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The Manabí province, home to the Lalo Loor Reserve, harbors some of the last fragments of Ecuador’s highly threatened coastal dry forest. With only 2% of this habitat still in existence, conserving and connecting these patches is a critical priority for preserving biodiversity and facilitating species movement. Ceiba is promoting forest protection, land purchase, and locally-managed reforestation projects, to connect 112,000 hectares (277,000 acres) of forest fragments in the county of Jama (pronounced “ha-ma”). Together these holdings will form a continuous biological corridor spanning over 135 km (85 km) and a range of micro-climates and habitat types. The corridor passes through four counties, and crosses the equator, effectively linking the Northern and Southern hemispheres. We also are encouraging adoption of agroforestry systems like coffee and cacao, in which cultivars are planted beneath shade trees; such systems create an “analog forest” that meets the economic needs of the landowner while maximizing biodiversity.
As global climate change accelerates, wildlife mobility becomes ever more important. The central coast of Ecuador, which lies within the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena Biodiversity Hotspot (what’s a hotspot?), spans an impressive gradient of precipitation: from over 8 meters (26 feet!) of rainfall in the Chocó rainforests of Colombia to the deserts of northern Peru where atmospheric moisture is virtually unknown. Around Lalo Loor we see a very rapid transition from the wet northern forests to the very dry southern deserts, and the reserve is unique in protecting plants and animals characteristic of both regions. Across the 135 km corridor, we see annual rainfall decline from 38 inches (960 mm) to only 18 inches (460 mm). The gradient is not only north to south, but also from low elevation to the peaks of the Coastal Cordillera mountains: note the darker blue mountains that curl around the reserve. The climatic diversity in this compact area is a tremendous benefit to wildlife and plants, as long as they are able to move in response to the impacts of climate change.
Some of the threatened species in this area that we are working to protect are are: Ecuadorian White-fronted Capuchin Monkey (Cebus aequatorialis, critically endangered), Ecuadorian Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata ssp. aequatorialis, vulnerable), Grey-backed Hawk (Pseudastur occidentalis, endangered), and the Rufous-headed Chachalaca (Ortalis erythroptera, vulnerable). The Conservation and Sustainable Use Area will also cover coastal zones, a first for county-based conservation projects in Ecuador. The beaches found there include vital nesting sites for the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas, endangered) and the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea, vulnerable). If we are able to save the remaining forest patches, and reverse the tide of deforestation, these animals will have a fighting chance of surviving the land-use impacts of today and the climate change challenges of tomorrow.
Our goal is to collaborate with local landowners, promoting sustainable use of the region’s natural resources to increase the productivity of their land while improving soil fertility, water quality, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity conservation. This multi-faceted project links with our ongoing research programs and our growing community development and economic stimulus programs. Combined, these collaborative efforts will yield a landscape full of opportunities: for wildlife, for ecotourists, for farmers, and for local communities. It all started with the Lalo Loor Dry Forest reserve, established to protect a few hundred acres, but this amazing region deserves a much larger conservation plan, and with your help, it’s becoming a reality.