In an eco-concious world being the custodians of one of the largest areas of Atlantic Forest in Brazil is an important task.
And what better way to help support the sustainability of the forest along one of the few coastal cities of Parana State by connecting with nature through an eco-cooperative.
The people of Guaraqueçaba recognise the importance of keeping the forest alive, and 28 co-operators have been supporting the region through the Cooperguará-Ecotur co-operative (Ecotourism Cooperative Guaraqueçaba) since 2008.
To support the co-operative's mission to protect the natural conservation of the area, it has received support from The Society for Wildlife Research and Environmental Education, the local organisation that has worked for more than 25 years to promote nature conservation and alternative sources of income for local communities.
Eco-tourism is also a source of income for the local community. Cooperguará is the centre of a nexus of activities, which involve the local communities. While some tourists might have been discouraged by the bad weather conditions and heavy rains, Cooperguará tries to attract them by offering them the unique chance to experience the history, culture and landscapes of the region. The co-operative gathers enterprises of various sectors such as small inns, restaurants, boatmen, guides, artisans and drivers.
Cooperguará-Ecotur wants to offer visitors attractions that explore the true potential of the region, not solely its natural beauty. Tourists get to admire the flora and fauna, see species threatened with extinction (such as the Atlantic Puffin), experience the culture, admire the beach and the landscapes, go hiking, rafting, try the local cuisine or take part in crafts workshops. Tourists can even attend lectures to find out more about the local co-operative model of tourism.
The Cooperguará is not merely promoting eco-tourism in the region, but also trying to promote its major strategy for community development of the northern coast of Parana, through the practice of community-based tourism. The model generates social, cultural and financial benefits for all residents, as they are the ones managing these activities.
"Eco-Tourism is an area of environmental conservation, providing experience, such as, for example, finding out how farinheiras (the famous Portugeze sausage) is made or seing the native Meliponines (stingless bees)," explained Sueli Alves dos Santos, member of Cooperguará. He added that the coast has its arms open to welcome all of its guests and that the historic centres, attractions, the beaches are in good condition.
The community-based eco-tourism promoted by the Cooperguará also works towards enabling the social and economic inclusion of the residents of Guaraqueçaba.
To implement activities that really follow the principles of ecotourism it is one of the main challenges, but Cooperguará manages to cope very well with this challenge.
The business plan developed by the co-operative has been so successful because it involves the local community, which gets directly involved with tourists, through the management of local restaurants, accommodation and guiding activities. Local producers also contribute to the development of eco-tourism by distributing their specific products to other community businesses. The activities are organised by the community itself, who shares benefits and responsibilities.
Through its projects, Cooperguará manages to represent the interests of the local entrepreneurs, generating local income and securing the conservation of the local habitat.