Montecristi Province, in the northwest Dominican Republic, is home to 15,000 acres of beautiful mangrove forests. Few tourists see them, however, because tourism is not nearly as developed as elsewhere in the country. Much of the area is devoted to farms that grow rice and fruit.
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, to conduct mangrove kayak tours. Over 95% of the mangroves are in government-protected areas, including Estero Balsa, El Morro and Montecristi Marine National Parks, and the Estero Hondo Marine Mammal Sanctuary.
The youth come from coastal communities (Manzanillo, Buen Hombre, and Punta Rucia) where there are few opportunities beyond fishing. Local tour operators will train the young fishers in sustainable ecotourism. They will also learn 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.
AgroFrontera, with the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources and ANAMAR (a government marine research agency), has been teaching marine ecology and conservation in Montecristi schools. However, very few of the children get to actually visit mangroves. These tours will give school groups hands-on field experience in the mangroves.