Ecuador fishermen boost storm resilience and ecotourism by restoring mangroves

The canoe sliced through the water and along a quiet, narrow tunnel enclosed by mangrove trees. As the craft slid past the spindly tree trunks and roots sticking several feet out of the water, tour guides pointed out ibis, herons and small red crabs hidden among the foliage.

Leading this tour was Francisco Reyes Mera, a former fisherman who helped found a group to restore the ravaged mangrove forests in his community.

The result is the expansion of Isla Corazón, a naturally heart-shaped mangrove island in the estuary of the Rio Chone on Ecuador’s Pacific coast.

The island is just outside Bahía de Caráquez, a resort-city where visitors come to enjoy the beach, surf and fill up on seafood. The town declared itself an eco-city in 1999, and eco-tourism sites such as Isla Corazón are popular destinations.

The Rio Chone was once thick with mangroves, creating prime habitat for the fish, wild shrimp, crabs and molluscs that the fishermen relied on. In the 1970s and 80s the bulk of the forests were ripped out, however, and replaced by shrimp farms.

The community paid the price in 1997-98, when El Niño brought months of heavy rain, provoking massive mudslides, filling the river with silt and sweeping away entire neighbourhoods.

In the aftermath, a group of fishermen led by Reyes Mera began planting mangroves to protect their land and livelihood. “What choice did we have?” he says. “We just started planting.

Isla Corazon is now a community ecotourism project which seeks to educate and preserve mangrove resources through education of residents and visitors. The project is managed by the community of Puerto Portovelo through ASOMANGLAR – Tourist Guides Association Native Trail Interpretive Mangrove Isla Corazon.

ASOMANGLAR was founded in 1998 with the purpose of managing and ensuring the ecosystem of Isla Corazon, the Portovelo Fishermen’s Association took over management of the island as a tourist attraction in 1999 and through ASMANGISCO tour packages are offered within the protected area.

At the beginning received the support of the Coastal Resources Management PMRC (now absorbed him the Ministry of Environment) with training, building an elevated road through the mangroves and an interpretive center in the community.

It was declared a Wildlife Refuge and Frigates Heart Island in 2002 by the Ministry of Environment, in this way is part of one of 44 protected areas of Ecuador.

See original Guardian article & photo credit.

See Isla Corazón ecotourism website.

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