Manta, Ecuador, calls itself the world capital of tuna, blessed to be alongside the nutrient-rich Humboldt Current that threads between its shores and the Galapagos Islands. But although the tuna still run strong in the eastern Pacific, over-harvesting and sustainability are constant preoccupations in the city. And there’s a far more sustainable export from the jungles near town, one that dates back to when the city was a pre-Columbian trading center for the Manta tribe: the ivory-like nut of tagua palm.
Italian photographer Machi di Pace documented the industry that surrounds Phytelephas aequatorialis, the tree that grows throughout northwestern Amazonia. The fruit of the palm looks similar to coconut but when it dries and hardens, it become white and compact like ivory. The genus name, Phytelephas, comes from the Greek for “Elephant tree.”