If you wonder why I do this, it’s for the women on Chira and the many others like them we work with around the world. Meeting these communities and seeing firsthand how vulnerable they are to the impacts of climate change is a life-changing experience every time, even after more than a decade working on these issues. Using science to make a difference to these people gives me joy and maintains my hope for the future. Emily Pidgeon, Scientist, Conservation International
A few weeks ago I lay awake listening to an iguana cavorting around my room. Earlier that day, I saw him eyeballing me from the roof of my shack and he seemed placid enough. Now he was exceptionally animated and I hoped he was not fond of leaping onto low beds. Yes, iguanas can leap. Surely the mosquito netting would serve as some sort of barrier between us. At dawn, my visitor grew bored and exited through the hole under my bed. It was a long way from quiet nights in my native Colorado, but I was in another magical place -- Chira Island in the Gulf of Nicoya on Costa Rica's Pacific coast.
A few days earlier, I'd hauled my duffle bag off the top closet shelf and tried to remember how to pack. A group of us were en route to visit a conservation project with a women's cooperative on Chira Island. Why Chira? Shortly before the pandemic hit, I approached my friend Maria Wassum at Conservation International and told her that I was adding textile and product design to my art studio but wanted to find a small social justice/conservation initiative to partner with before transitioning the business -- not as an afterthought. Maria introduced me to a small but significant mangrove restoration project on this Costa Rican island, and it was a perfect fit. We now plant a mangrove with each Core Collection silk scarf we sell, but at the outset the pandemic swept away our ability to visit the island in person.
Decades earlier three exceptional Chira natives -- Teodora, Liliana, and Isabel -- understood that the continued decimation of mangroves would obliterate their community's fishing livelihoods. They partnered with several organizations to further educate themselves and their community, and they came up with a solution -- they started to plant mangroves. Click here to read the story of how these amazing women transformed their own lives, their community and retained the sanctity of place.
We arrived at Chira surrounded by soft water, blistering heat, amazing wildlife, and miles of mangroves -- and the passion of these women. To date, this collective has planted more than 12,000 mangroves. Planting a mangrove is not easy under any circumstances, but it is especially draining in these kinds of conditions. Together these women are saving this tiny ecosystem, one mangrove at a time. It was an honor to plant our own mangroves to add to their prodigious efforts. Mangroves are critical to the health of our planet for many reasons:Mangrove forests excel at absorbing and storing carbon from the atmosphere. As the trees grow they take the carbon from carbon dioxide and use it as the building blocks for their leaves, roots, and branches. Once the leaves and older trees die, they fall to the seafloor and take the stored carbon with them to be buried in the soil. This buried carbon is known as “blue carbon” because it is stored underwater in coastal ecosystems like mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and salt marshes. Mangroves make up less than two percent of marine environments but account for 10 to 15 percent of carbon burial. One acre of mangrove forest can store about 1,450 pounds of carbon per year (163 g carbon per square meter per year)—roughly the same amount emitted by a car driving straight across the United States and back (5,875 miles). One study lists global mangrove carbon storage at 75 billion pounds (34 million metric tons) of carbon per year.
We have fallen into a bad habit of thinking that universal problems can only be solved by "important" people. But powerful corporations, high-ranking politicians, huge foundations, and billionaires will not shoehorn us out of our predicaments. Nor can we afford this kind of complacency. These women belong to none of these categories, nor high-flying networks. What they do have is the imagination to think big in their own backyard. This is what we need-- big thinking in small spaces. We all need to be advocates in any way we can, wherever we can. The warmth, perseverance, grace, and creativity of these women will never leave me. Nor will the two-stepping iguana.