Celebrating World Biodiversity Day

In terms of ecology, Kenya has many different and diverse ecosystems with ecological zones ranging from Lake Turkana – the world’s largest permanent desert lake – to mountain forests, and coastal drylands. Working in semi-arid conditions presents challenges to maintain bio-diversity, but today on Biological Diversity Day we are celebrating one of Dr Rene Haller’s most monumental feats – the transformation of a barren limestone quarry into what is now known as the Haller Park.

Located in Bamburi, Mombasa, Haller Park is an exhibit of successful ecological reclamation. During the 1950s the area was devastated by the effects of cement production and was left as an inhospitable and barren landscape. In 1970 Dr Rene Haller assumed the seemingly insurmountable task of reintegrating flora and fauna into the quarry.

Dr Haller’s journey to transform the quarry was guided by a series of principles which would go on to form the blueprint for the subsequent projects at Haller. The first of these was to simply ‘have passion and belief’ in the challenge ahead. Haller believed there was a holistic approach to the task, and 50 years later, the park boasts of a plethora of animal and plant species, including more than 30 endangered species.

Haller’s second principle ‘think big, start small’ epitomizes the Haller Park project. In order to revitalize the arid ground, Haller searched for a monoculture pioneer species, and thus found the casuarina plant. This species was resistant to the harsh conditions of the quarry. Introducing the casuarina, however, was only the first step in the lengthy quest for ecological biodiversity.

To ‘create a self-sustaining ecosystem’, the third of Haller’s principles, Haller had to integrate more species. As the casuarina continued to colonize the area by self-seeding, Haller observed an influx of red legged millipedes which were feeding on the dry needles of the casuarina. Haller introduced hundreds more of the millipedes, and their droppings created a rich layer of compost on the quarry floor.

With the nutrients provided by the compost, and the distribution of seeds by wind, a variety of flora and fauna established itself in the park. Over the years, the park has become an ecological sanctuary; herds of oryx and eland, giraffes, hippos and monkeys, call Haller Park their home. By partnering traditional and innovative approaches to agriculture, Dr Haller established the fifth principle of his vision: ‘think biological, not chemical’.

Dr Haller was granted the United Nations Environmental Program Global 500 Roll of Honour Award in 1987 for his ‘outstanding environmental achievements’. Not only did he successfully reforest a barren wasteland, but he also introduced aquaculture projects across the park. A fish farm and a crocodile area were installed, as well as a biological water treatment program. By processing the body of water through rice paddy fields and ponds full of Nile cabbage plants, the water could be recycled.

The Haller Park project now stands as a beautiful nature reserve. However, it will also serve as an enduring reminder of the importance of safeguarding biodiversity for the success and sustainability of our ecosystems.