In a bid to save one of the country’s historic attractions, the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) is constructing a Sh. 60 million (about USD 546,000) sea wall to protect the historic Vasco da Gama Pillar in the tourist resort town of Malindi from coastal erosion.
The historic bell-shaped monument built by the Portuguese in 1498 is a cross of Lisbon limestone, with the coat of arms of Portugal and is located on the southern part of Malindi town.
The Vasco da Gama pillar built by the great Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama is the oldest remaining European monument in tropical Africa and is visited as an architectural treasure.
But strong tidal waves caused by a warming planet have put the iconic architectural treasure at great risk and is faced with the prospect of collapse as the coral foundation of the historic landmarks is being threatened by strong tidal waves due to rising sea levels.
The Vasco da Gama pillar is a landmark for the tourist haven of Malindi and attracts thousands of domestic and foreign tourists to the tourist resort town before the coronavirus crisis dealt a big blow to the tour and travel industry.
He said the Vasco da Gama pillar rehabilitation works comes after the NMK recently completed the construction of a Sh.497 million structurally sound seawall at the Fort Jesus in Mombasa.
The NMK Director General (DG) Dr. Mzalendo Kibunjia said heritage sites and landmarks like Vasco Da Gama Pillar and the Jumba La Mtwana (the large house of the slave) in Mtwapa Township are all at risk of being lost to the sea because of coastal erosion.
Dr. Kibunjia who was accompanied by Dr. Purity Kiura who is in charge of the directorate of antiquities, sites and monuments, Athman Hussein, assistant director of museums and monuments for the coastal region and other senior officials said the wall and foundation of the iconic pillar was under threat due to rising water levels and erosion caused by huge sea waves.
He noted many historical and marine cultural sites along the shoreline enlisted by UNESCO for their outstanding universal value face perilous and uncertain future due to rising sea levels.
Dr. Kibunjia observed that historical sites which are also the country’s greatest tourist attractions are under threat from coastal erosion that is chipping away at platforms that have supported them for hundreds of years.
“Climate change is here with us and affecting world heritage and iconic sites across the world” said Dr. Kibunjia who called for more resources to shield the heritage properties from falling into permanent ruin.
He went on “we are doing everything possible to fortify the historical and cultural sites along the coastline to ensure they are not washed away and preserved for the sake of posterity.”
He expressed concern that rising seas fueled by melting glaciers and ice caps threaten to swallow the coastal landmarks and highlighted the losses to the tourism industry should the sites fall victim to a warming planet.
Dr. Kibunjia who is currently on a tour of the coast region’s ancient historical sites said changing sea levels and tides have been threatening the pillar in recent years.
He said the Vasco da Gama pillar-a prized historical showpiece – was being gnawed by unending encroachments and the concrete seawall is meant to protect it from the vagaries of the weather.
The NMK DG said fears that the Vasco da Gama pillar will be swamped in water and fall into the sea due to the relentless sea waves would no longer be there.
Dr. Kibunjia said NMK, the state corporation that manages museums, sites and monuments was committed in protecting historical sites and monuments as they were key centres for promoting the country’s heritage.
“As NMK we are determined to ensure that historical sites are taken care of and protected for posterity,” he said.
He went on “to protect and preserve the historic monument which is a popular tourists’ attraction in the north coast the NMK embarked on the construction of this concrete sea wall.”
Dr. Kibunjia said the NMK has embarked on the preservation of monuments and historical significant sites that are worthy of protection across the country.
He cited the Kenyatta Houses in Maralal and Lodwar in Samburu and Turkana counties respectively and the Gede ruins in Kilifi County as some of the heritage sites that are currently in a rundown state.
“We are now pushing to have the Gede ruins, a medieval Swahili-Arab coastal settlement and a historical and archaeological site near the Indian Ocean enlisted as a world heritage site for its historical and architectural significance,” he said.
Construction site manager Chihanga Donda said the seawall is designed to withstand the full force of the ocean’s waves in order to protect the endangered memorial pillar.
He said the construction of the seawall that began last month is almost 25 percent as they are working round the clock to deliver the project within the stipulated time frame.
Donda said the construction works to protect the shoreline being carried out by Gateway Innovation Ltd is being undertaken under the best specification and engineering standards.
He said that the seawall which aims to tackle high tides in the area which he said is an increasing occurrence blamed on climate change.
He said the project will create a strong shore protection structure which acts as the last line of defense from the Indian Ocean.