Women Conservationists doing what they feel is natural.
I don’t believe the women of Chira at first thought of themselves as Conservationists or Environmentalists they were just trying to make things better for the world around them, naturally. I believe this innate drive with in us is all we need to heal the world. That spark of taking action, even when is seems small or insignificant can be all the momentum one needs to truly make a difference. Also when we engage our children and let them see our work they will learn through our experience. This is all a catalyst for positive change.
The story below is about that change and how we can heal our planet and heal ourselves.
Women on the island soon realized the fishermen were actually hacking away at their own livelihoods, says Emily Pidgeon of Conservation International, with fewer species of fish, rays and other animals returning each year.
So the women founded the Chira Island Women’s Collective in part to protect the threatened mangrove forests. They warn that the plants do much more to sustain the town of Palito than anyone knew when they began pulling up their roots.
Around the world, coastal communities and environmental groups alike are learning a similar lesson, and global environmental organizations like Pidgeon’s are taking note. Preserving waterlogged resources like mangroves, wetlands and seagrasses doesn’t just nourish local communities–they also capture and store a surprising amount of carbon that might otherwise contribute to global warming. Scientists call it “blue carbon.”
“A lot of attention has quite rightly been put on forests, but we need all solutions from all parts of nature,” says Dorothée Herr, who works on coastal ecosystems with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. That’s not always an easy pitch, Herr says, because people want to live on the coastline. “There’s a lot of pressure on these ecosystems.”
As much as half of the world’s mangrove habitat has disappeared over the last century, much of it destroyed by fish and shrimp farms, as well as seaside real estate developments. That’s a big mistake, says Herr, because while these aquatic woodlands make up less than one percent of the world’s tropical forests by land area, their destruction accounts for as much as 10 percent of emissions from deforestation globally.
With thick mats of roots sometimes six meters deep, healthy mangroves are a natural fortress for young marine species and a bulwark against storm surges that are becoming increasingly destructive as the atmosphere warms.
Over the last decades Chira’s mangroves have come under increasing pressure from exploitation for firewood or conversion into salt evaporation and shrimp ponds. Where the mangroves still stand, they are heavily degraded. This means Chira’s shores are more exposed to erosion from wind and waves, and its fish have fewer nurseries and safe harbors. “We had always known our mangroves were very important,” said Liliana, one of the founders of the women’s collectibe. But it wasn’t until recently that the link between declining mangrove health and declining family income from fishing hit home. 10 years ago, according to Liliana, the women of Palito decided to improve their community’s economy by improving the health of the mangroves.
The women partnered with the National University of Costa Rica and received environmental training in mangrove management. They became close observers of environmental mismanagement on the island and, on one occasion, won a prize from an international foundation for an influential report on mangrove destruction. Soon, the women decided they needed a boat of their own, though they couldn’t afford a new one. Thanks to more training through the university, the women built by hand the first fiberglass boat made on the island, which they now use to give mangrove tours to tourists.
Throughout their work, the women were not supported by the men in their community. Isabel, another founder explained: “They told us, ‘If you are as good as a man, then you should build this on your own.’” And so they did. The lodge where we sat was built by the women, in addition to their network and boats. It provides accommodation for mangrove volunteers and is the site of ongoing trainings and meetings of the island fire brigade. The women of Palito are now the unofficial “keepers of the mangroves,” noticing any harm to the trees or destructive fishing occurring in the island’s many channels.
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cover photos National Geographic, Ethel Walker and iucn.org
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