Social Innovation: Kenya’s First Underwater Museum

Kenya is about to build Africa’s first underwater museum, which will be dedicated to social innovation: studying marine life and shipwrecks. Designs of the proposed museum have already begun with the help of U.S. architects and a budget for construction costs is being discussed at government level. The museum is expected to open in 2014 and will partner with other organisations in the study of marine life.

Protected marine reserves in Kenya care for an unspoiled reef where fishing of any sort is forbidden and tropical fish life is plentiful. East Africa boasts the second longest barrier reef in the world, stretching from the coast of Somalia along Kenya to southern Tanzania. It provides a food source and shelter to a vast array of marine life including the majestic whale shark and manta ray.  Cesar Bita, head of archaeology at the National Museums of Kenya says, "Apart from studying shipwrecks in the Indian Ocean Coast, we will also be studying the marine life that exists...Construction is set to begin soon and it is expected to be fully operational in the next two years."  Kenya will be one of the few countries in the world to have an underwater museum. The only other nations which have such social innovation facilities are the U.S., U.K. and China (which has the world's largest underwater museum). Egypt is carrying out studies to construct an underwater museum, but is as not advanced in its initiative like Kenya.

The museum will be located in the shores near the town of Malindi, a popular tourist destination. It will study social innovation and marine life in action, aiming to look at several species of fish, turtles, and even dolphins because there seems to be a relation between feeding and the shipwrecks. Human remains from the shipwrecks will also be archived in the museum records. Interestingly, shipwrecks attract a lot of fish which feed on micro-organisms on the wood of the ship; they are also a habitat for the fish and several other aquatic species.

However, there are some mixed views about this museum. Some critics believe that while a good idea, it is expensive and other areas need to be prioritised such as research into malaria, which affects millions of Kenyans annually.

Others think it is happening at the right time, when the government has put at least one percent of its annual budget on scientific research and social innovation. The Kenya coast, fishermen and aquarium collectors have cleaned out most of the reef fish here and the only locations left with small populations of reef fish are the marine parks, but they are small and poached regularly, as a result they are under extreme threat. Climate change is adding to the reduction in marine life and is also creating endemic poverty. So, this underwater museum could just be solution to finding answers to conserving the marine environment.

Photo Credit: Public Domain Images