About 50,889 km² of the Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa Hotspot, 17 percent of the hotspot's land area, are under some form of protection. However, only 11,343 km² (4 percent) of the land area is conserved in protected areas in IUCN categories I to IV.
The two largest protected coastal forests in Kenya are Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve (417 km²)and the Shimba Hills National Reserve (63 km²). In Tanzania, there are no protected coastal forests larger than 40 km². Mozambique is home to some of the largest patches of remaining coastal forest, and the new Quirimbas National Park may contain larger areas of coastal forest than Arabuko-Sokoke.
The management effectiveness of the protected areas varies widely across the hotspot. In Kenyan portion of the hotspot there is a single National Park, a six square kilometer area northwest of Arabuko-Sokoke, but it contains no closed forest and exists on paper only. While four National Reserves fall under the jurisdiction of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, most of the other Kenyan forests are within Forest Reserves, which are managed for a variety of forest products. Nearly 40 percent of Kenyan coastal forests are either poorly protected Local Government or County Council Forests, or otherwise wholly unprotected.
In Tanzania, most of the closed forests are within Forest Reserves under central government control, with a few local-authority Forest Reserves under district control. Most of the other forests are unprotected and found on Village or General Land. The new Sadaani National Park incorporates two coastal forests sites, Zaraninge and the former Mkwaja ranch. The Selous Game Reserve includes some forest and thicket patches, as do the terrestrial portions of Mafia Island and Dar es Salaam Marine Parks. The coastal forests close to Dar es Salaam face the biggest conservation challenges, from incursion for charcoal burning, fuelwood harvesting, agriculture and logging.
In Mozambique, conservation has become a higher priority since the cessation of civil war in 1992 and a period of reconstruction. Quirimbas National Park, declared in 2002, includes coastal forest habitat, as well as marine areas and extensive miombo woodlands. In 2003, a large Ramsar site was declared within the Zambezi Delta.
A number of NGOs have been working in this region. In Kenya, BirdLife International and Nature Kenya have worked toward the conservation of Arabuko-Sokoke for more than 10 years, and WWF has provided assistance to the conservation of the Kaya Forests. In Tanzania, WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania, the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group, CARE-Tanzania, and the IUCN forest program are working to conserve important coastal forests. In both Kenya and Tanzania, there has been a movement toward Participatory Forest Management, engaging the rural population in the conservation process in the hope that an exchange of forest user rights for community management responsibilities and sometimes ownership will lead to better protection.
Over the past couple of years, a program coordinated by WWF has brought together representatives from Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique to develop a common vision for the way forward for conservation of the coastal forests. National coastal forest task forces have also helped develop an ecoregion-wide approach to conserving these forests. In addition, recent data gathering, funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, has further refined conservation priorities in the hotspot allowing the identification of 112 Key Biodiversity Areas along the Kenyan and Tanzanian coastal forests, to build from the Important Bird Areas already identified by Nature Kenya and the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania as site-scale conservation targets for the hotspot.