Montecristi Province, in the northwest Dominican Republic next to the Haitian border, is home to 15,000 acres of beautiful mangrove forests. Over 95% of these mangroves are found in government-sanctioned protected areas, including Estero Balsa, El Morro and Montecristi Marine National Parks, and the Estero Hondo Marine Mammal Sanctuary. Much of the area is devoted to agriculture, particularly rice and fruit farms. Tourism is not nearly as developed as elsewhere in the country.
Local NGO AgroFrontera wants to help conserve the area’s mangrove forests by developing sustainable mangrove ecotourism. With Seacology’s support, AgroFrontera will teach 45 fishers between the ages of 16 and 25 in three coastal communities (Manzanillo, Buen Hombre, and Punta Rucia) to conduct mangrove kayak tours. Tour operators in the region will train the young fishers about sustainable ecotourism. The youth will also learn business practices such as basic accounting and customer service. The project will bring several benefits: raised awareness of the importance of conserving mangrove forests; a means for young fishers to diversify their income, thus reducing fishing pressure on fragile ecosystems, including mangroves; and a much-needed alternative to current less sustainable tourism practices.
The tours will also give school groups hands-on field experience in the mangroves. AgroFrontera, in collaboration with the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources and ANAMAR (a government agency charged with marine research and outreach), has been offering modules on marine ecology and conservation in the Montecristi public schools. However, very few of the children have an opportunity to visit mangroves, so these tours will add a vital resource.