Rising Sea Levels Put Fort Jesus & Vasco Da Gama Pillar at Risk

The economic center of the coastal region, Mombasa County, seems to be operating as usual, but a deeper examination reveals how climate change is hurting this coastal gem.

The famous Fort Jesus, which was built over 400 years ago and took 3 years to complete, was constructed to ensure the safety of Portuguese citizens living on the east coast of Africa. It was later taken by the Omanis, who used it as a barracks, and later by the British, who used it as a prison before it was made into a national park in 1958.

Hassan Mohammed Hassan, 67, a former teacher at Fort Jesus, is now concerned that the fort would be lost due to rising water levels.

At Fort Jesus, there is an issue that needs to be resolved right away, he claims.

The senior curator of Fort Jesus, Fatma Twahr, claims that the massive amounts of water have been damaging the Fort Jesus.

“Our sites are at a major risk right now as a result of climate change,” he said. “Aside from the rise in sea level and erosion that it causes, is that climate change also brings about unpredicted rainfall, intense rainfall that that comes from upstream, this rainfall is mainly felt by our sites as it discharges to the sea, rainfall coming in huge volumes through the site also weakens the physical fabric of the site.”

The Vasco da Gama pillar in Kilifi town, which was constructed in 1498, is the oldest piece of Portuguese architecture still standing in tropical Africa.

However, it is in danger of disappearing into the sea due to the sea level rise and the powerful tidal forces along the shore.

According to Caeser Bita, an underwater archeologist, “Malindi town itself now is not where it was during the time of the Portuguese, part of it has been taken by the sea. We have around 200 meters of Malindi town which now lay under the water, that’s a landscape, historical place, but a city.”

The Vasco da Gama pillar has experienced a significant rise in water levels, which poses a concern to residents nearby and is a result of the strong tides.

According to Twahir, Fort Jesus has been regularly eroding along its seafront, with much of the fort’s front resting directly on the high water mark.

“It has been periodically experiencing that erosion on its base, so there was a need for us to collect the rocks that have been eroded and place them back as if you cement them together,” he explains. However, he adds that this is only a temporary fix because erosion will still have an affect on the rocks.

The National Museums of Kenya started building a concrete sea wall in the year 2020 for a cost of Ksh. 60 million, however it hasn’t been enough to hold the pillar as envisioned.

Strong ocean tides have destroyed the barriers, and only two years later, a portion of the wall has already been swept away, exposing the pillar and amplifying the message that additional money is needed to try to rescue the pillar.

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