The blue crab – will Ecuadorians manage to save it?

Niebieski krab

The blue crab is a representative of a species that was once common in the lush mangrove (mangrove) forests along the Esmeraldas coast in Ecuador, but is now threatened with extinction. Will it be possible to save the crustaceans, which are an important part of the local ecosystem, economy and culture?

Esmeraldas coast shelters blue crab

The Esmeraldas coast is located in the northwestern part of Ecuador, near the border with Colombia. The mangroves found in the area provide shelter for many species of plants and animals, including blue crabs, which are not only a source of food but also part of the local culture. Cardisoma crassum, with its distinctive blue shell, orange belly, red legs and white pincer, usually feeds on mangrove leaves and locally occurring vegetation. This species, which has a terrestrial lifestyle, prefers water margins and muddy tree roots in which it digs burrows, while it spawns in estuaries and oceans.

As it turns out, the activities of local communities, which have been carried out very intensively in recent years, have become destructive to the population of these animals. Deforestation and indiscriminate shrimp farming have led to the destruction of 25 to 90 percent. Ecuador’s mangrove forests by province. Also, pollution from the intensive shrimp industry, such as fertilizers and antibiotics, threatens delicate mangrove ecosystems, the health and well-being of local communities, and the habitat and reproductive processes of blue crabs. These activities have proven so destructive that the species is now considered endangered, with a noticeable population decline since the 1980s. In the 1970s.

If the mangroves disappear, so will the blue crab

The community of Esmeraldas province has recognized the problem and is trying to counter it. Luna Creciente and the Union of Peasant Organizations of Esmeraldas (UOCE) have taken steps to protect blue crabs, including education on the importance of observing seasonal fishing bans. The bans, which are imposed twice a year, are designed to protect the blue crab population during key periods of their life cycle, such as courtship and moulting times.

The first ban on trapping blue crabs is in effect from January to February, when the animals are preparing for courtship and mating. The second takes place between August and September, which is when the crabs grow and shed their too-small armor (moulting). What’s more, the local community knows that it can’t fish for female crabs and individuals with carapace lengths of less than 19.05 cm, and follows these guidelines very closely.

In addition to protecting blue crabs, measures are being taken to take care of the mangrove forests. As it turns out, in the northern part of Esmeraldas province, where the mangrove ecosystem is in better condition than in the south, restoration work has already been undertaken. In cooperation with 66 local communities, plants are being planted in areas destroyed by shrimp farms. Their goal is to reforest 400 hectares of land and protect 15,000. hectares of mangroves, which will give blue crabs conditions that increase their chances of survival.

Ecuador’s mangrove forests have also become a site for research. Researchers from Universidad Espíritu Santo, Stanford University, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Environmental Defense Fund have looked at changes in carbon dioxide and methane storage in revitalized mangroves. They monitor carbon and methane levels before and after restoration to assess the impact of ecosystem restoration on its ability to absorb greenhouse gases. The research also includes analysis of water quality and biodiversity.This holistic approach will allow a better understanding of how mangroves respond to environmental changes and assess the overall health of the restored ecosystem.

Blue crab is a symbol of culinary culture

The people of Esmeraldas province promote blue crabs as a symbol of their unique culinary culture. In 2018. The aforementioned Luna Creciente and UOCE organizations have petitioned for the recognition of blue crabs by the global organization Slow Food International, which seeks to prevent the disappearance of local cultures and culinary traditions. One of the organization’s priorities is to raise awareness through the development of the Ark of Taste, which is a catalog of sustainably produced products that are in danger of disappearing, but have exceptional taste and are part of the heritage of a specific region in the world.

Another tool is the development of Slow Food Presidia, projects that aim to maintain high-quality food production processes that preserve tradition while respecting soil, water, animal welfare and biodiversity. In the case of crabs, this means that the entire harvesting process is protected and the community is more involved in ensuring sustainable harvesting. Surrounding residents are already feeling the positive changes of the measures taken. The recovery of species, such as the blue crab, and their habitat is enabling the development of tourism, and providing new income opportunities for women in Esmeraldas province. In addition to selling blue crab meat, they may offer tourists dishes with flavors they won’t find in any other part of the country, such as encocado, a coconut stew with crab meat.

The projects initiated in recent years play an important role, as they not only protect blue crabs and their natural habitat, but also support the local economy by promoting sustainable fishing practices and eco-tourism. Although earthquakes, floods and the El Niño phenomenon continue to exacerbate the difficulties of protecting blue crabs and their habitat, the action taken is extremely important. Not only for biodiversity, but also for the future of local communities that depend on these ecosystems.

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