As narrated by Cyrus Hester…..
The 2015 Summer Field Course has been a very busy and exciting experience so far. We’ve visited local schools bustling with smiling children, watched hundreds of flamingos feed along coastal flats, patrolled dense forests with community elders, and watched baby sea turtles scramble for the ocean. We’ve also had the opportunity to assist with ongoing research. On Monday, July 20th, we paid our third and final visit to the Gede Ruins National Monument and forest regeneration project.
The Ruins rise out of the East African coastal dry forest like a dreamscape; toppled walls of rough-faced stone standing over wells filled with impenetrable dark and ornate tombs plastered a ghostly white. These are the remains of a coastal, Swahili trading town that reached its peak in the fifteenth century AD. The Omani, Portuguese, and Chinese all paid visit to this place at one time or another in the distant past. But, archaeological evidence suggests that rising hostilities, shifting centers of power, and a falling water table all contributed to its abandonment in the 16th–17th centuries AD. Whatever the causes, the structures fell to disrepair over the coming centuries and natural features came to dominate the area.
In 1927, the site was gazetted as a historical monument and in the early 1990s the first phases of forest restoration project began to turn agricultural plots back into coastal forest. This is where our story meets that of Gede’s. The Research and Conservation team at A Rocha Kenya recently agreed to take up the task of monitoring the long-term fate of the restoration project. A small team of us headed into the forest armed with hand-drawn maps, lists of species, and the keen wits of A Rocha Kenya’s resident ecologists. As Sykes’ monkeys watched from the canopy and pollinators flittered around us, we scrambled between tree trunks great and small to find the little aluminum tags that marked each tree. We noted which were present, which were missing, and which required replacement tags.
It was a small, but important, task and one which will hopefully help contribute to our understanding of how this under-researched habitat responds to change. We were lucky to have had the chance to spend our time in such a beautiful place, with such a rich history, and all the while contributing to ecological research. I look forward to seeing what comes of A Rocha Kenya’s work here.