Visit the mangroves, source of life and fresh air, a true Esmeraldas essential…
Don’t miss out on the wonderful world of Esmeraldas’ mangrove beds. We tell you all about their importance and the best places to visit from Green 9
The mangrove’s beauty (and plight to stay alive)
The mangroves are central to the province of Esmeraldas. We must not only protect them, we must treasure them, celebrate them… they tell a fascinating story, as they reveal complex cultural and socioeconomic realities of the province.
This was known to Esmeraldas literati for ages. Some, including renowned Afro-Ecuadorian writer and poet Nelson Estupiñán Bass, used the mangrove beds to set the stage for the socio-economic struggles of past centuries in their writing. Today, the actors and the dynamics have changed, but the mangroves are still struggling to stay alive, in the face of aggressive deforestation.
How do mangroves grow?
They are like spearheads. They are some of the first colonizing plants of coastal ecosystems as their “seeds”, like small stakes, thrust into the sand as the tide brings them into the shore. They then germinate, proliferate and end up covering a deserted stretch of beach with branches, foliage, and eventually, a wide array of wildlife.
The mangrove is very important from an ecological and social standpoint, and the fact it is becoming more and more reduced along the Esmeraldas coastline has represented struggle for local communities. Many families, for example, are “concheros”, they “harvest” black conch, a small endemic shell found in mangroves throughout the country. If the mangroves were to disappear, this age-old tradition and source of sustenance would disappear, as well as one of the most emblematic dishes of our country: the black conch ceviche (ceviche de concha).
But habitat reduction is not the only challenge the black conch has to survive, since the concheros, to sell this ingredient, are forced to harvest (illegally) immature shells to make a living. These have not yet had the opportunity to reproduce, so the sustained activity of harvesting them is depleting generation after generation of the species, which could end up exterminating it. For this reason, there is a governmental ban on black conch that measures less than 4.5 centimeters in diameter.
With the reduction of mangroves, many fish also disappear, and since fish, which reach the mangrove to feed themselves, have less and less mangrove to do so, fishermen are now forced to go further and further into the sea to fish, which in turn is more dangerous (and expensive) for them.
The mangroves are already much less extensive than they were twenty years ago. Their gradual destruction is also a problem in the face of climate change, already palpable all over the world, as they also serve to protect coastal areas as natural levies against tide and waves.
Every time we visit a mangrove bed, we are helping conch-harvesting communities and Ecuadorian traditions to stay alive. That’s something to keep in mind when planning your visit, because the boat rides, in themselves, are magical. As you navigate along the mangrove beds, exploring mangrove, silent waterways, discovering beautiful herons, crustaceans and other species, you’ll understand why some refer to them as a little Venice of nature…
Where to go
Mangrove visits are, in particular, one of the most important tourism activities in coastal communities. Esmeraldas still has important areas of mangrove, including Piangapí, a small community and mangrove reserve located within the city of Esmeraldas (the only protected mangrove reserve within the urban limits of any city in Ecuador). Esmeraldas is only half an hour from Green 9.
Perhaps the best-known mangroves (less than 1 hour away from Green 9) are found at Muisne, to the south of Green 9. Here you can visit the community of Bellavista and locals will show you their surroundings and even organize a delicious seafood meal in town. There is also Isla Bonita, a boat ride you can hire at the entrance of Muisne, where you can also visit mangroves before arriving on the island.
Further south, turning off at Mompiche, you can reach Bolívar, Portete and Chamanga, also extensive mangroves; you can venture to the beautiful and deserted Isla Jupiter, a silent stretch of palm trees worth discovering.
Finally, and perhaps the most imposing mangrove visit in the world, is Majagual. About 2 hours from Green 9 to the north, passing Las Peñas, this beautiful reserve is home to the tallest mangroves in our planet, some measuring over fifty meters high!