Protecting El Culebrón and its Community

Since August of 2018,  Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Áridas (CEAZA) has dedicated itself to organizing and implementing various activities related to the coastal wetlands in El Culebrón. The organization wants to protect the area because of its biodiversity and benefits to the community.

The Culebrón is a beautiful urban wetland close to schools and neighborhoods in Coquimbo, Chile. Yet, despite its proximity, the area is rarely visited by the local community because of issues like contamination, abandonment, and deterioration. Fortunately, CEAZA received support from various organizations in the region and a mini-grant from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to improve the situation by integrating different groups within the El Culebrón community.

CEAZA then became the leader in increasing wetland conservation efforts of the local community, schools, artists, families, local leaders, organizations and institutions and representatives of the local government. Their achievements have been amazing!

(Photo © CEAZA)

The activities CEAZA has organized began with children of different ages and their teachers. The plan was to learn about the local birds and their conservation while taking into account the wetland’s environmental issues. In addition, the hope for the future was to incentivize concrete action and effective leadership by the same children and their teachers. The organization first visited various schools to establish connections and create workgroups and inform them of the project. The children enjoyed drawing birds, which helped them learn more about them and their habitats.

Later, there was an outing to observe birds in the patio of the work/school center of Jean Piaget, using binoculars. Working with binoculars was very interesting because, after learning how to use them correctly, the children were able to identify birds by their markings. Days later, a video conference took place between Jean Piaget’s students and Cornell Lab of Ornithology personnel. This was very exciting for the students who were able to communicate their interest in birds and share the discoveries they had made in their outings.

Later, the children and teachers of the Jean Piaget and Juan Sandoval Carrasco schools visited the El Culebrón wetlands. Here, they observed that the area was affected by trash contamination, but also saw that there were birds living in the area. In addition, they visited the protected area where they learned about the plants living in the area. With this new information, the students were able to form their own conclusions about the area and what they could do to help it. They came up with the idea of creating artistic posters promoting the environmental conservation of the wetlands. The result was absolutely stunning! The students decorated the area with their posters and days later, other schools and people of the community visited to see their artwork and learn how they could take care of the wetland as well.

The posters even promoted collaborations with the Waste Foundation, officials of the Chilean Bank and the Colegio del Alba, in which 80 volunteers cleaned up the littered area. After determining the amount of waste that was collected, a meeting was coordinated with the mayor of Coquimbo to inform him of the severity of the situation in the wetlands. The support of the town’s administration was emphasized to help to prevent the use of the wetlands as a waste site and to acknowledge the hazards the public may be exposed to by visiting the area. A plan was also developed to protect the community and the biodiversity in the wetlands. It has since had fantastic results!

A number of the people working to renovate the wetlands were inspired to create a mural in the area to give it more life and color. Many people were excited about this project and began working on it right away. When they finally finished the mural it attracted many from near and far to the area, thereby promoting environmental conservation in an astonishing way.

In another aspect of the project, many organizations donated tools for the clean-up of the wetlands and the installation of artwork promoting its conservation. After the clean-up, the trash was used to create works of art that many could appreciate. What a way to reuse and recycle! The continued efforts of the students and teachers in the area are helping keep the area clean and safe to visit.

Students and teachers of the Centro de Educación y Capaticación de la Universidad Católica del Norte (CEDUC), donated machinery and visited the area to take pictures of the results of all the hard work.

Finally, a closing ceremony was held to recognize all the hardworking individuals involved in this project. Each student received a diploma and each school received an artistic certificate. After sharing the experiences of working on the project, schools now use the area more frequently to maintain the students’ interest in environmental conservation. The organizations that were a part of the process continue to monitor the area. Moreover, students from the Universidad de Chile who are studying environmental engineering visit the area as an example of habitat improvement and coastal wetland urbanization. Projects like this should become more prominent because they bring communities together and create a conscience for conservation. Children can help make our earth greener!

 

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