In Majagual, mangroves reach an average height of 50 to 60 meters. The tallest, in fact, measures 63.5. Here, in this 305-hectare reserve, you can find five of the six species that exists in Ecuador: red, black, jelí, piñuelo and white mangrove.
According to Florencio Nazareno, our local guide, these are the best preserved specimens along all of South America’s coast. In addition, they are considered the highest mangroves in the world… The importance of the ecosystem lies, among other things, in that it forms the habitat for mollusks, crustaceans and fish, functioning as a filter for sediment and nutrients which maintain water quality.
To walk along its 150-meter wooden path, it is essential to wear a cap, boots and a lot of repellent, especially in the rainy season: mosquitoes abound. Rubber boots, moreover, are useful for tackling one of the most fun activities in the reserve: ramear. This consists of walking on the muddy ground where the mangroves settle their giant roots.
You can’t finish your visit – which takes about an hour-and-a-half – without closing your eyes for a moment to listen to the forest’s natural symphony and inhale, deeply, the puffs of pure air that it bestows upon us.
Photo: Martín Jaramillo.
Mangroves in Mompiche, mangroves in Muisne, mangroves in Chamanga, mangroves in Portete, mangroves in the city of Esmeraldas. They are part of everyday life, they are part of the geography, the history, the literature, the identity…
Mangrove tours are more than a scenic ride… They are a window not only onto a hybrid natural world, a cross between continental and marine wildlife, extremely diverse and animated by beautiful birds and colorful crustaceans, but also onto the rich and unique way of life of communities who nourish themselves from their fabulous faunal diversity.
For communities that rely on them, mangroves offer an invaluable world of resources. Sea bass, river snails, river shrimp, several species of crab including the iconic blue crab, local fish like canchimala and tilapia, river clams… Where mangroves are healthy, fishing is excellent and varied, and if they were to disappear, the food source of all seafood lovers would drift towards increasingly more dangerous waves. Not to mention that mangroves provide coastal communities protection against flooding and erosion.
Esmeraldas is one of the few cities with mangroves so close to the urban center, a mangrove bed protected by the community tourism project of Pianguapí (a small forest village between Tachina and the city of Esmeraldas). Locals harvest succulent mangoes, bananas… and the finest cacao! They live in a true natural paradise and from their grills, they can prepare delights of the day’s catch.
The challenges begin with the waste from other parts of the bay and ocean, which wash up along the shore. There is also the threat of the urban frontier, in addition to the most obvious enemy of most mangrove beds: shrimp farms. It is a serious problem in many places. And the struggle is complex.
Artisanal fishermen are defenseless, especially when harvesting black shells, central to their sustenance, which has led to the indiscriminate sale of immature shells. By stopping the reproductive cycle of the species, extinction appears imminent. What would become of Ecuador’s cuisine without the beloved black conch ceviche?
Photo: Martín Jaramillo.
It is a sad fact that Muisne, for example, a small coastal enclave that began to promote visits to its mangroves before most other communities of the Ecuadorian coastline, has witnessed the drastic decline of this tourist resource due to shrimp farms, reducing its mangrove beds from 25,000 hectares to only 5,000 in a period of 30 years.
Organized mangrove conservation projects, are needed today more than ever across the province. The local inhabitants shall then be able to create strategies for their territories and reach joint conclusions to define where to fish, where to harvest conch, when and where to offer tourist activities, what are no-go zones and what to conserve to create the correct buffer zones. The mangroves protect and give value, and for many communities, may ultimately be their only salvation.