“Our Oceans Our Future”

#WorldOceansDay

Happy World Oceans Day!

At Playa Viva (“Living Beach”) it’s in our name to keep our coast and ocean healthy, alive, and thriving. Our oceans are essential to life as we know it on the planet: 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean, they help regulate our climate, provide a significant portion of our food, as well as a number of economic, cultural and recreational benefits.

When the owners bought Playa Viva’s land, it was heavily degraded: the coastal lagoon once replete with mangroves was dried up and mangroves were slashed and burned by cattle ranching and monoculture agriculture. Much of the coastal forest ecosystem that once protected the coastline and supported marine life was in a precarious state.

Playa Viva has been working to reverse that through a number of regenerative practices.

LA TORTUGA VIVA

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Some of the members of LTV

La Tortuga Viva (LTV) is one of our longest standing initiatives. LTV began in 2001 (before we were even here!) through a SEMARNAT (Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources) initiative to combat illegal turtle poaching in Mexico. The camp was started by members from the local community, many of whom were once sea turtle poachers themselves, and have since become conservationists. Playa Viva has been working with this sanctuary since 2007, providing them financial support and extra streams of revenue through the tourism brought by the hotel. We’ve been focusing even more energy on the camp with a new role: Turtle Sanctuary Coordinator.

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“I’ve been working with the turtle camp the past 4 months and although I have several projects from relocating the sanctuary to supporting the camp permit renewal process, most of my time has been dedicated to capacity building with the local volunteers. Through relationship building, frequent group meetings, and new communication channels like WhatsApp groups, many internal camp issues, that have hindered the volunteers’ quality of work, are now being addressed. Some positive steps have included empowering some of the younger volunteers to share and implement their ideas for improving the operations of the camp, and therefore sharing responsibilities so that all tasks don’t fall on one person. The goal of my role is to support the camp volunteers so they can manage themselves, without relying outside assistance. Slowly but surely we are moving in the right direction!” – Lissett Medrano, former policy coordinator at Conservation International

Right now this position is not funded. We would love to secure funding for this important role as it is essential for improving conservation management capacity. To donate to this important initiative visit our page on LTV (OR donate to our Indiegogo Campaign!), where we receive tax-deductible donations through our fiscal sponsor, The Ocean Foundation.

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Turtle volunteers transplanting nests into the hatchery

PARTNERSHIP WITH COSTA GRANDE COSTA LIMPIA

More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year. Plastic pollution not only kills and harms marine life, damages and alters habitats, and has substantial negative impacts on local economies, but it also poses a great threat to human health. As plastic debris floats in the seawater and decomposes into microplastics, it absorbs other pollutants that are highly toxic, which have a wide range of adverse health effects. When fish and other marine species eat these plastic pieces, the toxins are absorbed into their body and passed up the food chain and ultimately passed onto our dinner planets.

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Photo Credit: Costa Grande, Costa Limpia

To combat this issue, in addition to the regular beach cleanup we do with La Tortuga Viva, we’ve partnered with Costa Grande Costa Limpia in their effort to clean up the beaches of Costa Grande in Guerrero and run campaigns about the importance of keeping our oceans healthy and free of plastic (80% of the waste found on beaches is exclusively plastic). Their objective is to improve the health of Guerrero’s coastline, to develop jobs for Costa Grande communities and to grow the regional economy through tourism. Villagers from each municipality undergo rigorous training so that they can perpetuate this effort, take care of their environment and change their own consumption habits.

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Costa Grande Costa Limpia brigades finishing for the day at Playa Viva

We hosted several brigades here at Playa Viva, who have collected numerous bags of plastic and other debris–large and small–from our town’s beaches and lagoon. We are overly grateful to have such an important partner in ocean health and conservation!

MANGROVE RESTORATION

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Mangrove restoration area

It has been estimated that in some areas of the world 70-90% of commercial fish species directly rely on mangrove ecosystems. Mangrove forests act as nurseries to many species of fish, crab, shrimp, and mollusk. These fisheries form an essential source of food for thousands of coastal communities around the world.

The dense root systems of mangrove forests also trap sediments flowing down rivers, which stabilizes the coastline and prevents erosion. These trees also filter sediments, protecting coral reefs and seagrass meadows (which are important feeding grounds of our beloved sea turtle!).

For many years mangroves were negatively (and are still!) impacted by the tourism industry. At Playa Viva, we are one of few tourism operations in the world actively restoring the mangrove ecosystem through the revenues generated by the hotel.

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Jose Vargas “Chenca” – the employee who spearheads all of our onsite mangrove restoration work!

At the start of our mangrove restoration project, we engaged with the local community about the importance of mangroves, who didn’t see much use to them other than firewood. They even used to cut some of the root systems down as they were seen as a nuisance when they went fishing in the lagoon and their nets got caught on the roots.

We have different areas of mangrove restoration at work on our property. Some areas we are letting nature take its course, in others we’re practicing an accelerated natural selection. We’ve opened waterway channels to restore the natural flow of the lagoon, created shade to shade out invasive species, planted mangrove saplings, and actively removed invasive species that would otherwise prevent mangroves from flourishing.

We’ve just begun phase two of the coastal lagoon restoration project and opened up a new area for mangrove restoration. We are currently looking for investors to help continue this important effort!

SEAFOOD SUSTAINABILITY

jaquorylunsford-11Playa Viva has just begun its first seafood sustainability assessment. The goal for food sourcing at Playa Viva is to provide transparency in our menus, build strong relationships with local providers, and use ingredients that are seasonal, organic and just.

Accordingly, with my role as Social & Environmental Impact Officer, I’m tasked with ensuring we’re doing all these things! When I first arrived at Playa Viva, I received a lot of questions such as, “Was this fish caught today? Did you purchase this from a local fisher? Is this seafood sustainable?” I honestly didn’t have the answers, so I began to investigate. My first stop was to talk with one of our conservation partners Katherina Audley, from Whales in Guerrero Research Project, an amazingly passionate woman who has fished for two decades in the area and actively working to promote a healthy ocean here in Guerrero.

I have been receiving a ton of support on this project from Romain, a “volunteer” with a lot of great experience. Romain came to Playa Viva to work on this project after having worked on a number of conservation and development projects in fishing communities in Africa and Asia, most recently with the FAO’s FishAdapt project in Myanmar. He has spearheaded the project, tracing where the hotel’s seafood is coming from, investigating local fishing regulations and ensuring that we are purchasing seafood that is socially and ecologically sustainable. The next stage of the project is to work with hotel management and local fishing cooperatives to source fish locally and directly from small-scale producers in order to support the local economy and regenerate healthy fisheries.

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Romain in Cayacal, meeting with local fishermen

A healthy ocean is integral to live in the coastal ecosystem of which Playa Viva is apart. We honor and celebrate the fragile strength and limited bounty of the oceans today, especially the delicate balance that people and the ecosystem must maintain in order to reverse the decline and regenerate this vital ecosystem.

 

Turismo Sustentable – Playa Viva

Los invitamos a ver este vídeo producido por Oliver Velazquez sobre el tema de Turismo Sustentable y como Playa Viva esta haciendo su parte en promover biodiversidad, la comunidad local, energía y agua renovable y limpia y turismo “deluxe” que atrae la gente local y extranjera para el beneficio de la comunidad y el medio ambiente.

Disfruta. De lo poco que publicamos en español, me da gusto tener programas como este.

MANGROVE RESTAURATION AND CLIMATE FLUXUATIONS AT PLAYA VIVA

This year a heavy draught hit most of Mexico and was especially strong at the pacific cost. Here at Playa Viva we got at the most five mild rains through all the season, our north lagoon got dry for the first time, according to people that have lived in the area or the last sixty years.

This draught is an example of how we must increasingly take climate change into account while undertaking the ecosystem restoration projects at Playa Viva. Less rain this year meant less inland water running into the ocean. While this would normally create a difficult growing environment for our new plants, there is at least one example of an unexpected benefit.

The sandbar between Playa Viva’s estuary and the ocean didn’t open as wide as it normally would and it closed earlier in the year. This meant more water stayed in the estuary, bringing much-needed moisture to the lower part of the land where we have many newly-planted trees, including mangrove seedlings trying to take root. Hopefully this unexpected benefit of extra water will enable the mangroves and other new plants to get a strong healthy start so that they can thrive even in the heavy down pours and heavy currents that will come when this draught finally does break.

Mangroves at Playa Viva

Three types of Mangroves grow in México: Rhizophora, Avicennia, Laguncularia and Conacarpus.  Though Conacarpus is not strictly speaking a mangrove, it is so interrelated in the ecosystem it warrants inclusion in the category

Initially in playa viva there were only Laguncularia (white mangroves), and Concarpus (button mangrove), but after more then one year of working with the ecosystem, I was able to add Rhizophora (red mangrove) and Avicennia (Black mangrove).  I found both species in near by estuaries and introduce them in the wetlands restoration program of Playa Viva.

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button mangrove 

 

 The Mangroves are an extremely valuable part of the Playa Viva ecosystem—in every stage of their growth cycle.  Mangrove leaves are an important source of food for a vast array of life in the estuary system.  When the leaves fall into the water, before decomposing, they become habitat of bacteria that get eaten by Protozoa and microfungi and this by crustacean and so on.  Thus a whole chain of life starts that, together with the costal reef system, is responsible for two thirds of all aquaculture in the tropics.  

Mangroves also offer valuable protection for the estuary banks against erosion, hurricanes, storms and tides and excessive salinization of the land.  The trees also offer habitat to many species of birds, insects, mammals and amphibious.

Yet these trees are also very vulnerable and have become increasingly in danger of extinction in Mexico and throughout the world.  Mangroves are destroyed mainly by discharge of Chemical contaminants, drainage, and by cutting them to build waterside developments.  There are currently around 2,191,233 acres of Mangroves in Mexico with more than 54,364 acres being destroyed every year.

In Playa viva we are restoring and preserving 125 acres, The United Nations determined that the environmental services of 1 acre is around 300,000 US dollars per year.

The real question here is: How can we develop the land while also restoring and preserving our valuable mangrove system?

 

Was that a flamingo??

Roseate Spoonbill“I think I see a flamingo!” While we have many amazing species of birds migrating through Playa Viva every year, flamingos are not among them. Yet on my last visit to the land, several of us spotted the tell-tale pink feathers and long pink legs on a bird and wondered what could it possibly be.

Turns out is was a Roseate Spoonbill. This species is unmistakable once you know how to identify it. It is 80cm tall, with a 120cm wingspan. It is long-legged, long-necked and has a long, grey spatula bill. Adults have a bare greenish head, white neck, breast and back, and are otherwise a deep pink.

There is not much data about their migration but they travel along the Pacific Coast and nest in the mangroves during the season when the marshes are shallow.

Sadly these beautiful birds are becoming increasingly rare. They are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and they are often hunted for food along the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Restoring the estuary of Playa Viva will offer them, along with many other endangered birds and other animals, a safe habitat.

“Playa Viva exceeds my expectations in every way!”

Mangrove Germinating on Shores of Estuary at Playa Viva

Fielding calls about Playa Viva from all over the U.S., I’m meeting a lot interesting, visionary people. Even among this group there was something special about the landscape contractor / designer from Utah I met last month. She was so inspired by what she saw on our website that she basically decided to jump on a plane and come down the next week to see the project for herself.

Long interested in buying vacation property in Mexico but daunted by the headache of individual ownership in a foreign country, she said that Playa Viva was just what she’d been searching for. This was opportunity to enjoy a beautiful natural environment with her family, meet new like-minded people but most importantly do something real to help the environment.

Describing herself to be on the “radical side of environmentalism,” she said she often gets frustrated with development projects that try to “green wash” buyers, calling themselves sustainable just because they do slightly less damage to the environment than others.

As we walked the trails of the land with permaculture designer Odin Ruz she saw first-hand what regenerative development looks like. After releasing tiny turtles into the ocean we made our way through the palms to the estuary. Bending over new seedlings of endangered mangroves sprouting on the banks, she had a look of awe on her face. “You all are really doing it,” she said. “This project exceeds my expectations in every way.”

Seeds of connection

As the Director of Sales I have the privilege of seeing the project come to life from a various angles—getting to know the architect and his amazing plans for building tree houses, tip-toeing through delicate, newly planted mangrove seedlings on the banks of the estuary to setting a tiny turtle on the sand and watching it make it’s first steps toward the ocean.

But for me what really makes this project come to life are the people.  From the fascinating conversations I’ve been having with prospective buyers from all over the US and beyond, to the gradual familiarity I’m gaining with members of the local community.   Playa Viva is about connecting and finding common ground in deep and unexpected ways.

Over the past week this has meant taking an early morning walk on the beach with a group of elderly Mexican women in Juluchuca and realizing that though we come from different generations and different cultures (not to mention the formative language barrier), we were not so different.  As we walked we talked about our shared love of cooking, sharing recipes and stories of family and friends.

Several hours later I was in Troncones greeting a group of prospective buyers and supporters of Playa Viva.  Another fascinating group.  There were surfers from Southern California, two lively women from San Francisco, a landscape architect from Utah and a Canadian Yoga instructor.  Thanks to Playa Viva  we were not just meeting in passing but exploring the land together and sitting down to shared meals, allowing conversation to flow and time to make real connections.

Looking back on my week I realize that this is a very important (though easily overlooked) aspect of our project.  We are creating an especially fertile environment for communication—bridging the distance between people and cultures—to see what takes root.