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Uruguay beekeepers lead the charge against invasive species

March 12, 2020

Science—and our own experience—tell us that local communities have crucial knowledge about the ecosystems with which their lives and cultures are bound. Tapping into this knowledge makes conservation more effective. It also gives these communities the respect they are due but have historically often been denied. This principle was key to the success of our first Uruguay project, a two-year collaboration with local beekeepers that has helped protect biodiversity on a pair of islands.

The beekeepers are from Nuevo Berlin, a small town on the banks of the Uruguay River, which forms the border between Uruguay and Argentina. They keep their hives on the river’s Filomena Islands (there are two, called simply Large and Small). But invasive plant species have been endangering native plant populations on the islands, which in turn changes the animal species that can live there.

Government rangers are trying to clear out the invasive species. But they don’t know the islands as well as the beekeepers, who are intimately familiar with them, do.

With a grant from Seacology, the beekeepers got the equipment and training they needed to make GPS maps showing the precise location of every invasive plant on the island. As a result, rangers are now much more efficient and effective at removing them.

Because the islands are downstream from a large dam, some of the hives are at risk of flooding when water is released upstream. So the beekeepers devised an ingenious way to protect their hives – by installing them on floating platforms, allowing them to rise right along with the water. Our partners are among few beekeepers in the world who utilize this innovative practice.

Our grant also helped the beekeepers buy honey-extracting equipment, which lets them produce higher-quality (and higher-priced) honey. They are working with scientists to analyze what makes their honey unique and with the local tourism office to promote their special island honey.

 

Watch the honey-processing equipment in use in the video below.

Nuevo Berlin beekeepers

Checking the floating hives

Seacology's Duane Silverstein and Cecilia Suárez meet with the beekeepers

Clearing invasive plants from the islands