WHSRN designation helps communities in Colombia

Written by Meredith Gutowski/WHSRN

There are nine communities comprising approximately 1,000 people within the Iscuandé River delta on the western coast of Colombia. Fishing along the river and collecting mollusks from the mangroves are essential for their subsistence and to the local economy. In a capacity-building workshop coordinated in 2009 by the bird conservation organization Asociación Calidris, the community members identified a lack of basic sanitation as one of the gravest threat to their resources and, in turn, their way of life. During that same time period, the 4,000-hectare (9,880-acre) Delta del Río Iscuandé was designated a WHSRN Site of Regional Importance, further focusing the communities’ attention on the health of the delta for their “avian neighbors” as well. 

The communities made it a priority in the short term to find sanitation solutions that would improve their quality of life and also benefit shorebirds and the delta’s biodiversity. With a grant from the Wetlands for the Future Fund (facilitated by the Ramsar Secretariat, U.S. State Department, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Asociación Calidris worked with fishermen, housewives, teachers, and community leaders to gather baseline diagnostic information on sanitation issues. They also developed educational outreach materials to raise awareness about what individuals could do to help resolve community-wide problems.

Project leaders and communities are now seeing the fruits of their hard work. Environmental conditions and residents’ quality of life within the WHSRN site are improving, and the connection between the two is more tangible than it was just two years ago. Their efforts continue, with goals for building local capacity to implement more technical water treatment solutions and solid waste management.


Western Sandpipers (Calidris mauri) resting at Delta del Río Iscuandé, Colombia. Courtesy of Asociación Calidris

In an article about this project on its website, Asociación Calidris reflects on a few lessons learned that may be insightful to partners at other WHSRN sites. When endeavoring to link an  improvement in quality of life with conservation, it is essential to begin with a diagnostic workshop that allows the community to explain and understand the situation for themselves. Providing an educational process through which to identify and prioritize problems together is key to the success of whatever actions may follow. This approach also enables the project leaders to see and understand the situation from the communities’ perspective and, in turn, be able to better assess and discern appropriate solutions.

Read the full article (in Spanish)

For more information, please contact Patricia Falk (pfalk@calidris.org.co), Education Coordinator, Asociación Calidris, or Fernando Castillo (calidris@calidris.org.co), Director, Asociación Calidris and member of the WHSRN Hemispheric Council.


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