Each semester, one student from each HECUA program abroad takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Emily Haus will be HECUA’s student blogger for the Community Internships in Latin America program this fall semester. Emily is a junior at Hamline University, majoring in Spanish and Sociology. Read on for Emily’s impressions of the CILA students’ visit to Manabí province!
Over the course of our program in Ecuador, there are three included field visits. The first one was to Yasuní National Park, which is part of the Amazon Rainforest, about twelve hours from Quito. The second, which we just had this past week, was to Manabí, a coastal region about six hours away from Quito.
The weeks before leaving, we learned a lot about the coastal region and the importance of manglares (mangroves). Manglares are extremely biodiverse and are home to hundreds of species of fish and birds. Unfortunately, due to the commercial shrimping industry, over 50% of the manglares in Ecuador have been cleared, which has caused, and will continue to cause, a multitude of problems. Clearing these mangroves puts hundreds of species in danger, lowers the level of genetic diversity of shrimp as wild shrimp mix with commercial breeds, causes gentrification for those in the coastal regions who rely on shrimp as a daily food source, and causes violence as commercial shrimping companies privatize land and create dangerous working conditions.
Seeing the manglares in person was both awe-inspiring and incredibly sad. The commercial shrimp pools are sad and barren in comparison to the beautiful mangroves which boast so many birds, crabs, and fish along their strange reaching branches. Riding through the manglares in small boats, we saw tons of birds in a riot of colors nesting in the oldest trees. There were also little red crabs nestled along all of the many branches, watching us suspiciously as we passed by. It was very different from any of the ecosystems that I have seen before, and the twirling branches and humid air made it feel like we were in some sort of different world.
The local communities are hard at work on reforestation projects, and we had the opportunity to participate. In order to plant manglares, there is a lot of planning that takes place. First, they have to grow the seeds in a small nursery, before transporting them by car or motorcycle down to the waterfront, then carrying them down the rocks and out through deep mud to boats, all of which needs to be planned around the tides. Then, the plants are ferried across the water to wherever they need to be planted. They are then planted in mud that is deeper than you have ever seen in your life. When getting out of the boats at this point, we were told not to stand because we would sink, so we were only able to crawl around in the mud, and even then we were all completely covered (not that anyone was complaining).
Although we all had a really great time learning about this process and sliding around in the mud, it showed us how time and labor intensive the reforestation of manglares is, especially in comparison to the rapid deforestation, which can kill significantly more trees in much less time. It was also disheartening to see all of the trash that comes from the rivers and ends up in the manglares. We learned that many governments and companies will pay to support reforestation as a means of looking good to the public, while continuing to cause harm to the environment in other ways. When looking at this system of harm perpetuation, our roles became clear: while we could participate in a day’s worth of reforestation and call ourselves environmentalists, the much more responsible thing to do is to change our habits at home, stop eating shrimp and seafood unless it is local, avoid buying things packaged in plastic, and work to create environmental awareness in our own communities.
Until next time,