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Colombia

Providencia Island

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Conservation benefit: Campaign to promote awareness of parrotfish and work toward a ban on their harvest

 

Date Approved: 07.2017

Ocean

This project protects ocean ecosystems, making coastal communities more economically and physically secure in the face of climate change.

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.

Project Updates

July 2019

Great news for the islands’ coral reefs: The parroffish have gotten legal protection! CORALINA, the Colombian government body that manages the marine environment around Providencia, just announced the news. The new restrictions apply not only to Providencia, but to the entire archipelago, including the larger and more populous island of San Andrés.

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May 2019

About half a dozen restaurants have committed to not serve parrotfish and are announcing this stance on their menus and marketing materials. Local artists have adopted parrotfish as an icon and have displayed campaign artwork in tourist areas; a beach clothing store plans to include parrotfish designs on its clothing. In sum, awareness of parrotfish seems to be up, and attitudes seem to be changing. To measure those changes, our NGO partner Fundación Providence will conduct a community survey at the end of the project.

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December 2018

This campaign to educate fishermen, schoolchildren, tourists, and restaurant operators about how important parrotfish are to the local reefs (and so to the local economy) is moving ahead well. There has already been an art contest in the schools, and conservation-themed artwork has been displayed at local events. A jingle-writing competition, honoring the island’s strong musical traditions, is going on now. A radio program is broadcast weekly, and videos are being produced. Fundación Providence has also begun reaching out to restaurants. About half a dozen have already committed to not serve parrotfish and are announcing this stance on their menus and marketing materials..

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April 2018

On Earth Day, Seacology launched our first-ever crowdfunding campaign to support this project.

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