Magnus Brath | Flickr | Creative Commons
A second dimension of Prof. Peter Redvers-Lee’s work aimed to reverse the degradation of the region’s large mangrove forests by restoring favorable ecological conditions through the reintroduction of species in the mangroves and associated waterways – primarily crocodiles, turtles, and crabs – on which these Afro-Ecuadorian families have traditionally relied. Reintroduction of these species would improve ecological conditions for the mangroves, a key part of one of the world’s designated biodiversity hotspots, but one now threatened by overfishing, population growth, the introduction of shrimp farms, palm oil cultivation, and violence spillover from the nearby Colombian border.
The project was directly linked to efforts to promote a collective Afro-Ecuadorian cultural identity, to enhance political and social capacity building, and to provide alternatives for communities to pursue sustainable livelihoods through aquaculture subsistence. With the goal of preservation and reclamation of the mangroves, this project also had the potential to enable Afro-Ecuadorian communities to reassert their role as stewards of critically important watersheds, and to address ongoing declines in fish stocks and other ecologically important species.
During a 2012 research trip, Prof. Redvers-Lee carried out focus groups and interviews with farmers about their livelihood strategies. He also conducted counts of fishing catches, daily returns for mussel collectors, and mapped disembarkation and collection points of traditional fisherwomen. Finally, he met with local and national NGOs and with government officials involved in conservation, tourism, agriculture, and fisheries, as well as with village and local leaders to discuss community needs.