Forest Fishers, members of the Mexican community of Costa de San Juan, show that actions taken to protect and regenerate ecosystems can work.
How did we get here?
Deforestation remains a continual threat to the well-being of ecosystems throughout our world. From the raging wildfires in British Columbia to the indiscriminate logging in the Amazon, forests remain under threat.
This has also been the case in Costa de San Juan in Mexico, a rural fishing community surrounded by mangroves only accessible by boat. The residents of Costa de San Juan have witnessed firsthand the damage to the ecosystem that they rely so heavily on.
In this village, mangroves have been steadily declining since the 1970s, so much so that by 2015 an entire third (roughly 7,418 hectares) of mangrove forest had been destroyed. They have since seen the runoff effects of this destruction resulting in lower yields in the fishing industry, which the residents of Costa de San Juan rely upon for food and their livelihoods.
This is why community members have planted over 350 hectares of new mangrove trees over the past five years, working actively to value and regenerate the vulnerable ecosystem they live in tandem with.
Read more about mangroves on Happy Eco News.
Forest Fishers Deploy Regeneration Techniques
Multiple factors at play explain why the destruction of mangroves has been occurring. Fires, expansion of ranches, logging, and pollution make up the issues that face the mangroves, but these issues run off downstream to the people living in the area.
Albino Fernandez, a forest fisher and secretary of the local ejido, says that “The first thing that we lost were streams; the water channels were covered with useless mangrove because it was burned,” continuing on, “Fishing slowed down because mangroves are nurseries for the reproduction of other species and there were no more mangroves.”
This damaged the ability of the forest fishers to provide for themselves and their families. Combined with the 2007 ban on cutting mangroves, the community asked themselves what course of action they should take going forward.
Conafor, an NGO working with the community, granted resources to reforest 252 hectares of forest damaged by the fires. The lack of mangroves resulted in other invasive species moving in, which needed to be removed to facilitate the growth of the mangroves.
Mangroves are in decline all over the world, but in part because of the recent discovery of how much carbon they store, efforts are also being undertaken to restore mangroves and increase blue carbon.
However, despite the challenges, the forest fishers achieved a 70% survival rate in the first round of seedling planting, followed by a 95% survival rate in the second round. Reforestation also has had other benefits, providing local opportunities for forest fishers who otherwise would have left.
Prevention of Problems in the Future
This large undertaking has so far been quite successful, but one has to ask what is preventing large swaths of the mangroves from being deforested again. The main benefit of keeping the mangroves safe is income generated and eco-tourism diversification. For example, ejido members rent the common land to beekeepers to create “mangrove honey.”
The fundamental change that has occurred among the community members, though, is the recognition of their integral connection to the forest. They understand and respect the forest in a way they didn’t before, which facilitates the long-term preservation of the ecosystem they rely on.
Albino Fernandez, the ejido secretary, says, “We are the children of the mangrove. We were born here; this is our life. What we do has a double benefit: it improves fisheries, it gives us jobs, but we also give air to the world; we are restoring the Earth’s lungs.”
They understand they have a role to play in their community and the planet. They set an example for the rest of us that we must respect and honour our local ecosystems.