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Robinson Island tourist haven falls into ruin

Twenty years ago when tourism was booming, Robinson Island —a 9km long strip of land off the beach of Gongoni in Kilifi county— was a beehive of activity. Tourists trooped in their hundreds to savour the beauty of the island.

The thriving mangrove forests, the coconut and mango groves and other indigenous tree species were a sight to behold.

The island even had its own airstrip and a murram road from the main Malindi-Garsen-Lamu highway. Turtles in their hundreds visit Robinson Island to nest because it is one of the 18 wetlands at the Coast.

Towering sand dunes formed by the incessant winds from the Indian Ocean dotted the pristine beaches. The beautiful sight of the Italian San Marcos earth satellite station across the creek and sea caves where fish come to lay their eggs drew in guests

The 200 residents were a happy lot. They were either directly employed in the Robinson Island Restaurant,  supplied seafood products or entertained the guests.

Long before the clamour for eco-tourism gained momentum, it was the norm on this  Island from the 1960s when pioneer investor, David Hurd, moved in.

Lying less than 30km east of Malindi town, today the island resembles a ghost town. To reach it, one has to wade across a 100-metre- wide creek, a daredevil affair after boats that used to ferry guests across have either been vandalised or stolen.

It’s as if the island is just emerging from a hurricane disaster; all roofs have been blown off. Below a sand dune is a shack made of palm fronds where the restaurant’s proprietor of now lives after his two-bedroom flat was vandalised by residents allegedly at the instigation of local politicians. Since the death of Hurd in a 1980 road accident, life on the island died.

You can blame the downturn in tourism, but a dispute over ownership and the environmental degradation caused by the salt manufacturing firms also played big roles. Worse, for all those years that Hurd operated the restaurant, he never got a title deed for the plot.

Harrassed and sued both by politicians and locals, his wife Kathleen later fled to the US. Meanwhile, residents have appealed to the county and national government to protect them against the salt companies and other and grabbers who are threatening them with eviction

Sources in the area allege that a former Mombasa MP has been allocated the plot and plans to build a hotel on the island.

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