Translated from an article in El Diario de Hoy, El Salvador
by Ivonne Vasquez
August 2, 2011
Ten years ago the communities of Montecristo, Los Calix, La Chacastera, La Tirana, La Babilonia, Las Mesitas, La Canoita, Las Arañas and Los Lotes decided to protect and restore the wetland forest of the western Bay of Jiquilisco. At first, there was no Local Sustainable Use Plan (PLES). The ban [on harvesting endangered species] began being established by the villagers themselves.
“Later on, the [Ministry of the] Environment supported us, because they said that what we were doing was good and that’s it’s always been illegal to cut down the mangroves,” said Alberto Chavarria, age 65.
Changing the mindset of the population was difficult, but they got it. In little time, the communities began to understand how beneficial it was to take care of that ecosystem, especially as drastic climatic changes began to be felt in the country due to [weather] phenomena such as [Hurricane] Ida, [tropical storm] Agatha and [Hurricane] Stan.
“The struggle was worth it,” says Reyes Cruz Parada, chairman of the community of Montecristo. “We’re very proud of the work we have done and thank God we have the support of FIAES [The Fund for the Americas Initiative] and [EcoViva’s local partner] the Mangrove Association to keep going,” he says with pride watching the mangroves located off the island.
The creation of the Local Sustainable Use Plan formally limited the removal of crabs, firewood and timber, fish and shrimp in [a 5,000 acre portion of] this [49,000 acre wetlands] forest. It also established a five-year ban [on extraction of threatened species] in the Izcanal zone to prevent the extinction of endangered species.
“This year FIAES is funding a new project in the area,” said Carlos Barahona of the Mangrove Association.
The project includes [community-led] patrols that monitor the area, and the restoration of a local mangrove forest in the area of El Llorón using Ecological Mangrove Restoration (EMR), a technique which was pioneered in South Asia by the Mangrove Action Project (MAP).
This technique takes into account the ecology and hydrology of the ecosystem, incorporating communities as key actors. The five main components of EMR are: education, collaboration, conservation and recovery, advocacy and sustainable community development.
“As a country, we previously had no history of storms or hurricanes spawned in the Pacific that affected us; these were generally in southern Mexico. Last year three such storms impacted us. For this reason, it is important to pay special attention to these forests, “said [El Salvador’s] Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Herman Rosa Chávez.
The western sector of the Bay [of Jiquilisco] is an example of how communities can ensure the protection of a resource, but that was not always so. “We have been making the effort to patrol the passageway to this area of the Bay to keep out people who use toxic chemicals and bombs to stun fish, because we wanted to have a nursery for fish, seafood and marine life. By God’s grace, people were kind and understood, “said Alberto Chavarria, who is satisfied with [how local people have been] “working together.”
Unfortunately, these efforts are not seen in all the communities living near wetland forests. In the nearby Jaltepeque Estuary, for example, erosion caused by the construction of buildings near the edges of the beach has begun to affect the mangroves, and in some sectors has begun to dry out the wetlands.
“These mangroves are old. Some are over 50 years old, but the excess silt will not let them thrive in some parts of the estuary,” says Eduardo, who has been making his living from tourism for 18 years in this area. We ride our boat through the mangrove trees to observe different species of birds, lizards and fish. “There are also turtles and blue sharks,” Eduardo says proudly.
However, in this sector, the Environmental Police rarely regulate the extraction of firewood, crabs or fish. People in the nearby communities of La Herradura and La Calzada travel several miles to get fish, shrimp and other species, which they then sell to the highest bidder. And that’s where conservation becomes difficult.
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