Fisherfolk in Peru preserve mangroves and ocean resources through co-management

Communities join hands with the government to safeguard the environment and livelihoods

Communities in Peru work with local authorities to manage the unique marine ecosystems on which their environment and livelihoods depend. The Global Environment Facility-funded, FAO Coastal Fisheries Initiative has built the capacity of the community to ensure that they can oversee their ecosystems in a sustainable and productive way. ©FAO/ UNDP


Jhon Puse Arroyo has spent his life as a traditional red crab harvester in the Tumbes National Mangrove Sanctuary, which stretches for close to 3 000 hectares along the Peruvian coast near the border with Ecuador.

“I learned this profession from my father, who gained his livelihood in the mangroves for our entire family — my mother and my six siblings,” says Jhon.

Now aged 40, Jhon not only works as a red crab harvester himself but is also vice-president of the Northeast Peru Mangroves Consortium, which is made up of fisher and harvester organizations.

The Consortium is an engine for change in supporting the sustainability and biodiversity of the Tumbes National Mangrove Sanctuary, which is also a pilot site of the Coastal Fisheries Initiative (CFI) — a programme coordinated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Mangrove forests lie on the border between land and sea. They act as carbon sinks, water filters and natural buffers against storms and erosion. They are also havens for a wealth of biodiversity, from mangrove mussels to mojarra fish, from herons to anteaters, from algae to pollinator bees.

Here in Peru, the mangroves also harbor many species of crustaceans and mollusks — such as red crabs and ‘concha negra’ clams that live in the mud among their roots. These are key sources of food and livelihoods for fishers and fish workers like Jhon and others in his community.

Jhon is noticing a difference in the mangroves now though. “Before we only spent three or four hours in the mangroves, now we need five or six hours [to find the same amount of crabs],” he says.

Resources have been dwindling. For the past 15 years, rising sea temperatures, excessive rainfall, runoff from local farms and pollution from nearby towns are affecting the quantity and biodiversity of animals and plants in the mangroves.

 “There is a difference between the past and the present. As a community, we want the mangrove ecosystem to return to the way it was in the days of our parents and grandparents,” proclaims Jhon.

Resources have been dwindling for the past 15 years. The community and government authorities are now monitoring and managing their marine resources more closely, protecting ecosystems while ensuring that communities can maintain their livelihoods. ©FAO/UNDP

Co-management for sustainability, today and tomorrow

In a bid to preserve and restore their vital natural resources, the fisherfolk of the Consortium have entered into a 20-year agreement with Peru’s national protected areas authority, SERNANP, to co-manage the Tumbes National Mangrove Sanctuary.

"This was the first such agreement ever signed with fisher and harvester associations, and it marked a milestone for conservation and for our country," says Rosa Garcia, the head of the Tumbes National Mangrove Sanctuary.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Consortium members monitor and manage their resources, maintain biodiversity and forest cover, run an eco-tourism business and a seafood processing unit.

They also conduct educational campaigns and participate in scientific research to restock depleted specieswith Tumbes National University and Incabiotec, a private biotechnology lab for sustainable development.

They have acquired the business, environmental, managerial and scientific skills required to co-manage the site with knowledge they have accumulated thanks to capacity building workshops offered by the Coastal Fisheries Initiative over the years.

Jhon Puse (left), vice-president of the Northeastern Peru Mangroves Consortium, wants to bring the mangroves back to the way they were in the time of his parents and grandparents. Co-management benefits local communities, supports regional development, conserves biodiversity and safeguards ocean resources. © Consorcio Los Manglares del Noroeste del Perú/ H.Preciado

In Peru, the Coastal Fisheries Initiative is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), under the lead of the Ministry of Environment and the participation of the Ministry of Production and the regional governments of Tumbes and Piura.

Jhon says the fishers and harvesters are already noticing the difference.

“Now we know that we can take lab-grown concha negra clam larvae to the mangroves, and they will adapt and grow,” Jhon says. “We carried out this research at a CFI pilot site in the sanctuary, and we noticed that the concha negra population has increased.”

Participatory monitoring and surveillance must be based on strong community organizations collaborating with the government to co-manage the ecosystems. They have learned these ecosystem management skills through capacity building workshops run by the Coastal Fisheries Initiative over the years, he says.

“We think this inclusive management model is the most sustainable over time," says Marco Arenas, who heads the Functional Operational Unit of Participative Management at SERNANP.

"It benefits local communities, supports regional development and conserves biodiversity," he says. "It is only by generating opportunities for local communities that we can guarantee conservation.”

World Oceans Day is an important occasion to recognize how critical our marine resources are to so many communities.

“On World Oceans Day we say the most important thing is the will to protect our seas and our mangroves. Each fisherman must collaborate on an individual level,” says Jhon.

“The mangroves mean life for all of us, and that's why we must protect them,” he says.

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8. Decent work and economic growth, 12. Responsible consumption and production, 15. Life on land