Three cheers (and four projects) for Caribbean mangroves!
By Karen Peterson
Communities across the Dominican Republic are working with Seacology to protect crucial mangrove ecosystems–and on a recent trip, we got to see just how much progress they’re making. (Spoiler: a lot.)
Mangroves, trees that grow in brackish water on their distinctive stilt-like roots, protect coastal communities from wind and wave damage, and provide habitat for birds, fish, and invertebrates. They also keep huge amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere, which means they benefit us all, no matter where we live!
My colleague Kevin Claassen and I got to see four community-based partnerships in action, and we came away inspired. In classic Seacology fashion, every project is different, tailored to the unique circumstances of the local environment and the community.
In Boca Chica, we paddled out into a new offshore micro-sanctuary to see the growth of the “Green Breakwater System.” It uses concrete forms to protect mangrove seedlings from the punishing waves of coastal storms. The restoration is already showing results. We saw lots of small fish sheltering in the area, as well as in nearby seagrass beds and domes replanted with coral. Project partner Fundacion Verde Profundo is using this restoration work to engage local fishers, ecotourism providers, and community leaders in the conservation of “Santo Domingo’s beach,” a popular destination for people living in the DR’s capital city.
Our newest project is in the town of Las Galeras, on the beautiful Samaná Peninsula in the DR’s east. Seagrass beds and mangroves fringe La Playita, a stunning and popular beach there. Local fishermen know these ecosystems are key, because they support healthy populations of fish and other marine life. We were thrilled to witness the newly formed fisherman’s cooperative sign an agreement to protect the area, a project spearheaded by the local organization Foro Ambiental de Samaná.
El Astillero is a gorgeous and important mangrove area shouldered by two beautiful beaches. Foro Ambiental de Samaná is working to engage community youth and local property owners in its conservation. We were joined by a big group of young volleyball and baseball players, who through our Play for the Mangroves program were learning about mangroves, planting seedlings, and trying out the new sports equipment we provided. It was gratifying to see how the mangrove seedlings planted by these young people during our last visit six months ago are thriving!
At Las Calderas, a unique ecosystem to the west of Santo Domingo, we visited an ecologically diverse dune system and a gorgeous and intact mangrove area. By boat, we saw abundant marine and bird life in the mangroves. Then we met with beekeepers, the de facto guardians of the area; Seacology is supporting training that helps them grow their businesses. Our partner for this project is Consorcio Ambiental Dominicano, who also helped out with beekeeping in our project at El Tablón.
Meeting with motivated local activists, volunteers, and staff from our partner NGOs, including Grupo Jaragua, our partner in the overall national initiative, reminded us yet again how Seacology’s success is rooted in working with local communities. And seeing all those Dominican kids hitting line drives or spiking volleyballs–after getting a solid education about the ecosystems that protect their island–made us hopeful that our conservation efforts will keep making progress for years to come!
Senior Manager for Special Initiatives Karen Peterson oversees our nationwide project in the Dominican Republic as well as our work in Africa.