The Cayapas Mataje reserve in northwest Ecuador is home to the tallest mangroves in the world and to 26 Afro-descendant communities. Its 35 thousand hectares were declared a natural reserve in the mid-nineties to avoid ecosystem depletion by the shrimp industry.
The mangrove ecosystem is also home to many animal species and is considered an important tool against rising sea levels caused by climate change. Communities that inhabit the reserve depend on fishing and harvesting edible mollusks for survival. In spite of the fact that the mollusks – black cockles - are an Ecuadorian delicacy, harvesters (concheros and concheras) receive only 8 dollar cents per cockle. On average, they can gather 100 of these mollusks a day.*
A mangrove root grows upside down until it buries itself in the mud.
Elisa searches for black cockles in the roots of mangrove trees. Gathering them is an extremely arduous job.
Jefferson lights a torch made of coconut string, most commonly known as “tuft”. Tufts burn for several hours, keeping mosquitos and moths away.
The concheros and concheras traditionally worked barefoot. But in the last few years, people have started wearing boots and rubber gloves to protect themselves from the venomous toadfishes that bury themselves in the mud.
A crab hides inside a mangrove tree’s cortex
*The Faces of the Mangrove
These photographs are part of the exhibition by Felipe Jácome, a documentary photographer from Ecuador, presently showing at the Estero del Oro mangrove. It documents the work and stories of concheros and concheras, many of whom are Hivos’ partners within the ‘Coast and Marine Ecosystems Management in Ecuador’ program. This program has strengthened many harvester organizations so they can conserve the mangrove and its resources. Among its positive results, we have seen an improvement in prices from $7 to $10 per 100 units when harvesters sell together as an association..
A photography exhibition at a mangrove?
More than an exhibition, it’s an experience. You see and visit the mangrove through the faces of the people who protect it and survive from it. If you plan to come, you must get to the Estero del Oro mangrove by boat and leave through the Travesía de los Pataneos, between San Lorenzo and Tambillo, in Esmeralda Province. The exhibition runs until Sunday, August 6th.