Felipe Jacome – Lord of the Mangrove

Felipe Jacome

Lord of the Mangrove

The northwestern corner of Ecuador is home to the tallest mangrove trees in the world. Amidst the trees´ towering, almost fantastical, roots, people of nearby Afro-Ecuadorian communities gather black shells as their form of livelihood. In local parlance shell pickers are known as concheros. Concheros start young. Children as young as 10 years old are expected to pick shells to contribute to their families’ income. Children make good shell-pickers because they are agile and light, allowing them to navigate around the infinite spider web of mangrove roots. Picking shells is a tremendously arduous task. Everyday concheros trudge through the knee-deep mud and endure the inclement environment of the forest to discover small crevasses within the buried roots. When they are lucky, they find shells. When they are unlucky, they might be stung by the poisonous toadfish or bitten by a watersnake. Yet the concheros endure because the black shells are considered a culinary delicacy in Ecuador. Even so, a conchero will be lucky to get 8 cents per shell. On average, a good conchero can find between 50 and 100 shells in a day’s work.  Although community leaders do their best to encourage children to go to school, a large percentage drops out at an early age to become concheros. These environmental portraits explore the relationship between childhood, manual labor, and this unique ecosystem.




Felipe Jácome is a documentary photographer born in Ecuador. After finishing his studies at the Johns Hopkins University and the London School of Economics, his work has focused on issues of human mobility and human rights. In 2010 he won the Young Reporter Competition of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Jacome’s photos have appeared in publications such as National Geographic, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy Magazine, The Guardian, Vice Magazine, and CNN.

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Felipe Jacome

2 Responses to “Felipe Jacome – Lord of the Mangrove”

  • I like the project, I’d be interested to see this in colour but imagine it works best like this. The extended childhood that we experience in the west must be a new thing. I don’t know about these kids but I spent sometime with cattle herders in Tanzania and it seemed like a wonderful childhood.

  • I find the images to be elegantly composed. They tell a story I may or may not have heard about previously but if so, this brought it home and made it real.

    Two things bother me. First, the flatness of the images. Personally, I would find them stronger and more compelling if they had a little more snap in them.

    Second, and out of control of the photographer, is the way the Burn site now handles the cover image. To see a blow up on it, I must click the image TWICE and then back click out of it to go on to the remainder of the essay. This is an unnecessary distraction that disrupts the flow of the essay. The idea of providing a link to thumbnails leading to a version that includes additional images edited out of the main presentation could be good, but such a link would be much less disruptive if subtly placed at the bottom of the essay.

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