The Pearl of the Pacific
by Caroline Schwaner -- August 10th, 2015
The Guayas River winds lazily through Guayaquil, a hot and humid city 252 miles from the capitol. The boardwalk along the river (the Malecón) transitions into the 444 steps of Cerro Santa Ana. The stairs culminate in a blue and white-stripped lighthouse situated atop a cluster of the neoclassical houses of Las Peñas. The wooden homes bare a kaleidoscope of bright corals and oranges, aquamarine blues and greens, and pastel pinks and yellows that complement the cobblestone streets. A mosaic of small parks and churches pepper the municipal buildings, commercial centers, and hotels that compose the center of town. Our hotel juxtaposes Iguana Park and the Catedral Metropolitana. Hundreds of large Iguanas, completely nonplused by humans, drape themselves over branches, sprawl out on the paths, and lounge on the steps of the monuments.
We arrived in Guayaquil Saturday morning, exhilarated by the opportunity to explore the city on the weekend. The allure of the beach was too much to resist, and we journeyed to Salanis Beach, stopping at a national marine reserve along the way. We passed the day observing the spray from Humpback whales (sadly we didn’t see any breaching) and watched a writhing mass of sea lions in the distance. The beach town stood in stark contrast to the capitol city and our worries of catering to two such different audiences deepened. Sipping fresh coconut water out of a green husk, Tatiana and I began to restructure our objectives.
Meetings and interviews monopolized most of our time. Research on blue carbon demonstrates that mangroves and other coastal ecosystems (i.e. marshes, salt flats, sea grasses) sequester more carbon than tropical forests. Due to the role of mangroves in the mitigation of climate change, we saw the importance of meeting with the Centro Internacional para la Investigación del Fenómeno de El Niño (CIIFEN). To fulfill our objective of speaking with as many stakeholders possible, we visited the three different universities in Guayaquil and presented in front of a class. Other interviews included the founder (and former USAID employee) of one of the concessions, Ministry of Environment employees tasked with the job of introducing financial plans in the concessions, a well known environmental consultant, and another Ministry of Environment employee with an ecotourism and fisheries background.
One of my favorite interviews was with the daughter of a shrimp farmer (shrimp farming has been deemed a major contributing factor to mangrove deforestation). She became involved in the concessions because her father was one of the only sustainable shrimp farmers at the beginning of the Socio Manglar Program. She understood the benefit of private sector involvement. Her family assumed the self appointed position of managers of the concession, teaching the people managerial and business skills, such as accounting, organization, and how to elect future representatives. They also explored alternative forms of fishing and agriculture, encouraged the involvement of women, practiced using resources sustainably, and helped to turn ecosystem services into incentives.
My other favorite interview occurred in a wildlife rehabilitation center, targeting stakeholders at the local level. Humbly and demurely, they informed us that the people realistically do not have access to a web-based platform. The individual concession boasts a successful mangrove reforestation program; unfortunately, they lack the technology to communicate their methodology to other concessions. We asked them what technology they would like to have access to, and they said GIS. We will be visiting the actual concession next week and hope to take video tutorials and learn their protocols for reforestation (which as of now, exists solely through oral history). After the meeting, I was able to look at the animals in the refuge. I attempted to feed a tiny Titi monkey a banana and held a Cusumbo. Other residents of the center were a black Galapagos iguana, snakes, and a fuzzy little bunny barely weaned from its mother.
The end of the week marked the celebration of the city’s birthday: a festival of food and music.