Mountainous, tropical Providencia Island, about 140 miles east of Nicaragua, is the above-water top of a volcano that rises from the floor of the Caribbean. Surrounded by seagrass and coral reefs, it is at the center of the huge UNESCO Seaflower Biosphere Reserve. The reserve has great biodiversity and is known for excellent scuba diving and snorkeling.
About 5,000 people live on the island; lobster fishing and farming are the major occupations. There is some tourism, but the islanders have resisted development that would change their home’s character.
The key environmental challenge is overfishing. A few years ago, Colombia lost a territorial dispute with Nicaragua and had to give up about 40% of its fishing grounds around the archipelago. The islands’ artisanal fishers were squeezed into shallower areas closer to shore. Now, when the lobster season is closed (March through August), they catch parrotfish. This can have serious ecological consequences, because a robust population of parrotfish is crucial to the health of a reef. Parrotfish eat algae on the reef; without them, algae smothers the coral.
Fundación Providence is a local nonprofit that has worked with the island community for more than 10 years. With a Seacology grant, it will conduct a multimedia educational campaign, aimed at increasing awareness of the ecological importance of parrotfish. The campaign will target fishermen, schoolchildren, tourists, and restaurant operators. It will offer artistic activities for children, radio broadcasts, and a television program. Incorporating the island’s strong musical traditions, it will also include a jingle-writing competition. The organization will encourage restaurants to proudly announce that they do not serve parrotfish, and give them a plaque to display. Fundación Providence will continue to work toward a total ban on parrotfish harvest.