Where are the tourists? - the case of Coishco (Peru)

A brief take on Coishco, north of Chimbote (Ancash Region, Peru)

Travelling through Coishco by bus or other public transport is unlikely to leave you with any lingering memories, except maybe of the heat that appears to exceed the summer heat in Chimbote, (about 20min south via the Panamerican Highway) or the large fish design in the Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas - Coishco (Peru)
Plaza de Armas (Coishco - Ancash, Peru)

Speaking to people around Chimbote about beaches, you might hear reference to Coishco (pronounced KO-SH-KO) but immediately afterward reference to the beaches being dirty; ask other Peruvians or passing tourists and very little will have heard of the town, never mind anything about a beach.

The long stretch of beach at Coishco (Peru)
The long stretch of beach at Coishco (Peru)

As with many locations along the Peruvian coast, the fishing industry is a large part of the economy in Coishco as well with various plants and factories processing marine produce. These line the bay and some have been rather unscrupulous in dumping effluent outside their premises; whether it is/was the beach or the rivers and streams seems not to have any relevance.

Tons litter cover sections of this beach (Coishco, Peru)
One part of the tons litter that covers sections of this beach (Coishco, Peru)

A few days ago I went to visit the beach for some photography to highlight the plight of this beach - arriving there early in the morning, I was left absolutely speechless with shock…not because of the very humid heat already present at 6:30am but of the sight that met my first views! The piles of rubbish and oil-saturated sand was just something that far worse than any expectations I could’ve had of a “polluted beach”. I was out here with Juanita Miranda of HAZla por tu playa, an organisation focusing on raising awareness of the conservation of beaches and getting them  cleaned up through huge volunteer actions.

Factories along the beach (Coishco, Peru)
One of the factories along the beach (Coishco, Peru)

Being a birdwatcher, I was also of course looking out what birds were around - shockingly few species. There was one small shorebird that briefly appeared at the water's edge but then disappeared - this on a very long beach stretching out into the morning mist which should normally be a shorebird paradise. The most common were the Cattle Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons, Franklin’s Gulls and some Snow Egrets - all their plumage with varying degrees of dirt and in some cases, oil. 

Oil-covered Pelican chick - Coishco Beach (Peru)

One pelican chick I spotted appeared rather ill and was not moving much, even I moved closer to photograph it - the chest and belly was black with oil! The reason was clear to see  just beyond the incoming waves - rafts of oil floating on the water between the berthed boats and ships and the beach…off to the edge of the one patch, were two little local boats each with a fisherman fishing! The sand on the beach left behind a coat of oil even when you've brushed off the sand…standing there photographing this beach, the factories around it and the tons of rubbish, I just couldn't think of anything to say other than a few curses that escaped under my breath.

Justo Valverde collecting plastic bottles (Coishco, Peru)
Sr. Justo Valverde with the plastic bottles
collected in just over 150m of beach.

One light that appeared in this dark dome of pollution was in the form a gentleman we met on the beach collecting plastic bottles.  Justo Valverde walks the beach everyday to collect plastic bottles which he then sells to the recyclers. This is his income - imagine harnessing this kind of dedication to work this beach as a more permanent job! He can simultaneously with a small team serve as caretakers of the beach when the visitors start returning.

So what now? Well, Juanita was engaging in discussions with the Municipality of Coishco (who are keen to support any positive action) and two of the largest processors in Coishco for support and assistance in a large clean-up action scheduled for 4 March 2017 - together with a campaign on social media, it’s hoped that a large number of volunteers can be mobilised to start the process of getting this beach cleaned up. Another point worth noting is that clean-up actions along this beach will also hopefully impact positively on the nearby islands, where at least one has protected conservation status (I was not able to visit the islands and see what the state of them are.)

River-mouth, fishing boats and islands (Coishco, Peru)
River-mouth, fishing boats and islands (Coishco, Peru)

The potential of tourism on this beach is incredible, something which also inject a lot more growth into the Coishco as it can become a destination for tourists again - in addition to some sand-boarding in the area, thus creating the potential for full day activities around the beaches and dunes of Coishco. 
To get involved, you can get in contact with HAZla por tu Playa on their Facebook page (HAZla) and their Instagram account @hazlaportuplaya 


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