The Impact of Coastal Erosion on the Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani

How they are losing their cultural heritage and integrity

Kilwa Kiswani landscapeCyArk

The impacts of climate change on cultural heritage sites are wide-ranging and global. Coastal heritage sites are at particular risk from a range of impacts including increased storminess, more extreme weather systems and rising sea-levels.

Walking on the Roof of Gereza Fort in Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

Undermining foundations

At Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara, coastal erosion caused by wave action has undermined the foundations of the 15th century Malindi Mosque and the Gereza.

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

Losing the integrity of the site

Subsurface archaeological deposits are also being eroded resulting in lost artefacts and further undermining the integrity of the site.

Watch this video showing the current state of the site and mangrove depletion:

Wave action at Kilwa Kisiwani, From the collection of: CyArk
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Kilwa Kisiwani Ruinsq (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

Is the issue getting worse?

This process has been ongoing for decades but has worsened significantly in recent decades. In 2004 it was placed on the World Heritage in Danger list and in 2008, the entire island was included on the World Monuments Watch.

Kilwa Kiswani coastlineCyArk

What else is causing coastal erosion?

The erosion of key structures due to rising sea levels and wave action at Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara was exacerbated by other factors. 

For many years, the local community had been mining stone from the remains for construction, and the protective mangroves along the shoreline were destroyed by overgrazing and small fishing vessels.

Collapsed roof in Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

 Countless other heritage sites along the coast of Africa and around the world are being eroded away daily.

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

Erosion at Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara is getting worse. While the adaptation efforts of the Tanzanian government and the international communities have limited the immediate impact of erosion on key buildings, the loss of minor structures and archaeological deposits at the site is ongoing.

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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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