Mida Creek, Whale Island and the Malindi - Watamu coast

Site description (2001 baseline):

Site location and context
This area comprises a complex of marine and tidal habitats on Kenya’s north coast, stretching from just south of Malindi town southwards to beyond the entrance to Mida Creek. Habitats include inter-tidal rock, sand and mud; fringing reefs and coral gardens; beds of seagrass; coral cliffs, platforms and islets; sandy beaches; and mangrove forests. Mida Creek, a large, almost land-locked expanse of saline water, mangrove (1,600 ha) and intertidal mud (580 ha), is in the southern sector of the IBA near Watamu town and Mida village, and protected by the 3,200 ha Watamu Marine National Reserve (gazetted in 1968). Its extensive mangrove forests are also gazetted as Forest Reserves, and the extreme western tip of Mida Creek is part of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve (IBA KE007). The remaining part of the IBA, along the open coast, is protected by the Malindi Marine National Reserve (21,300 ha), gazetted in 1976 and designated as a Biosphere Reserve in 1979. Enclosed within the reserve are the Watamu and Malindi Marine National Parks (1,000 and 600 ha respectively), which afford stricter protection. The IBA includes several coral islets, notably Whale Island at the entrance to Mida Creek and within the Watamu Marine National Park.

Key biodiversity
See Box for key species. Mida Creek is an important passage and wintering area for Palearctic migrant waders, the coastline supports important Sterna saundersi populations, and Whale Island is a significant nesting site for Sterna dougallii. The populations of Charadrius leschenaultii, C. mongolus and Dromas ardeola at Mida Creek are internationally important, and many other species use the site: up to 6,000 waders may be present at any one time. The creek is also a significant feeding area for Egretta gularis, Sterna bengalensis and S. dougallii. Common migrant shorebirds include Calidris alba, C. ferruginea, Numenius phaeopus, Pluvialis squatarola, Charadrius leschenaultii and C. mongolus. Sterna dougallii and S. anaethetus nest on Whale Island between June and October in some years. Sterna saundersi occurs in internationally important numbers along the coastline, usually feeding close to shore. The regionally threatened Casmerodius albus occurs in small and variable numbers (maximum 15).

Non-bird biodiversity: Mida Creek has important mangrove forests, with a high diversity of species including Ceriops tagal, Rhizophora mucronata, Bruguiera gymnorrhiza, Avicennia marina and Sonneratia alba. It is a key spawning ground for many fish species. The Marine Reserve and National Parks are important for the conservation of the fringing reefs, the famous coral gardens within the lagoons, and the sea grass beds, all with their attendant, diverse marine fauna and flora.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The Malindi–Watamu coast is a popular tourist destination, with coral reefs one of the major attractions. Consequently there are numerous beach hotels. Management of visitors has been inadequate in the past: delicate corals were trampled on by tourists, or smashed by boat anchors. The situation is improving through tourist education, provision of moorings, and better policing. Another, more insidious threat to the reefs comes from poor land-use in the catchment area of the Sabaki river. Soil erosion has greatly increased silt loads, resulting in silt deposition in the sea just north of Malindi, reducing the growth of, or even killing corals. Fishing and other use of marine resources is permitted, under license, within the reserves but not in the parks. Over-exploitation, illegal fishing and collection of coral and shells remain problems that are difficult to control. Disturbance by tourists visiting the tern colonies on Whale Island needs to be monitored and regulated, especially now that local hotels are advertising the nesting terns as an attraction. The integrity of Mida Creek depends on conserving the mangrove forests, whose destruction appears to be accelerating. As in other mangrove areas, cutting for building poles is rife and largely uncontrolled. The creek lacks a coherent management plan, and is threatened by allocation of land for a waterside hotel development that would have a major environmental impact. Mida needs to be incorporated into conservation planning for this entire complex of protected areas. A comprehensive and integrated plan for use and conservation could also promote the growth of relatively low-impact uses such as ecotourism and bee keeping.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Mida Creek, Whale Island and the Malindi - Watamu coast. Downloaded from on 10/12/2023.