Participatory Monitoring Workshop: Part 2/3

My penultimate post covered the participatory monitoring workshop I attended the last week of June. Here I will describe our results in the last two days of the meetings.

When dividing the attendees into different groups with assigned topics of discussion, the workshop organizers assigned me as discussion leader of the Resident (Urban and Rural) group, where six or seven of us talked about varied approaches and types of programs.

We started with the rural residents, focusing on farmers since the majority of landowners in the agricultural region of Santa Cruz fit that category, either with coffee, sugarcane, cattle, or other crops. There are countless farms in the area, and only about a dozen of them practice any tourism, but we considered this smaller group the perfect audience for a pilot project, since they should be more interested in completing periodic checklists of focal species that serve as tourist attractions. Guides from cruises or local operators often take groups of tourists up into the highlands to see wild giant tortoises and less common landbird species like the Vermilion Flycatcher, and these few farms offer not only passage in their land (as safe havens for the attractive species) but also their coffee or homebrewed sugarcane rum to the tourists. Some properties even have lava tunnels, one of which I’ve been told by a Hawaiian visitor is even more impressive than the famous Thurston lava tunnel on the other well-known volcanic archipelago of the Pacific Ocean.

The types of data our group considered possible and valuable from and for farmers included climate monitoring (with automated weather stations to be set up on various properties, recording rainfall, temperatures, etc.), the aforementioned species checklists (presence/absence, abundance, location, behavior, etc.), and insect trapping. The latter idea was the one that interested me the most, because one of our group members from the Charles Darwin Research Station told us that some farmers will bring insects they don’t recognize down to the scientists and ask for identification help, since the risk for invasive pests is so high on the islands. This is a very informal thing right now, but my proposed plan was to provide interested farmers with insect traps that they can set out periodically and then bring down to the Station. From there, experts might not only report back to the farmers on their resident insect population but also receive useful samples that might aid in early discovery of invasive species.

Since we can be sure that those involved in agricultural work have the main, constant goal of improving or increasing their harvest, asking them for data that helps scientists build better climatological maps or improve tortoise monitoring based on seasonal changes should be met with cooperation as long as those data are always shared with the farmers. Information that is useful for both parties is the type that will actually be collected in earnest.

A pair of White-cheeked Pintails in a ferny lagoon of a highlands property. Click on the image for a close-up of the plant covering the water.

On that note, our group’s ideas for urban residents were a bit lacking, because we had no clue what the average Puerto Ayoran is interested in learning about. Thus, our proposal was to have an initial meeting to gauge interest and determine what projects would be desirable to the community. A sort of “town hall” setting was recommended to learn what people know and what concerns them—shoving projects upon them and asking for participation is unlikely to succeed. Some potential activities included festivals or “bio-blitzes” celebrating certain taxa (such as this Mexican bird festival and this type of bio-blitz) and a program similar to Celebrate Urban Birds. Another group focusing on “sustainable society” drafted an improved trash reduction/collection project and a water-monitoring program for residents, since water quality is quite poor here.

As I continue to review my notes, I’m sure I’ll find more interesting aspects of the workshop to share, so I’ll leave those for my final update!

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