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March's Shoreline Spotlight
March 14, 2018

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March's Shoreline Spotlight

A monthly submission from the Marine Resources Task Force

The world is falling apart, civil wars rage across the globe and it isn't safe to leave home. Well, that is the way it seems when you watch cable TV news. But peace does break out. No one can appreciate peace like a country that has experienced a prolonged civil war. Peace doesn't make the news. I started writing this story from the Pereira airport in Colombia, you know, the Colombia of kidnappings, FARC gorillas and the drug lords of Medellin. Colombia today is more about bicycles, beaches and birds. We signed up for a week long birding trip as a way of seeing the country and supporting the fledgling birding industry. We went to the southern part of Colombia, to the part that was unsafe for decades due to the activities of FARC. Brave politicians have taken the bold step of forgiveness and disarmed FARC. That allowed us to come and gawk at some of the 1,903 (and counting) species of birds that can be found in Colombia including hundreds of species of iridescent, color shifting hummingbirds.

Colombia has a very complex geology, with a series of tall mountains close to the equator. This complex geography creates many unique ecosystems that host different bird species groups, and also provided cover for gorillas and drug lords.

Our trip started in the southern provincial city of Cali. We were driven up a canyon outside of town, turned off on a dirt road, past the large weekend homes of Cali's well to do and parked. Even before we stepped out of the car, we spotted large and colorful motmots with their long racquet tails and patchwork colors. We walked along a dirt road, immersed in a cloud forest packed with wild orchids, lush green foliage and, of course, birds. After lunch we took a short drive in a different direction to a unique ecosystem with different bird species.

Every day we explored a different ecosystem with different bird species groups, including tropical coastal plains, fresh water lagoons and hills in the shadow of a snow covered and active volcano at over 14,000 feet elevation. The variety of colors, shapes and sizes of these birds was truly extraordinary, as was the enthusiasm and expertise of our guide.

We booked with Colombia Birdwatch run by Christopher Colonje, an energetic advocate for Colombia's birds. Our guide, Giancarlo Ventelini, is an experienced and enthusiastic guide. They are part of a group of competent and enthusiastic young people eager to demonstrate the sustainable economic benefits that can be gained by encouraging responsible eco and recreational tourism. We bumped into guides and their customers at reserves and hotels around southern Colombia, hauling birders, bikers, photographers and tourists.

We occasionally observed birds that are common to our island, but rarer in Colombia. Fort Myers Beach has our groups of entrepreneurial people who are keen on bringing sustainable economic and conservation benefits that come with ecotourism, and responsible recreational tourism. The people of Colombia have suffered from deep divisions in their society and are working to create a lasting peace for their mutual benefit, and some are dedicating themselves to preserving what is unique and valuable. We have our divisions as well, driven by a passion for our island, and the understanding of the value in keeping it civil.

There are U.S. State Department advisories for parts of Colombia, mostly in areas that border Venezuela and Ecuador. We did not visit those areas and never felt unsafe or threatened. We were either with a local guide or in a tourist area during our visit. The biggest risk we perceived was a guy selling warm oysters out of a bucket on a beach near Cartagena. The State Department didn't warn us about warm oysters. We didn't try them.

- By Bill Veach, Chair of the Marine Resources Task Force

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