Site location and ownership
Located 15 km west of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, the Cerro Blanco Reserve covers some 6,078 ha on the slopes of the coastal Cordillera Chongon Colonche, between 50 and 500 metres above sea level.
The reserve is owned and managed by WLT project partner, Fundación Pro-Bosque (Pro-Bosque), an Ecuadorian non-profit conservation organisation. Pro-Bosque’s aim at Cerro Blanco is to protect and restore a representative sample of the dry tropical forest region and to promote understanding and appreciation of it among local people and visitors.
The importance of the forests at Cerro Blanco was first highlighted by the late Ted Parker of Conservation International, and it was established as a reserve in 1989.
Despite being so close to the bustling city of Guayaquil and a long history of wood-cutting, the Cerro Blanco Reserve is one of the best remaining examples of biodiversity-rich seasonally dry forest in the Tumbesian region of south-west Ecuador and north-west Peru.
A pronounced dry season and the porous limestone rocks in many parts of the reserve provide ideal conditions for long-rooted deciduous trees and shrubs to access the low water table. Ravines within the reserve provide moister conditions year round for evergreen trees and shrubs. The reserve supports numerous flowering plants, with more than 500 vascular plant species recorded, including many endemic to the Tumbesian dry forest region and otherwise largely unprotected and vulnerable to forest loss.
There are some 54 mammal species. Jaguar (Panthera onca) (classified as near threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species), a top predator, frequents the area and attests to the abundance of prey. Primates, including Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata) and White-fronted Capuchin (Cebus albifrons) occur. Studies have also revealed 22 bat species.
The reserve is key to the survival of the endangered Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguous). In addition, more than 200 other bird species have been recorded. In all, nine bird species protected by the Cerro Blanco reserve are listed globally threatened with extinction, including Grey-backed Hawk (Leucopternis occidentalis), Rufous-headed Chachalaca (Ortalis erythroptera), Ochre-bellied Dove (Leptotila ochraceiventris) and Grey-cheeked Parakeet (Brotogeris pyrrhoptera).
The WLT has been working with Pro-Bosque at Cerro Blanco since 2006 through the WLT reforestation programme, described below.
WLT reforestation programme
Patches of forest at Cerro Blanco are separated by degraded woodland and pasture. These degraded areas are dominated by an exotic African grass (Panicum maximum) which readily out-competes tree seedlings for light and is prone to fires in the dry season.
The reforestation programme targets these grass-dominated areas, using enrichment planting in the degraded woodland and matrix planting of characteristic forest trees and shrubs in open grassland. Conditions are challenging. Poor soils, severe dry seasons and the vigorous, fire-adapted grass mean that the seedlings need nurturing to survive. Once trees are planted, grass needs to be kept under control and dry season fires need to be prevented.
Between 2006 and 2010 some 235 hectares of degraded lands have been reforested with more than 380,000 saplings of 30 native species. The mix of species includes some that improve soil and pioneering, fast-growing trees that rapidly create the conditions for colonisation of the slower-growing, high forest species, with emphasis on those which are important to the macaws for food and nesting.
In time, these planted areas will mature and merge with adjacent forest patches, creating a larger core area of forest within which the reserve’s abundant biodiversity will be safe.
Meanwhile, WLT supports Pro-Bosque in monitoring and maintaining the plantings.
Pro-Bosque works with local communities, focusing on nearby Puerto Hondo, where young local people, with guidance and training from the foundation's staff, lead tourists on guided canoe trips through a rich mangrove estuary. In 2004 an environment education centre was constructed for use by the local community, and a children’s ecology club runs weekly activities. A community park warden programme is rapidly building local pride for this unique reserve and its wildlife.
WLT continues to work closely with Pro-Bosque which is actively seeking to expand the Cerro Blanco Reserve through additional land purchase. This will include unprotected and critically threatened forest habitat close to the existing reserve, and parcels of land that have been cleared of forest that can be replanted.