Boots on the Ground in South America
By Lishka Arata | May 17, 2018
In April 2018, Point Blue Quantitative Ecologist, Matt Reiter traveled to Ecuador and Northern Peru with colleagues Diana Eusse (Asociación CALIDRIS), Rob Clay (Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Executive Office) and Jim Chu (US Forest Service International Programs) to visit Migratory Shorebird Project (MSP) partners. Matt worked with partners to enhance their participation in MSP and to develop their understanding of how to apply MSP data for climate-smart conservation. He met with government officials and coastal wetland managers to identify opportunities to use project data to inform management of wetland habitats for today and the future. He also helped develop and promote local constituencies around important sites that can help sustain essential applied research, monitoring, and conservation. Read Matt’s trip log and see photos of the people and places he visited below!
- It’s critically important to visit partners and sites. Visiting sites grows partnerships and trust, builds capacity, and promotes a shared vision of the value of data and partnerships – e.g. the Migratory Shorebird Project – for local and hemispheric conservation and management.
- If you don’t know the problems you can’t help fix them. Being on the ground and meeting local decision-makers is the only way to know how the information we collect can inform management. It also builds critical trust with stakeholders.
- It’s important to show scale. Showing that the Migratory Shorebird Project is a broad international network builds local level support for our partners and the Project and hopefully leads to sustainability and turning data to action.
- Aquaculture is important. Working with aquaculture (salt, fishermen, crab, shrimp) is critical to supporting shorebirds in Ecuador and Peru and throughout the flyway.
- Knowledge about local government dynamics is crucial. Changing governments can confound outreach efforts so being strategic as to when and whom we meet with is essential to maximize impact.
Day 1 – We traveled west from the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador to Salinas – a coastal city on the Pacific Coast – with our primary MSP partners from Aves y Conservacion. We participated in the annual shorebird festival which attracted 3000 people. Point Blue and the Migratory Shorebird Project were highlighted at the main information booth. We also were able to meet with the Ecuadorian Minister of the Environment to discuss strategies to engage with the government to promote data-driven shorebird and coastal wetland conservation based on the findings of the MSP.
Day 2 – We visited two of our primary MSP sites in Ecuador which are large salt production complexes. We have been gathering data at these sites since 2012 and working with the site managers – who are very supportive of their role in providing waterbird habitat – to promote shorebird conservation through reduced human disturbance. One of our primary funders for the MSP – Jim Chu from US Forest Service International Programs – presented a certificate of appreciation to the head of the salt production complexes for their partnership as part of the MSP.
Day 3 – We traveled south from Guayaquil to the city of Naranjal with our partners to host a workshop with MSP partners and stakeholders. The goal was to seek commitments to declare the Gulf of Guayaquil a site in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and to promote research and monitoring as part of MSP. Participants included crab fisherman, shrimp farmers, members of the local government and the environmental ministry (division of aquaculture).
Day 4 – We traveled to the small Ecuadorian town of Balao to visit an MSP site in the Gulf of Guayaquil. We are excited that MSP data will be used to nominate it as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site. We were accompanied by stakeholders from the previous day’s workshop and a local TV station. The boat trip took us out to extensive mangroves and tidal mudflats. There was lengthy discussion about the practice of shrimp farms mitigating clearing of mangroves by planting new mangroves out on the mudflats. While initially this seems like a good idea it may also reduce overall habitat for shorebirds. The trade-offs of this practice will be further evaluated using MSP data.
Day 5 – We met with representatives from the Peruvian Ministry for the Environment in Lima to discuss linking MSP into the emerging Peruvian National Shorebird Conservation Plan. It was good timing and our Peru partners will be following up on this at the next Plan workshop in Iquitos, Peru as part of the Peruvian Ornithological Congress.
Day 6 – We visited Puerto Eten wetlands – an MSP survey site near the city of Chiclayo, Peru and the municipality of Eten with our partners from CORBIDI. The Eten Site is proposed to be a national protected area and MSP data are part of the nomination, but there are some political challenges. The challenges include the fact that Eten wetlands are divided among 3 municipalities and thus it has been hard to get all three to support the nomination. The delay in designation is allowing squatters to slowly encroach on the wetlands – reducing habitat and increasing disturbance. We met with the Mayor of the municipality of Eten, with local school teachers, and with the Director of the regional (Lambeyque) ministry of the environment to see what they could do to help the nomination move forward. We heard a lot of support for the nomination and established next steps to investigate delays further. We also lined up trainings to get these local groups involved in surveying shorebirds, adding to the data set, and developing a closer connection to the wetlands site.
Day 7 – We met with Naturaleza y Cultura International (NCI) – our partners in the Piura region of Peru We traveled to the municipality of Sechura where we met with the local ministry for the environment and fishermen. While the minister seemed more interested in discussing the need for marine protected areas (MPA) in the region to guard against offshore oil development, he was excited about the fact that MSP was collecting data at important coastal/intertidal areas that could help guide MPA designation. We then traveled 30km south of Sechura to the MSP site of Virrilla. Virilla is a river estuary and beach with intertidal mudflats. It’s located in a remote coastal desert but there is a relatively large fishing community at the mouth of the river. Wildlife was abundant with sea turtles and flamingos in the river and desert fox on land. The fishermen we were with take great pride in maintaining the health of the ecosystems there. It was clean and truly a beautiful place. After Virilla we drove north back through Sechura to the MSP site Manglares de Vice. This important shorebird site is also the southern terminus of mangroves on the Pacific Coast of the Americas.
Day 8 – Ate breakfast with Judith Ravin from the US embassy in Peru and identified a clear link between the Migratory Shorebird Project and the US State Department’s Professional Fellows program and in particular the fellows program in Peru which is focused on Environmental Sustainability. They will be posting the MSP as an opportunity for possible fellows. I then started the long journey back to Chiclayo to fly to Lima to fly to the USA.