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  • Yessica De Los Ríos Olarte, University Antioquia

Mapping Coastal Livelihoods and Wetlands in Colombia

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

Hi, my name is Yessica De Los Ríos Olarte, I am studying Biology at the Universidad de Antioquia, and I had the opportunity to participate in the HOT Microgrant 2017 Project COASTMAP-URABÁ / CARTOCOSTA-URABÁ as a YouthMapper. This project is a joint effort between two research groups from the Environmental Engineering and Biology departments at the Universidad de Antioquia, aimed at mapping coastal livelihoods and the wetlands they depend on in the Urabá Gulf. The overall goal of the project is to help planners and the local fishing community respond to flooding hazards in the area.

This experience has strengthened my knowledge in different areas. On a personal level, I learned from each person that I met and I shared very rewarding moments. On a professional level, I've enjoyed working with other students as a volunteer during the mapathons and learned a lot doing fieldwork for this project. During our stay in the port city of Turbo, Antioquia, we had many group tasks. Often, I do not easily trust people and I have trouble delegating tasks. I am a little shy, but thankfully, the people I worked with were agreeable, graceful, tolerant, and entertaining. I had the confidence to speak and I felt comfortable. Remembering the last fieldwork day, we had to find a particular area, it was difficult and we were worried because we were not finding it easily. Furthermore, the heat was exhausting; however, my companions made jokes while we searched for the place. They never complained and eventually we found the site and worked very well together. I learned the value of cooperative work and how important it is to consider the valuable contribution each person makes to a team.

Interacting with students from different majors was enriching and it allowed me to gain a wider perspective on different topics of interest and taught me that I cannot view the things from one point of view. I understood, for example, that to protect and preserve the biological wealth of Caribbean, the community should be included as a social actor in every stage of the process related directly or indirectly to the Coastal ecosystem. This means that there is a need to complement the field of biology with best practices from several disciplines.

This experience also made me aware of the use of tools such as OpenStreetMap (OSM). I was not familiar with mapping tools or geographic information systems prior to this experience and I learned quickly as it is easy to use. The program allowed me to view the different geoforms of coastal ecosystems through satellite imagery. As a Youthmapper volunteering in the COASTMAP-URABÁ project, I learned to locate and differentiate mangroves and features in their canopies using OSM. This useful technology allowed us to use digital techniques to make inferences about the mangrove distribution and coverage in the study site. In addition, while managing the program, I discovered the importance of OSM as an alternative tool to make inferences on a larger scale, especially for areas that are difficult to reach or access. When we were in Turbo developing a part of the project, I could connect the task that I worked on during the mapathon with the personal, on-site observations. Recognizing the condition of houses, streets and roads in the coastal towns of the Urabá Gulf was important and I recognized the value in sharing the information I saw to a digital platform in which everyone could see the same.

OSM is not only is tool for drawing streets, avenues and buildings on a digital map; it also serves to manage natural risk planning and follow-up interventions. As I mentioned above, I want to emphasize the idea that the use of this tool is useful to students and professionals of various fields; it is not limited to those working in engineering or architecture exclusively. OSM should be included and taught in all fields because it is useful for research and community development purposes. It is a universal tool! In terms of experience, for me, it was the best thing that happened to me on this trip; I met Turbo (I did not know anything about the Urabá Gulf before), I learned a lot, I met very valuable people, and I really enjoyed myself!

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