July 2024 News Update

July is one of the busiest times of the year at the FCAT reserve. Between visiting students, researchers, and FCAT’s year-round activities, the hustle and bustle at the field station during June mirrors the intensity of life happening every day within the forests of the reserve. Though hammock spots can be in short supply, spirits are high. In this newsletter, we’re excited to share updates, including a new overview video, the launch of the Chocó Alliance, and groundbreaking research projects. 

New FCAT Feature Video

We recently published a new ~5 minute overview video of FCAT with long-time friend and ally of FCAT, Luke Cooper, (Spanish Version, English Version). If you’ve been wondering what FCAT has been up to recently, this is a great place to start, and we promise you will be rewarded with some amazing wildlife photography. 

Recently released video feature of FCAT by Luke Cooper

Launch of the Chocó Alliance

We’re proud to be a founding member of the recently-launched Chocó Alliance, alongside an inspirational group of other NGOs and collaborators working to conserve the Chocó, enabling us to pool resources, share knowledge, and amplify our collective impact in protecting this critical ecosystem. @fundacion_ecominga, @tesoro_reserve, @f.greatleaf, @tma.earth, @cedenma.ec, @lookfarconservation

Field Courses

At the end of May, FCAT welcomed the first of two offerings this summer of TIERA’s (Tulane Interdisciplinary Environmental Research & Action Program) study abroad course. Over two weeks, students immerse themselves at the FCAT Reserve, working together with FCAT team members to develop and implement a series of projects spanning ecological, social, and economic issues. Next, in mid-June, a cohort of eight TIERA Scholars arrived at FCAT to conduct independent research projects on topics ranging from land tenure to gender equity to regenerative agriculture. These TIERA Scholars had become interested in their research topics when participating on field courses last year in 2023, and spent the past year preparing for this research experience. Next year, they will write honors thesis before graduating. Interested in joining or supporting the TIERA program? Visit https://tieraprogram.com/ to learn more and apply for upcoming courses.

Research Highlights

The Chocoan Bushmaster Project

In our last newsletter, we gave a brief update on the Chocoan Bushmaster Project with María Elena Barragán and the Fundación Herpetológica Gustavo Orces-Vivarium de Quito. At the FCAT reserve, we are studying the movement and behavior of this rare species to fill critical knowledge gaps and inform conservation strategies. This project also allows FCAT people and other community members to be trained by the expert Dr. María Elena Barragán of the Vivarium of Quito on reptile conservation, how to identify if they are venomous or not, as well as first aid training in case of venomous snake bites.

In what must surely be a first, researchers with the Chocoan Bushmaster project captured a camera trap video of a sloth relieving themselves on the forest floor with a bushmaster close behind! 

To stay up to date, follow the project’s Instagram here!

Video credit to Fundación Herpetológica Gustavo Orces-Vivarium de Quito.

Agriculture-driven deforestation in Ecuador’s Mache-Chindul Ecological Reserve: The farmers’ perspective

Tropical deforestation is a global issue that happens locally. In a recent article, FCAT collaborator Liat Perlin and Amalia Leguizamón detail the results from a series of household surveys around the FCAT Reserve that reveal the complex dynamics driving local decision making and deforestation, including the roles of externally funded-NGOs like FCAT .This work highlights the importance of, and need for, programs like FCAT’s regenerative agriculture project and Environmental Youth Club as alternatives to ‘business as usual’ agricultural practices in the zone. Read the study here.

Global Forest Watch Small Grants – Chocó Forest Watch

FCAT was recently awarded a grant through Global Forest Watch’s Small Grants program for local capacity building and development of a localized deforestation monitoring system for the areas about the FCAT reserve using drone and satellite imagery. Read the full announcement and about the other inspiring projects in our cohort here!

Community Workshops

Storytelling in the Chocó

The FCAT reserve is located within the larger Mache-Chindul Ecological Reserve, which has a long and complex history. Sponsored by National Geographic, Isadora Romero and FCAT’s Ailin Blasco are spearheading a project aiming to understanding the experiences and role of individuals living within the Mache-Chindul Reserve through art. Isadora and Ailin have conducted community workshops to promote knowledge exchange among youths, women, and farmers, creating participatory maps and timelines, sharing their personal experiences of the reserve. The second workshop focused on promoting knowledge exchange through art as a means of expressing and appreciating the natural environment, where the “Mujeres del Chocó” art association taught their block printing technique, and Ailin and Isadora taught basic photography lessons on composition, lighting, and portraits, enabling young attendees to highlight aspects of nature they find most interesting, such as rivers, lagoons, plants, or birds.

FCAT helps build capacity of local communities to conserve local birds and a newly discovered tree species.

As part of FCAT’s community development program, and with the support of EOCA and the Franklinia Foundation, FCAT conducted three workshops in April and May focused on reinforcing and exploring new skills among local farmers. The first workshop, led by FCAT Reserve Director and ornithologist Luis Carrasco, focused on basic birdwatching techniques. Participants learned how to use binoculars, bird guiding techniques, and bird identification. Most importantly, they discovered how they can be key players in the conservation of these threatened birds on their own farms. 

The second workshop, led by forestry director and forest engineer Carlos Aulestia, focused on recently discovered tree species in our reserve’s forests and germination techniques used to protect species on the brink of extinction, such as Cedrela angusticarpa. Finally, under the guidance of Jordan Cruz and Fernando Castillo, the farmers learned about some of FCAT’s ongoing research projects in the region and how this scientific knowledge is applied to conservation and resilience against climate change, such as restoration by nucleation and permaculture. Additionally, FCAT provided donations of native forest tree seedlings to support restoration efforts on the farmers’ land. Participants also received a certificate and a T-shirt as tokens of appreciation for their current and future commitment to developing new projects that combine scientific research with community development.