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New Valuation for Defying Degradation: Visualizing Mangrove Forest Dynamics and Local Stewardship with Remote Sensing in Coastal Ecuador

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Abstract/ Summary

Coastal mangrove forests have been undervalued and converted to other uses throughout the developing world for almost half a century. The causes and consequences of mangrove deforestation have been well-documented; however fewer studies have examined the political factors contributing to conservation and the social dimensions of habitat restoration. We combine remote sensing analysis with ethnographic research to quantify patterns of mangrove cover change between 1985 and 2014, and to qualitatively explore local observations and testimonies of conflict over resources in the Jambelí Archipelago, Ecuador. Our results reveal that shrimp aquaculture was a pervasive force shaping spatiotemporal patterns of mangrove cover change from 1985 to 1999. Thereafter, trends of deforestation decelerated to reveal signs of recovery in some locations due to new policies, institutional transformations at multiple levels, and local commitment to community mangrove reforestation. Our research suggests that sustained local commitment to stewardship emerged from local discontent with historically ineffective policies that permitted a struggle between artisanal fishers and shrimp farmers over resources and territory. This context shaped the evolution of policy and provided a ripe environment for successful community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) in 2000 when the Ecuadorian government began granting collective stewardship rights to artisanal fishers and other “ancestral user groups” for mangrove conservation. We conclude that the state’s empowerment of artisanal fishers with resource rights served as a critical turning point toward more socially just policies with transformative impacts on previously degraded mangrove landscapes.



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