Fishing Plastic: Magdalena River Clean-Up, Colombia

Fundación Proyecto Primates’ mission is working towards the conservation of primates and their habitats in Colombia and northern South America. Their main goal is to protect primates and the ecosystems they live in through research, education, empowering communities and stakeholders, and through local capacity building.

The middle Magdalena River in the Chocó-Magdalena-Tumbes Biodiversity Hotspot is threatened by a dramatic increase in waste, deforestation and degradation of its wetlands, all of which have had an impact on its endangered species such as the brown spider monkey, the blue-billed curassow, the American crocodile, the American manatee, the tiger catfish and the Magdalena river turtle. The project will focus on the direct cleaning of the main lagoons and beaches along the middle Magdalena river basin by organising nine ‘Fishing Plastic’ events over 30-40km. It will work with fishing villages to improve waste management, and run workshops for schools, as well as carrying out some habitat restoration activities including planting 5,000 trees to benefit local primate species.

The Update

Fishing Plastic was a novel and innovative project that allowed us to further support a wider regional conservation program focused on promoting the conservation of endangered species, particularly the brown spider monkey, in the Chocó-Magdalena- Tumbes Biodiversity Hotspot in Colombia.

This project focused on community-based Fishing Plastics clean-up and restoration activities to enhance nature tourism and sustainable development in the area, looking forward to promote harmonious livelihoods. The project worked with three riverside villages: Bocas del Carare, San Rafael de Chucuri and Riberas del San Juan in Santander, Colombia. This initiative promoted the offsetting of negative anthropogenic impacts including deforestation and the deterioration of river and wetland integrity due to an increment in waste (mainly plastics) that affects local biodiversity and their habitats.

In order to communicate the project and gather engagement, house visits were carried out, as well as meetings with community leaders and 3 local governments.  They also held workshops, and placed signs around the village.

In total, 12 clean up events were held, involving 188 people. Groups of 6-7 people left the villages on canoes to navigate the Magdelena river. Plastic was mainly found on beaches, and wood dams of the river when the water level was low.   The events were developed with members of the communities and outdoor enthusiasts visiting the villages. The events were also a key environmental education strategy, to spread awareness of the impact of plastic on biodiversity. 2,619kg of plastic was collected, of which, 96% was recycled. 36km of river was cleaned, some stretches of it a number of times. Items collected were mainly plastic bottles, plastic lids, refrigerator pieces, shoes and toys.

In addition, 12 capacity building workshops were held for adults as part of this project, focussing in particular on ecotourism provision. The creation of waste management systems in 2 of the communities was supported working closely with local recyclers.  As an additional achievement of the project, some attendees of the capacity building workshops formed a group and support the Fishing Plastic activities. Group actions include local clean ups, leading the fishing plastic ecotourism activities in the region, and one of the members now has a family owned recycling venture, buying plastic waste from members of the village and reselling it to local recyclers.

The project designed an Ecological Restoration Course, providing lectures, field trips and hands on experience of land use and their effect on biodiversity, forest disturbances and forest restoration.  Two of the students were then employed for the forest restoration work of the project.

19 workshops were held for children, involving 275 participants. These were used to raise awareness of best practices for reuse and recycling plastic and conserving the brown spider monkeys found near to the villages. The main event was summer camps which lasted between 1 – 4 days. Entrance required the students to bring 5 plastic items as their entrance ticket. The workshops involved puppet shows, games, environmental pledges, crafts and wildlife sights, all designed to reinforce the children’s understanding of the importance of their local forests, the biodiversity and the negative impact of plastic on the habitats.

In total, 3197 trees were planted using 30 different native tree species on 2.5 hectares.  The planting enhanced the habitat of brown spider monkeys and many other unique species by restoring the border of the San Juan river and creating connecting corridors with La Colorada lagoon. Planting took place during 7 events involving 60 people. Five community members were employed.

Covid restrictions, heavy rains and some social unrest affecting Columbia meant that there were some delays and changes in the implementation of the project needed.  Following the end of the project funding from EOCA, Fundación Proyecto Primates will continue to support the plastic recycling program established, expand this towards cattle ranchers and plantations, maintain strategic alliances with NGOs and community leaders, support and manage specialised tourism packages in the region to ensure the projects economic sustainability, and they have secured funds to continue with the restoration efforts in the region. Monitoring and maintenance of the restored areas of forests will continue, and they plan to develop biodiversity monitoring to estimate the broader impact of the restoration efforts.