Miles for mangroves: Dominicans hit the trail in inaugural coastal run
By Karen Peterson
Senior Manager of Special Initiatives
In what has become an annual tradition, a group of Seacology staff and supporters went to the Dominican Republic (DR) in April to meet with our project partners and communities engaged in our country-wide DR Mangrove Initiative. Along with visiting mangrove conservation and livelihood projects, a highlight is always seeing Play for the Mangroves activities. This program gets kids involved in mangrove education and conservation activities, and pairs that with playing baseball and volleyball. The kids also get to take home sports equipment. They come away incredibly enthusiastic about sports and conservation.
As part of this effort, the staff of Foro Ambiental de Samaná (FAS), one of our hardworking partner organizations, suggested holding a “Run for the Mangroves” during our trip. As a lifelong runner who has competed in around 200 events—and organized a few for charity—I was all ears.
FAS coordinates our project at El Astillero, at the mouth of the El Arroyo River on the Samaná Peninsula. The area is small but critical — all four species of mangrove found in the Dominican Republic grow here, mitigating erosion and flooding. As a young and growing forest, this area sequesters even more carbon than mature forests. It’s also located between two gorgeous beaches, and is a seasonal home to nesting hawksbill marine turtles, a critically endangered species.
A big part of raising awareness about the importance of El Astillero’s mangroves has been the professional painting of beautiful murals throughout the nearby community of El Limón. Schoolkids, residents, and the area’s many visitors see these murals daily. The mayor, Fernando Mercado Morel, has declared El Limón a “Mangrove Municipality,” fostering pride in this vital and threatened ecosystem.
The night before the run, we were excited to hear that over 60 people (including many members of our group) had signed up for this inaugural event. But when we arrived at El Astillero on race day morning, we were amazed to see around 200 children and adults milling around, many wearing Play for the Mangrove shirts and caps, waiting to run or walk the 3K or 5K course through the forest and along the beach.
The atmosphere was electric, and after speeches by the mayor and myself (in my halting Spanish), the runners were off. After the 3K race, the 5K runners (myself included) headed out in the mid-morning warmth. The course was impeccably marked, course monitors and water stations were at strategic points, and several dozen kids had headed out to pick up trash from the beach. After the race, the winners got prizes, and everyone was given swag like mangrove notebooks, stickers, and calendars.
The inaugural Run for the Mangroves was unanimously voted a success by our group, participants, and FAS staff and volunteers who worked so hard to make it happen. My first international race was memorable indeed! Combining sports with mangrove awareness and conservation is a winning combination, and we hope to hold more Runs for the Mangroves in the DR and elsewhere. !Viva los manglares!
Race photos courtesy of Foro Ambiental Samaná- Eco-Bahía photos