Last year (2013) marked the first time in history where a vehicle could travel from the capital city of Malabo to the rural village of Ureca. With a population of just under 100 people, Ureca was the last remote village of the island. Most inhabitants maintain small subsistence plots and fish the coast for food while others leave the village to find work in nearby Luba or Malabo. With the newly constructed road from Belebu to Ureca the forests of Southern Bioko have been made more easily accessible to tourists, commercial bushmeat hunters and for the transit of commodity goods. With an increase in monetary demand for such goods and a lack of direct employment, it is very likely that hunting will increase in order for the people of Ureca to afford these new commodities. That is unless the people of Ureca can find a sustainable source of income using the surrounding environment.
Southern Bioko holds the last remaining habitats for both the Bioko drill, the critically endangered Pennant’s red colobus and incredibly high levels of biodiversity. Ureca’s position on the coast and its new road could make the village a keystone for conservation efforts or a hub for bushmeat hunting . Therefore it is necessary that we provide the people of Ureca with a positive motive to protect these species from exploitation and hunting. These are the people who are directly affected by how the forest resources will be utilized. They are the ones who will have to make the choice whether to protect their resource or allow it to be exploited. It is up to others including the Drill Project to help the people of Ureca make informed decisions regarding their future and the future of the animals that they share this part of the island with.
On Monday, March 3rd 2014, the Drill Project conducted a conservation workshop for the village of Ureca. The workshop consisted of a powerpoint presentation, community discussion and film screening of “El Proyecto del Mono Dril”. Drill Project friend David Montgomery rented a vehicle in Malabo and drove down the new road being constructed to Ureca. With him he brought a projector, computer, snacks and refreshments along with two Urecan residents who were off attending university. Justin Jay (seen above) hiked up from the turtle research camp of Moaba carrying with him the generator and gasoline.
Tailored specifically to the people of the village the presentation focused on three core points; eco-tourism, sustainability and cooperation. In order to provide the village with sustainable income it was necessary to identify a means of such that would have the least impact on the environment. Eco-tourism was a first choice given the pristine beauty of Southern Bioko. The presentation identified objectives in order to facilitate tourists while acting in a sustainable way. In order for the entire village to be invested in the preservation of wildlife, it was also necessary to communicate the idea of a co-op (cooperatively owned and run business by the village). This would ensure that there was not only a source of income for the village but that this income would be distributed equitably making every inhabitant of the Ureca a potential steward for conservation.
The turnout for the outreach workshop was a great success with most of the adult villagers in attendance including the local military personnel and the president of the village, Epifanio Mualeri. The presentation was well received with many participants of the workshop asking in depth questions about operating as tour guides or offering suggestions on how they could generate more profit.
For fundamental change to take place it is necessary for the people to assume ownership over ideas while taking responsibility for their immediate resources. The project provided this community with the information needed to catalyze this sense of ownership in order to contribute to Bioko’s sustainable economic growth while empowering local citizens.