Dr Levy Otwoma

Dr Levy Otwoma


Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute

Oceanography and Hydrography department

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Work and Research

My work focuses on using molecular tools and fisheries to determine the abiotic and biotic factors that affect connectivity and exploitation of reef fishes in Kenya. The overarching goal of my research is to integrate the information generated into resource management, because scientific evidence suggests that most management strategies are not delivering on their social, ecological, and management goals. Recently, we have also developed a framework that reconstructs coral reef species occurrence by comparing historical exploited species in existing disparate data sets, so as to identify important reef fish species that are at risk of local extinction in Kenya. Taken together, these databases have provided us with a holistic view of the influence changing environments on the reef ecology.

Fields Of Expertise

Coral reef expert
Fish population dynamics, extinction risks andexploitation
socio-ecological managment of reef recources


Reef decline in the Indian Ocean has left Kenya with twenty-three commercially important reef fish species that are at risk of local extinction.


The marine and coastal environment in this country is of high ecological and economic value with its natural bounties including beaches, mangroves, coral reefs, and plant- and animal life. However, the increase in the population and unplanned development of towns coupled with the effects of climate change is accelerating environmental degradation and biodiversity loss in marine ecosystems – resulting in severe consequences.


Coastal communities depend on their habitat for daily livelihood, food security and protein intake. The local extinction and collapse of these reef fish species could lead to the loss of a substantial livelihood among Kenya’s fishermen.


Dr Levy Otwoma’s FAR-LeaF project is called Quantifying local extinction and shifting baselines of Kenya’s exploited reef fishes.


The pattern of extinction in tropical marine fish species is rarely investigated, particularly in poor coastal nations. Yet it is critical, as coastal communities and trade networks are often close together and people depend on these fisheries for protein and livelihoods. A holistic understanding of reef fish species’ status is needed to counter the continuing loss of yields, income, and degradation of coral reefs.

The overreaching goal of this research is to integrate the information generated into resource management because scientific evidence suggests that most management strategies are not delivering their social, ecological, and management goals.


In Kenya, historical and contemporary data exist at local scales, offering a unique opportunity to investigate long-term changes in coral reef fish species abundance and their potential disappearance. Archaeological records reveal that Swahili people have lived off the sea for millennia. Although exploitation in Kenya continues to be artisanal, a decline has been evident since the 1950s.


The project focuses on the range of historically and currently exploited coral reef fish species that are important for both the functioning of a coral reef system as well as support the income and subsistence of local coastal communities. We expect the overall impact of the project to be that sustainable fisheries management is achieved in Kenya through evidence-based management.


Assessing the status of a broad range of exploited coral reef fish species and determining which are most vulnerable to extinction will result in increased resilience of coral reef sites and continued provision of the community to benefit from improved nutrition, livelihoods, and greater food security.

The success of the project is dependent on the participation of the local fishers, coastal communities, NGOs, Government, and research institutions who will be key in sharing their valuable knowledge on the changes they have seen.