Happy World Wetlands Day!
Winding through the river canals that branch off the Bay of Jiquilisco, my colleague from the Mangrove Association points out the five native mangrove species, numerous birds and reptiles, and overall diversity of life that inhabits the forests. Mangroves and their firmly perched roots sustain an impressive ecosystem. The maze-like network of water corridors, enclosed by mangrove branches and roots, support the various communities who live in the bay. These waterways provide the communities with means to communicate and connect, to organize themselves and establish routes to monitor and protect the forests. The mangrove ecosystem further provides the communities with life-sustaining resources such as fish, shellfish, shrimp, and wood for cooking. Moreover, these wetlands forests provide a cultural identity for the communities, which view the mangroves and connecting canals as their home and means of life.
February 2 marks the 44th year since representatives of 18 nations met at the Caspian seaside resort located in the Iranian city of Ramsar. After 10 years of negotiations, the countries signed the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in support of international cooperation on transboundary wetlands issues, the “wise use” of all wetlands, and the conservation of critical habitat for migratory birds. Within these 44 years, the convention has expanded to include 168 member parties, 2,186 official Ramsar Sites of International Importance and over 200 million hectares of managed wetlands (nearly 15%of estimated global wetland area).
El Salvador has seven sites on the Ramsar list of international importance, amounting to over 200,000 hectares of wetlands. The Mangrove Association’s backyard, the Bay of Jiquilisco, is the largest of these seven sites with 63,500 hectares of protected wetlands.
Communities around the Bay of Jiquilisco have organized themselves to ensure sustainable use of the natural resources and protect the ecological health of the wetlands. Recently, the communities of the Local Group of Los Calix elected new representatives to the environmental committee in charge of renewing their Local Plan for Sustainable Use (PLAS for the Spanish acronym) for the resources of the mangrove forests.
The PLAS is a shining example of how local actors can drive national environmental policy. While the Local Group of Los Calix is charting the process of PLAS renovation, other Local Groups are taking steps to create their own PLAS. Moreover, further community organizations surrounding the bay have followed the La Coordinadora’s lead in supporting the creation of a PLAS. Members of the Mangrove Association and visiting students from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (formerly the Monterey Institute) presented at the inter-institutional Environmental Roundtable for the Bay of Jiquilisco on January 22. They highlighted the need to ensure community participation and ownership as well as provide scientific and technical support for the creation and implementation of local management plans. The visiting students recently conducted research, in conjunction with the Mangrove Association and EcoViva, on the feasibility of supporting PLAS initiatives in two different Local Groups as well as the creation of a comprehensive and replicable monitoring and evaluation plan.
The mission of the Ramsar Convention is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands…as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development”. As defined by the convention, “wise use” implies “the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and all the services they provide, for the benefit of people and nature”.
Coastal areas are very attractive for developers, who often don’t look before they leap when it comes to understanding the entire value of coastal resources, and the positive impact they can have on coastal investment. That is because valuing natural resources presents a number of challenges. Many of the benefits coastal wetlands and their ecosystems provide – flood protection, water filtration, carbon sequestration – are indirect. This means that apart from the immediate dollars and cents measured from farming and fishing, coastal ecosystems also provide long-term cost-savings rather than immediate economic output. Natural resource valuation thus requires the incorporation of these indirect benefits, or externalities, to determine the complete “value” of an ecosystem, which should then be factored into development decisions.
For several years, students from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies have been working with EcoViva and the Mangrove Association on developing a Total Economic Valuation (TEV) for the mangrove forests surrounding the Bay of Jiquilisco. A TEV internalizes the values for all the direct and indirect benefits of an ecosystem. Utilizing research conducted over past years, Middlebury grad-students and EcoViva staff collaborated in 2014 with students from the California State University Monterey Bay on numerous components of the instrument. Together, they established the value of several direct and indirect benefits of the mangrove forests, including sustainably harvested dried wood for cooking, locally managed crab fishing, water filtration, erosion control, and storm and flood protection.
Sustainably harvested cooking wood: $2.25/ha/year
Locally managed crab fishing: $235/ha/year
Water Filtration: $2,572/ha/year
Erosion Control: $3,577/ha/year
Storm and Flood Protection: $284/ha/year
The value of mangrove forest, based only on the presented ecosystem services, was estimated at $6,671 per ha per year , making the mangrove forests of Jiquilisco Bay worth over $100 million in indirect cost savings, nearly $5 million in income generation from crab fishing, and roughly $45,000 from sustainably harvested cooking wood per year.
Creating a comprehensive value for the mangrove ecosystem can support the creation of wise policies, such as a PLAS, to promote, enable and manage the wise use of resources from these wetland forests, bridging rivers and immense natural wealth of the Bay of Jiquilisco.
 The Ministry of the Environment also provides estimates of value per hectare at $18,515 a year, which also includes benefits derived by offshore fishing fleets in the adjacent fishery.