Much of the Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa Biodiversity Hotspot's original forests have been lost to agricultural conversion and urbanization; only about 10 percent of the original vegetation remains in pristine condition. The remaining habitat is limited to more than 400 patches of lowland forest, covering about 6,259 square kilometers.
The most significant current threat to the hotspot is the expansion of agriculture. Because the soil is poor and can only support subsistence agriculture, most agricultural development involves short-term shifting cultivation concentrating on food crops such as cassava, maize, banana, pawpaw and coconut. The human population is increasing, and the demand for additional farmland increases every year. Commercial agricultural development, in the form of coconut, sisal, clove, cardamom and cashew nut plantations, has also led to the loss of lowland coastal forests and other natural habitats.
Burning of woody plants for charcoal production causes major habitat loss near coastal towns and alongside main roads in Tanzania, while the collection of firewood poses a threat in areas away from towns and roads. Forests close to tourist areas, such as Arabuko-Sokoke Forest near Malindi and Watamu in Kenya, suffer from the high demand for wood carving (Brachylaena huillensis) and timber for the construction of hotels, private residences and tourist attractions.
Uncontrolled burning to clear farmland, to drive animals for hunting, to collect honey and to reduce tsetse flies also threatens lowland coastal forests and thicket patches, often replacing rare, endemic coastal forest species with more common wide-ranging, fire-adapted species. Illegal logging using pit-sawing techniques is also a problem in almost all coastal forests where timber trees still remain, particularly in northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania.
In addition to important biological resources, the countries of eastern Africa are endowed with a wealth of mineral resources; in coastal areas these include gas, gemstones, iron, titanium, limestone and kaolin. Destructive mining practices can destroy large areas of natural habitat. The coastal sands contain titanium and the mining of this ore destroys the natural vegetation. High-grade silica sands for glass manufacture are mined from deposits in Msambweni, while iron and manganese are mined on a small scale in the Kwale Kaya forests of coastal Kenya. There are also extensive areas of limestone along the coast, and rubies and other precious stones in some of the coastal forests of Tanzania.
Read about threats in the former Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests Hotspot in our ecosystem profile (PDF - 3.4 MB), which lies within two newly classified hotspots: the Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa and the Eastern Afromontane.