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Playa de Oro, Ecuador

Playa de Oro is an ICCA nestled in the tropical forests of Ecuador. It is home to an Afro-descendent community of 372 people, whose ancestors bought the territory from a land-owning family in 1869. This transfer of land title followed a period of rebellion, when the recently-emancipated black workers refused to continue labouring in mines owned by the family.

In 1886, the advent of the Mining Code gave way to extensive alluvial mining along the banks of the Santiago and Cayapas rivers, largely led by British and North American companies. In 1893, a mining company began construction of a hydraulic plant in Playa de Oro. As a result, the community members once again found themselves forced to work full-time in support of a mining operation. To avoid the mistreatment that followed, many chose to migrate to the Cayapas, Onzole and Bogotá, with others said to have travelled as far as Barbacoas in Colombia.

It was not until 1895 that the abuses perpetrated by the mining company were reported to the government, and a further 23 years before the company ceased mining activities and turned instead to cultivating rubber tree plantations. However, conflict with the community did not end, and in 1916 a confrontation erupted, fuelled by the company’s ongoing occupation of the Playa de Oro territory, and its failure to honour promises of social development and healthcare.

Finally, in 1938, the company’s concession was terminated and all foreign companies were expelled from the territory. In 1942, the company formally withdrew and transferred the territory back to the community. The success was not long-lived, however, as in 1976 the Santiago River flooded, causing all the community’s official documentation to be lost. In 1980, another mining company entered Playa de Oro and built a mining camp.

In 1995, the community was granted the rights to protect its forest, and has been strengthening its efforts to protect the territory ever since. This complex and painful history has given the community members a strong sense of identity as a free and autonomous people, and a set of values that inform the way they manage their territory to this day.

It is this commitment to autonomy and wise management that enables the community to conserve the territory’s rich biodiversity. Playa de Oro is part of the Chocó area, a biodiversity hotspot. When surveys were conducted in the 1990s, it was found to be home to around 60 endemic bird species and 37% of Ecuador’s mammal species. Resident bird species include the vulnerable Onychorhynchus occidentalis, vulnerable Crax rubra, Pyroderus scutatus, and endangered Ara ambiguus. Mammals include the critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey, white-headed capuchin and howler monkey. Sightings of anteaters and river otters have also occasionally been recorded. Tracks of large cats, including jaguars and pumas, are commonly seen on several trails.

Despite the community’s resilience, the ICCA still faces threats. Extractive activity remains the key concern, with encroachment by prospective miners being an ongoing problem. In order to maintain both their way of life and their territory’s biodiversity, the community is in need of support for social empowerment, technical capacity-building, and partnership-building.

Species statuses are based on the IUCN Red List and were correct as of 23 rd August 2019.

This case study was added to the ICCA Registry on 20th November 2019. It was informed by FIDES. 2018. Ancestral Territory of Playa de Oro - Case study - Portoviejo, Ecuador. The ICCA has been included in the ICCA Registry following a peer-review process facilitated by the Small Grants Program (PPD/GEF/UNDP), in collaboration with the Asociación Latinoamericana para el Desarrollo Alternativo (ALDEA).

This case study was facilitated by the Small Grants Program in Ecuador (PPD/GEF/UNDP – GSI ICCA), in collaboration with the Latin American Association for Alternative Development (ALDEA).

The photographs in this case study are from the Small Grants Program in Ecuador, the collaboration agreement signed with ALDEA indicated that the production, audiovisual, photographic material or generation of documents within the framework of the GSI-ICCA/PPD project are from the PPD.

This case study was originally published by UNEP-WCMC in November 2019. The content was provided by the custodians of this ICCA. The ICCA has been self-declared and has been through a peer-review process to verify its status. More details on this process can be found here. The contents of this website do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of UN Environment Programme or WCMC.