In the early 1980’s Gaviotas began planting a Caribbean pine tree in the otherwise barren savanna of eastern Colombia. Over the years, this forest has expanded to approximately 20,000 acres! The presence of the forest has altered the local climate by generating an additional 10% annual rainfall. The processing of tree resin has become an important economic activity for the community, and when this resin is extracted properly, the trees are not harmed. Gaviotans have discovered that these pines produce twice as much resin as any other resin-tapping forest in the world. Gaviotans produce a very high-grade resin in their zero-waste facility, and even the packaging of their resin has been designed to minimize excess material.
Over the years the pine trees have provided a shady understory for other plants and animals to thrive. Some of the species may be dormant seeds of ancient rainforest that once covered the region. The pines are slowly being crowded out by the regeneration of indigenous species.
Gaviotas has presented harmonious and long term benefits for the environment, its residents, and the people who visit. There are many opportunities for tourists to get hands-on experience working along with locals on projects surrounding forestry, appropriate technology, water, biodiesel, and infrastructure. When I think about the term ecotourism, the town of Gaviotas lives up to the true essence of the meaning. This is also a great example of an ecological handprint, where we are acting to uplift humanity while lowering our environmental impacts.
For more information on how to get involved, visit “Friends of Gaviotas.”