2020 Science Reporting – Small Outlet - Gold

In the opening of his piece, freelancer Geoffrey Kamadi described in some detail the flora and fauna of Kenya’s Tana River Basin, a biodiversity hotspot with a dozen protected areas. “But looks might be deceiving,” he noted. “As a matter of fact, all indications suggest that this almost fantastic, even story-book portrayal of nature in its largely intact and unperturbed splendor, belies an ecological tragedy that is gradually unfolding.” Kamadi went on to explain that five dams on the Tana River have reduced the outflow of fresh water to the Indian Ocean, allowing salty sea water to flow increasingly farther up the river channel during high tide. For local farmers, the impacts include yellowing banana plants, reduced rice production, cattle unable to graze on fields overgrown with salt-loving elephant grass. Native wildlife also is affected. Birds accustomed to eating freshwater fish have developed a taste for salted fish left by locals to dry in the sun. A planned High Grand Falls dam and other infrastructure projects will only make matters worse, Kamadi reports. Meanwhile scientists are trying to improve data collection on the river basin as a crucial step toward better understanding of the fragile ecosystem. Freelance science journalist Alexandra Witze called Kamadi’s story “a deeply reported, sprawling and evocative look at a threatened river ecosystem.” Kamadi said the award “means a great deal to me, as it will only encourage me to continue writing about science.”