Five Masters of Environmental Management students at Duke University have partnered with LabEx Mer to create a Blue Carbon Science Toolkit. The goal of the toolkit is to provide resource managers with key information on how to estimate carbon content of coastal ecosystems and essential understanding of carbon markets through an open access platform. Over the summer, part of the Duke team worked in coordination with Conservation International to perform a gap analysis and needs assessment to ensure the feasibility, diffusion, and adoption of the blue carbon toolkit.
While in the Field, we had the opportunity to work with Don Louis, the president of the 6 de Julio association, a small subsistence agriculture and fishing community near Naranjal, Ecuador. Although Don Louis and the other members of the association were unaware of blue carbon, they understood the importance of mangrove protection. Mangroves are integral to the local economy and food security. Mangrove forests provide habitat for shrimp, crabs, gastropods, and fish. We were very curious to see the mysterious process of crabbing, so Don Louis secured us a boat.
We docked at a fishing camp on the muddy banks of a mangrove forest. A crabber emerged from the roots of the mangroves covered head to foot in a thick layer of mud, grinning from ear to ear, clutching a stack of red crabs. Don Louis explained that it used to be much easier to capture the crabs. When he first started crabbing, he used his bare hands, then he switched to using a small wire, and now they use a meter long wire because the crabs have retreated farther and farther into the earth. This is just one example he shared with us of how the local ecology has changed since he was a young boy. Two men from the boat sprinted ahead of us, racing towards the crab holes at the base of the mangroves. We watched as one of the association members thrust his foot into an open hole and started bouncing. He then plunged his hand into the small opening, holding the long wire, and began to saw back and forth armpit deep in the mud. After a couple of minutes, we heard a wet, squelching sound. He pulled out his arm and threw down a clump of mud. Assuming this was a failed attempt, we turned our attention to a different crabber, but all of a sudden the clump of mud began to scuttle sideways. He had gotten the first red crab of the day!
Different association members had different tactics, but they were all incredibly successful. Soon we had enough crabs to build a brick. The muddy men took their crabs to the shore and began to string them to a stick, breaking it strategically to create a large brick of strung together crabs. They threw the brick in the water, swinging it back and forth, and the muddy brown mass turned into gleaming red crabs. We piled the bricks on the boat and motored back to the association. Don Louis explained that some of the crabs are brought back to the Naranjal market and the rest of the crabs are given to the women to clean and extract the crabmeat (adding value to the supply chain and giving the women a role in the association).
The members of the association take the protection of mangroves seriously. As an association recognized by the Ministry of the Environment, they receive a monetary incentive to protect mangroves and face fines if any are deforested. Their livelihoods depend on crabbing, so they are very stringent in conserving mangroves. Don Louis seemed very open to measuring carbon and creating stock assessments in the future, which we hope will be an outcome of the toolkit. The objective of our toolkit is to facilitate the creation of a blue carbon stock assessment, and we envision a role for the local communities in carbon measurement.
By Caroline Schwaner, Duke University