How Kilwa Kisiwani is Creating Sustainable Conservation

Strengthening sea defenses

By Aga Khan University - Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

Coastal Erosion Threats

A combination of climate change, which has led to rise in sea levels, and unsustainable economic use of the marine environment, such as removal of the mangrove forest, excavation of beach sand, and destruction of reefs, has exacerbated erosion.    

Mangrove trees along the Tanzanian CoastAga Khan University - Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

The result is severe damage from storm-driven high tides that eat away the coast and undermine foundations of structures adjacent to the shore.   

Palace Husuni KubwaAga Khan University - Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

The effects of this were graphically illustrated in 2009 when a section of sea wall at Kilwa collapsed into the sea. As the effects of climate change worsen and the pressure on natural resources increases, these problems will get worse.    

Kilwa Kiswani Sea wallAga Khan University - Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

How the threats were addressed

In 2011, a study was focused on the coastal environment at the site to prepare a risk map which shows areas of greatest vulnerability identifying coastal features that merit protection such as the mangrove forest area.   

Swahili coast, South of Mafia island, TanzaniaAga Khan University - Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

Some measures were recommended to make the site more resilient to the effects of climate change. The study considered the effects of the rise of sea level over a 50 and 90 year period respectively. The conclusion remarks were disturbing. In Kilwa-Kisiwani, portions of some monuments (up to about 120 cm) are already below sea level. This will get worse as the sea level rises.  

Kilwa Kiswani Sea wallAga Khan University - Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

The report however recommended a range of engineering solutions to combat these threats. Although most solutions were far beyond the scope of the budget, gabions were installed in Kilwa-Kisiwani to mitigate the effects of wave action. 

Restoration of a Swahili site by the World Monument Funds, Kua island, Mafia, TanzaniaAga Khan University - Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

With respect to the absolute evaluation of the study and its alarming findings, diminishing the effects of coastal erosion at the site has been included as a priority in a recent report on ‘Investment Prioritization for Climate-Resilient Livelihoods and Ecosystems in the Coastal Zones of Tanzania.’  

Inside the 15th c. great mosque of Gede, Kenya (view on the mihrab)Aga Khan University - Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

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Credits: Story

Pierre Blanchard, Conservation architect, WMF and Professor Stephane Pradines, Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, Aga Khan University  

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