At the Threshold of a Sustainable Future

Ecuador Eco-Gathering Report #7
San Francisco, California

It’s a few days after the vernal equinox in San Francisco, a date when the equal length of days and nights is the same here as it is all year in Ecuador. How remarkable to find anything similar to what happened there just three weeks ago.

The festivities for Bahia de Caraquez’s Declaration as a “Ciudad Ecologica” (Ecological City) — included here as an attachment — and the first International Mangrove Day took place February 27-28. Here are some quick sketches that shone through the blur of transforming events.

A parade of at least six triciclos painted green with signs proclaiming “Bienvenidos a Bahia Eco-Ciudad” carrying event organizers to a presentation at the combined workers union hall. The organization’s president announced endorsements by both his local and the province-wide labor group.

A morning of public panels and talks on various ecological projects and ideas followed by crowded afternoon workshops where participants included activists, businesspeople, government agency staffers, and many ordinary citizens. In one of these it became instantly clear that there needed to be a new organization capable of containing all of their perspectives when a woman facilitator drew a large circle on the blackboard titled “Eco-ciudad” and then put circles inside it whose labels translated “city government-legal” and “community-moral.” It was astonishing to see the vice-mayor nod vigorously in agreement, thereby publicly conceding that city bureaus weren’t capable on their own of carrying out needed changes toward sustainability.

The mayor standing alongside as Flor Maria unveiled the new plaque at the entrance to City Hall proclaiming “Ciudad Ecologica” status to a crowded circle of local government representatives and townspeople. There were emotional eye-to-eye smiles and relieved congratulations between members of the core group who had fought like a band of samurai for this moment.

An intensely formal declaration ceremony inside the full municipal theater. A uniformed chorus sang Ecuador’s national anthem (followed by another song that may have been the canton or province song). Then a tuxedo-wearing announcer with a stentorian voice announced the program, read some of the congratulatory letters that had been received from places like Barcelona, and announced speakers. The mayor stated the need to counter worldwide ecological destruction. Ecuador’s Environment Minister Yolande Kakabadse explained the significance of a recent government acquisition of Amazonian rainforest as a protected area, and Dario enumerated local ecological projects.

For reasons that still remain unclear, I was invited onto the stage at the beginning to sit with these dignitaries and others such as the vice-mayor, the Ecuadoran Navy Captain of the Port, the head of the city council, Flor Maria, and the reigning beauty queen of Canton Sucre. It was almost cinematic to silently view the proceedings and pick out audience members who had been main performers in the creation of this event such as Patricio, Nicola, the director and many members of Stuarium Foundation, Kogo, Mother Monica, and Keibo Oiwa with his group of eight Japanese women college students who were the most radiant example of working eco-tourists that I have seen. When the announcer finally read the official “Ciudad Ecologica” by-law that had been enacted, I felt my arms go up in the air in exultation. The reception that followed in the theater foyer was nearly jubilant, and the crowd exited into an outdoor show of standing exhibits featuring PMRC projects, the organic farm at Rio Muchacho, and the proposed Cerro Seco tropical forest restoration and interpretation center. 

Planting rows of red mangrove seed-pods in the tidal mudflats after a boat ride on Rio Chone and a knee-high slog through gray river-bottom ooze. An intrepid press corps came all the way with a hundred or so of us, popping photos of Yolande Kakabadse and others wearing mud-streaked new t-shirts that had been made to commemorate International Mangrove Day. Motohiko Kogo, the poetic wizard of mangrove reforestation, explained to me why certain previously planted seedlings grew well and others failed, how various depths of water and currents affected different varieties of mangroves, and why these variations made every planting an experiment. Three women from Actmang’s reforestation project in Esmeraldes worked so fast at planting mangrove rows that it was obvious a new craft had been born.

Anja Light ignoring her flu to debut the song she composed for this time, “Celebrate! Regenerate! Mangrove Bringer of Life” in Spanish and English, first in a folk style accompanying herself on guitar and then with both rock and jazz musicians. On the sidewalk in front of city hall with an audience overflowing into the street, young hip-hoppers jumping up and down and townspeople passing around bottles of rum and cana.

There were too many events in this long weekend for anyone to see them all. I missed a symbolic tree-planting, the opening of the new recycling program at the mercado, and more that I didn’t even know were taking place. Too much going on is probably the best gauge for knowing that history is being made.

There is a new organization, Centro de Educacion Ambiental Eco-Bahia (Eco-Bahia Learning Center), which is intended to fill the need for a broadly-based group that represents the entire community. It is acquiring nonprofit status and has authorized Planet Drum Foundation to initiate proposals regarding assistance and funding from various national and international sources. Outside help is required because Ecuador’s already fragile financial status has recently declined into a full-blown economic crisis and hopes for internal aid are unrealistic. This is an opportunity for people and groups everywhere to combine disaster relief with development funding in a way that creates an ecologically sustainable future for Bahia de Caraquez. The result can be a model for other bioregions throughout the world.

If you can help or know contacts for possible assistance, this is the time to get involved. Please contact Planet Drum’s website at for further information, or email to let us know how you can help. (Go to “International Bioregional Groups” under “Links” to access addresses for getting in direct contact with some active groups in Bahia.)