I recently visited the Papaloapan River Wetlands with Pronatura Veracruz, a regional nonprofit in Mexico that partners with EcoLogic. We were meeting to discuss mangrove conservation. Mangroves can refer to salt-water wetlands or to the types of salt-hardy tree species that live there. Mangroves protect coastlines from erosion by wind and waves. They are also home to hundreds of species of fish, crabs, shrimp, and other shellfish (some of which are very tasty!). It was an enriching day and full of surprises.
Prior to the visit, I had the pleasure of talking to some fishermen on the Papaloapan River in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz and got their perspective on the changes that the river has suffered over the years and how it has affected them.
One said, “it seems as if it’s a completely different river, and now you can’t fish it like before, but as long as God wills it, we are still managing to feed ourselves from it.” This brought to mind discussions with environmentalists and conservationists about “the exploitation of natural resources.” However, when watching the fishermen it was clear that they had their “art” and only kept fish of a certain size, returning the smallest back to the river, and respecting the cycle of life.
In that moment I realized that “conservation by the people,” was not something that we had to teach or implement, it was something we had to assess and enhance. Fishermen already believe they need to protect what they have.
During the tour of the river, I saw many of the different types of threats to mangroves including cattle ranching and sugar cane cultivation, and I especially saw the impact they have on the species that live there. I was also astonished by the large amount of fish to be found swimming around the large mangrove roots. A tour the Papaloapan River to see the extent mangroves.
Our friends at Pronatura explained that the success rate for efforts to reforest mangrove trees is actually very low. This is because government led mangrove reforestation projects while well intentioned, have often been undertaken in locations that did not have the best ecological characteristics to ensure the success of such efforts.
Pronatura saw the situation and a few years ago they decided to establish a pilot plot to identify techniques to increase the success rate of mangrove reforestation projects. In just a short time Pronatura has achieved impressive results, with the successful establishment and spread of mangroves at the pilot site.
But for EcoLogic the success of any restoration project is not just about planting a certain number of trees and then saying “we’re done.” We believe a project must go further and integrate communities into this process. So in this final stage of the mangrove restoration pilot project, we are working with Pronatura to raise community awareness of the importance of the mangroves, and to involve the local people actively in the process of conserving the mangroves.
With that in mind we are producing a documentary called “Reflections on Water” which will explain about mangroves and their importance, and we will invite people from the communities in the area to watch the video.
There is still a lot of work to do and challenges ahead, but I know that if we work together with partners like Pronatura and local communities, we can advance the preservation of this fragile ecosystem on the Papaloapan River.