Wednesday, August 6

Two forests walled in by the growth of Guayaquil

Sunday, July 27, 2014

One coexists together with the other in between roads, parks, housing developments, wharfs and even mining exploitation.  On one side, one grows fragmented in wasteland or in the high parts of the hills.  The other side, the canopy of its trees rise up along the borders of the branches of the estero Salado (saltwater estuary) as a dense mass of vegetation.

Both are the home of birds such as the Red lored Amazon that in the morning flies in flocks in search of food in the higher parts of the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest and in the evening come down to sleep in the foliage at the foot of the brackish waters of the estuary in Puerto Hondo.  They are the dry forest and mangroves, two ecosystems that in the past dominated the geography of what is today the urban zone of Guayaquil and that coexist divided by the via a la costa, the new axis of growth.

Of the two ecosystems that characterize the natural zones of this city, the dry forest is more fragile because its species of flora grow slower, is easily accessible and is being strangled or fragmented by urban expansion.

A report as part of a consultancy prepared by Eric Horstman, administrator of Cerro Blanco and presented in December 2012 to the Ministry of the Environment, established that the areas that have some type of protection in Guayaquil face threats such as hunting, tree cutting to make furniture or charcoal, the burning of forests to later plant crops and invasions (squatter settlements).

The report identifies the possible impacts such as the construction of new roads that isolate more areas like Cerro Blanco, threatened also by mining due to its proximity to ¨the mine quarries with blasting and the production of dust that affects the flora and fauna¨, according to the report.

Horstman asserts that there lacks awareness in the citizenry about the value of dry forest.  ¨There is the idea that a park should always be green and the types of plants that are used require constant irrigated water, without taking advantage of the surrounding conditions¨, he said.

The dry forest contains species that could be used with tourism value if they are integrated in the green spaces of the city, which would give a distinct character to the metropolis, with the presence of trees such as guayacanes or the pigios, according to Horstman.

He mentions an example of this in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), the city that shelters the Tijuca National Park, and a forest where the Christ Redeemer monument was constructed.

In Guayaquil there are 1,892 hectares of green spaces including traffic dividers, parks, plazas, playing fields, riversides, gardens and cemeteries, according to the municipality.

Another problem is that the ecological functions of both ecosystems have not been made used of for development.  The native trees of the dry forest for example have leaves that end in points so that rainwater drips off gradually, avoiding erosion, says Nancy Hilgert, environmental consultant.  Here what has remained in a natural state I believe has been more of an accident than as an objective, sustains Horstman.

The mangroves on the other hand have the function to act as natural barriers against flooding, affirms Mireya Pozo, a specialist on this ecosystem.

The processes of filling (in the mangrove) to urbanize zones such as el suburbia, isla Trinitaria and Las Malvinas in the south of the city and Urdesa, Mapasingue and La Prosperina in the north, exterminated the largest part of the mangrove forest that 50 years ago had an extension of 655 hectares according to investigations carried out by students of Public Communication of Science and Technology (Department) of the ESPOL (Escuela Superior Politecnica del Litoral).  Pozo says that at least 40% of the city sits on what was formerly mangrove forest, in a scenario decades ago when there was less consciousness of the value of this ecosystem.

Mauricio Velasquez, ex Director of the Environment Department of the Municipality of Guayaquil is concerned about the carrying out of extractive activities near protected areas such as Cerro Colorado, from which gravel, rock and clay are extracted for fill.  They destroy hills leaving 90-degree slopes to take out material to fill the banks; ¨ says Velasquez, referring to rivers such as the Daule, which extends to another of the almost disappearing ecosystems, flooded plains.

The installation of housing developments and wharfs or parks along the riverbanks are carried out without taking advantage of the function of mangroves to control flooding.  This is evidenced in sectors such as Las Malvinas in the south of the city, where the Government constructed a wharf on the edge of the estuary and planted trees from another ecosystem for ornamental purposes.

Discharges to the estuary

In addition, another threat remains to be resolved, the discharge of domestic and industrial residual water to the estuary that affects the mangrove ecosystem.  There are complaints that the treatment plants for sewage in the housing developments in the via a la costa do not function in an adequate manner, ¨ says Velasquez.

The felling of trees and fill affects the flow of water that these trees need.  This stress makes the mangroves susceptible to pests¨, he added.

The falling down of mangrove trees in distinctive points of the city is evidence that they are sick although there are a lack of studies to verify the causes of this phenomena, concur Hilgert and Horstman.

Perfecto Yagual, head of the park guards of the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest, one of the last remnants of the dry ecosystem that skirts the western part of the city has observed how the natural areas have been transformed.  He arrived in the zone of the via a la costa in 1958 coming from Libertador Bolivar, in Santa Elena.  He says that at that time, the dry forest began to compete with pastures in the farms that were foreign owned, such as the Hacienda Palobamba.  Despite the pastures, peccaries, birds and deer where seen along the borders of the highway.  Now one has to go into the higher areas to see them¨, says Yagual, who remembers when it was common to see in the streets of Guayaquil the sale of fruits such as caimito, which was extracted from the forest.

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