Thursday, January 15, 2015

Update from the Field: Water Security and Ecotourism on Old Providence Island, Colombia

F2F volunteers Femke Oldham & Matt Freiberg are currently in Colombia on a flex assignment. Here they share some of their experiences so far from their trip:

We are stationed in the archipelago of San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina Islands in the western Caribbean. These islands are Colombian territory; however, they represent a melting pot of Latin American and Caribbean cultures. We are working with the native island community, called the Raizal, who are descendants of African slaves brought over by European settlers about 200 years ago. The primary language of the Raizal is a type of creole, and most people also speak Spanish and Standard English.

F2F volunteers, Femke Oldham and Matt Freiberg on
the "Peak"
We completed a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment in 2013 on San Andres Island, where we worked with an association of posadas nativas (native-run inns) to improve food and water security through rainwater harvesting system expansion and organic farming workshops. This year, we are stationed on Isla Providencia, known by the natives as Old Providence Island, the more remote and much less developed sister to San Andres. We are completing rainwater harvesting audits and analyses similar to those we conducted on San Andres in order to advise the owners of the small posadas nativas about ways to reduce their use of unreliable and expensive surface water and instead harvest more rain—a relatively free, high quality, and abundant source of water on the island. The long-term goal is for these posadas nativas to be more self-sufficient and resilient to the impacts of climate change.

To date, we have completed the first four of our assessments, which include measuring the available catchment areas (rooftops) and taking stock of existing gutters, downspouts, and storage tanks, which range from 50-gallon barrels to 25,000-gallon cement cisterns built underground below the posadas (imagine a flooded basement). So far, our common recommendations are for posada owners to install additional storage tanks, gutters to transfer rainwater to their existing cisterns, or to plumb their existing cisterns to feed their showers and toilets. We are also making more simple recommendations such as installing screens over open water sources to prevent mosquitoes and stronger gutter-downspout connections. We are working on individualized reports for each posada to help the owners incorporate these enhancements and design a system that will meet their specific needs.

Femke speaks with a posada owner during a rainwater
Additionally, we are assisting our host organization, the Providence Foundation, with the design and initial implementation of a management plan for The Peak Natural Regional Park (known more simply as “Peak”). Peak rises 360 meters above sea level and is the tallest point on Old Providence Island. This stunning landscape represents a dry forest ecosystem and is the source of the majority of the island’s groundwater. It has been the centerpiece of the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve since 2001. Yesterday, we hiked to the top of Peak with the help of Karen Livingston, a native island ecotourism guide, to identify potential opportunities for maintaining and expanding the trail system and interactive elements along the way.

We found an abandoned vivero (plant nursery) and learned that it had been actively managed by local Raizal farmers to restore and maintain forested areas along the Peak trails until funding from the local environmental protection agency dried up. We will likely incorporate a plan to revive this nursery into our strategic planning document. More specifically, we are looking into the potential for volunteer maintenance of the nursery or linking with the local secondary school.

From left to right: Matt Freiberg, Octavio Mow from the
Providence Foundation, local guide Karen Livingston, and
Femke Oldham
The aim would be to have tourists who hike in the regional park have the opportunity to visit the nursery, learn about the native plants, and install a plant along the trail as they ascend the Peak. We will know more about the viability of this initiative once we receive the results of a stakeholder survey we helped design that is currently being administered by Raizal ecotourism guides who specialize in community relations.

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