Seacology begins nationwide campaign to protect Dominican mangroves
By Karen Peterson
The Caribbean nation of the Dominican Republic (DR), with its tourism-reliant economy, is famous for sandy beaches and beautiful coastal landscapes. Less known, but more important ecologically, are its 25,900 hectares of mangrove ecosystems. They host an incredible variety of birds, act as nurseries for fish, and protect coastlines from severe winds and waves and climate upheaval.
Coastal communities rely on them not only for storm protection but also for economic survival, because without the mangroves, there are no fish to harvest. On a global level, mangroves are incredibly important for their role in sequestering carbon, up to five times more than tropical rainforests. Economists estimate that they contribute $194,000 of benefits per hectare annually.
But mangroves have a public-relations problem: They are often seen as mosquito-infested swamps with no value. In the past 50 years, over a third of the DR’s mangrove forests have been destroyed, with disastrous consequences for wildlife and people.
On World Mangrove Day, July 26, 2021, Seacology and DR-based partner Grupo Jaragua announced an innovative five-year initiative to protect the country’s precious mangrove forests. This first-of-its kind program is designed to reach different parts of the public with:
- a nationwide mangrove pride-and-awareness campaign
- support for wildlife-based mangrove tourism
- other sustainable and environmentally friendly income initiatives for coastal communities
- hands-on environmental education for kids
Seacology has long recognized the importance of mangroves, funding over 80 projects to protect them over the past 22 years. Our new DR National Initiative, called Campaña ManglarES in the DR, will use an array of tools to educate and inspire the nation to love and protect its mangroves: social media, school curriculum, displays in shopping malls, TV ads, citizen science and outdoor interpretation, art and theater projects.
During each year of the five-year program, Seacology will fund two smaller, community-based mangrove conservation and livelihood projects. These efforts will strengthen local protection efforts and provide sustainable income for those who live closest to these precious ecosystems. “Conserving mangroves with community buy-in in the form of sustainable livelihoods is the key to success in the DR,” says Seacology’s DR Field Representative Leida Buglass. “It not only gets these projects off the ground, but helps secure follow-up funding, making projects sustainable in the long run. This is good for communities and great for conservation! It creates momentum for rolling out more community-led mangrove projects.”
The program will also harness the energy of the DR’s sports-crazy youth to take part in vital environmental action. The DR provides more players to Major League Baseball per capita than any other country, and passions for the sport run deep. Volleyball is particularly popular with Dominican girls; the globally known national team, the Queens of the Caribbean, are powerful role models.
Many kids, however, have no access to sports equipment. Our Play for the Mangroves program will teach kids about the importance of mangroves, involve them in coastal cleanups and mangrove replanting, and engage them with fun contests—and kids’ baseball and volleyball teams will get gear, so kids can emulate their sports heroes. Engaging the future generation in this way will have lasting benefits for the protection of the DR’s vital mangrove ecosystems.
Along with our in-country team at project partner Grupo Jaragua, we can’t wait to watch the importance of the DR’s magnificent mangroves take the country by storm!
Karen Peterson is Seacology’s Senior Manager of Special Initiatives, overseeing our major projects as well as our work in East Africa.