Seacology’s newest national project, in the Dominican Republic, is squarely focused on mangroves—small trees that grow in a tangle of stilt-like roots along the shore. These shrubby trees are the backbone of critical ecosystems. The DR’s mangrove forests provide refuge for migratory and resident birds, from tiny hummingbirds to stately egrets. Brightly colored lizards, many found nowhere else, scurry among the branches, and fish thrive in the brackish waters. Mangroves also act as a key buffer against storm surges and rising sea levels—crucial because 70 percent of the country’s population is at high risk for floods and severe storms. The ecosystems keep enormous amounts of carbon from entering our atmosphere, making mangrove protection one of the most cost-effective ways known to combat global climate change.
In the past 50 years, however, the country has lost over a third of its mangroves. Even in areas that are supposed to be protected, mangroves have been cut, degraded, and cleared. Public perception of mangroves is often negative: Many people view them as mosquito-infested swamps, and there is little awareness of the vital benefits they provide.
Our DR initiative has several parts. We will support a nationwide awareness campaign to pump up pride in these amazing ecosystems. Using social media, displays at shopping malls, spokespeople, school curricula, theatrical performances and more, our local partners will not only educate, but also showcase the beauty of mangroves and their critical importance to the environment and to human health and safety.
Seacology is also promoting small-scale, mangrove-related ecotourism and other livelihood initiatives in coastal communities. Tourists are eager to paddle kayaks through healthy, lush mangroves, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and abundant birdlife. So wildlife-based initiatives give people an alternative to fishing and provide a powerful incentive to conserve, not cut, the mangroves. (Learn more about the mangrove conservation and livelihood projects at Boca Chica, El Tablón Ecological Park, El Astillero, and Las Calderas.)
Finally, in the sports-loving DR, we can’t think of a better way to engage the next generation in conservation than by providing baseball and volleyball equipment along with mangrove education to Dominican youth. We’re very excited about this fun and innovative program.