighing less than that are sent to the fattening chambers where they are hosted in up to 230 floating cages floating in the seawaters around the largely wooden, palm leaf-thatched restaurant.
Karisa says they pay the delivery fishermen Sh550 for every kilo of crabs, which is usually made up of about five crabs.
“Previously, local fishermen had a tough time finding markets for their crabs since not many could gather the usually large number of the crustaceans that bigger hotels in the area required in one go. Our project helps alleviate the fishermen’s market challenge since we off-take their crabs,” says Dickson Mizinga, a member of the group.
ENVIRONMENT CONSERVATION INITIATIVE
Mr Mizinga adds that the fact that there is a huge demand for crab delicacies, assurances that there is always a ready market.
Menacing as the creatures look, rearing the crabs, according to him, is not a hard undertaking as many may believe.
They just require clean water, sufficient shade, enough microscopic organisms to feed on and additional food usually including small fish, snails and fish fillets.
“The creek where we are situated provides ideal conditions for keeping them. For one, the mangroves provide enough shade for them, and a habitat for organisms that the crabs feed on. Then the creek’s unique formation ensures there is constant movement of the seawaters in and out so that it is always fresh, as the plenty of mangroves growing here filter the water,” Mr Karisa says.
The crabs are often fattened for two to three months until they attain the size and weight required for the table, which is roughly half a kilo.
Crab Shack’s menu typically contains an assortment of crab delicacies made in different ways, which are served alongside coconut rice and other coastal dishes and accompaniments.
The crab samosa, for instance, is according to Karani Ndege, another of the group’s members, their most enjoyed delicacy.
“Anyone who visits the restaurant always has to ask that they have a taste of the samosas. Our crab sausages are also savoured by many,” adds Ndege.
The eatery has also diversified into other locally sourced menu including fresh fish, prawns and other crustaceans, as well as drinks, wines and cocktails.
The group seeks to acquire at least 1000 cages for keeping more crabs to fully accommodate the fishermen’s deliveries and hence increase and maintain their stocks.
And since they are aggressive and tend to mutilate and eat each other when kept in shared cages, the crabs are housed separately.
The crabs are, according to Mizinga, sustainably farmed as part of the group’s ecological conservation initiatives.
He notes that dining at the eatery not only boosts the group but also supports the local community and overall mangrove forest conservation activities.
These forests, according to Griet Ingrid Dierckxsens, the Africa regional knowledge management and communications officer in the ecosystems division of the United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD), are capable of delivering up to 30 percent of climate solution.
She indicates that 11 percent of all carbon emissions stem from forest denudation and this can be undone by halting and reversing tropical deforestation. This makes any forest conservation effort a worthwhile effort.