A Quick Guide to Kilwa Kisiwani's Climate Crisis

How this coastal heritage site is standing against the tides of climate change

By CyArk

Where is Kilwa Kisiwani?

Where is Kilwa Kisiwani?

Kilwa Kisiwani is located off the southern coast of Tanzania in eastern Africa. It was once described by a 14th century CE traveller as "one of the most beautiful cities, and elegantly built."

World Map, 5 heritage sitesCyArk

When did Kilwa Kisiwani become a World Heritage Site?

In 1981, it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is one of only seven places in Tanzania to share this title, which acknowledges its outstanding universal value, authenticity, and integrity. 

Gereza Fort in Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

When was the site's heritage declared 'in danger'?

In 2004 the site was placed on the World Heritage in Danger List. This list identifies UNESCO World Heritage Sites at threat from a range of issues including conflict, development, and climate change, and allows countries to access resources to conserve and protect sites. 

Underneath the Domes of the Great Mosque in Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

How has coastal and sea-level changes affected the site?

Throughout history, the site has evolved and adapted to coastal and sea-level changes. In recent decades, the escalation of sea-level rise and coastal erosion due to climate change exacerbated by local land-use practices has resulted in the loss of some structures and archaeological deposits.

Ships in Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

How are communities responding to climate change?

As custodians of the site, local communities are at the heart of efforts to protect it into the future and due to their efforts the site was removed from the World Heritage in Danger List in 2014. The response from the international community was also robust, including assistance from France, Japan, Norway and the USA. 

Sitting outside the main door to the Gereza Fort in Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

What are they doing to help?

This included working with the national government and local community to build protective walls and restore and better maintain existing structures. It also included working with the community to re-plant and maintain mangrove trees along the coastline.

Surveying the Site of Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

How can mangrove trees reduce the impacts of climate change?

Mangroves are one of the most effective ways to reduce the impacts of wave action and coastal erosion, and the involvement of local groups in their restoration was (and remains) a key part of the adaptation strategy for the site. 

Kilwa Kisiwani infographic mangrovesCyArk

What else can be done to adapt to climate change?

While adaptations at sites can limit damage in the short-term, carbon and greenhouse gas reduction remains the most important tool in protecting these amazing places.   

Inside the Gereza Fort in Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

Discover more

Discover how CyArk uses 3D documentation to empower local experts.

Find out more about ICOMOS' efforts to increase engagement of cultural heritage in climate action here.

Credits: Story

Dr William Megarry, ICOMOS, and Lecturer in Archaeology, School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast.  

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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