Between July 11-14, over 30 people will gather in the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador to participate in a 4-day hands-on workshop in the Bay of Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve to discuss the challenges of mangrove restoration and begin the implementation of a pioneering new technique to bring degraded mangroves back to life. This workshop is being launched with a national forum in the country’s capital on July 8th, coordinated jointly by EcoViva, the Mangrove Association, the Salvadoran Ministry of the Environment, the Mangrove Action Project, and the Fund for the Initiative of the Americas – El Salvador (FIAES).
The workshop and forum come amidst the United Nations General Assembly’s recognition of 2011 as the International Year of Forests, which seeks to devote a greater emphasis on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests around the world. The workshop is also happening at a crucial moment for the world’s and particularly for El Salvador’s mangrove forests. Half of the world’s mangroves have vanished and the mangrove forest in the Bay of Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve of El Salvador, the largest in Central America, is threatened with extinction. Forests are critical to the hydrological cycle, and yet El Salvador currently retains only 2% of its original forest ecosystems.
This ecosystem provides a fertile habitat for fish, shrimp and the most endangered sea turtle species in the world, the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill. These unique coastal, wetlands-dwelling trees provide many ecological services, including highly efficient carbon sequestration (up to 50 times more greenhouse gas sequestration than rainforests, according to Conservation International), mitigation of the impact of hurricanes, and filtration of toxics from water runoff before they reach coastal marine ecosystems.
The remaining mangroves of the Bay of Jiquilisco and in other coastal areas of Central America face numerous threats to their survival, including not just deforestation but also ecosystem deterioration. Large tracts of mangroves are dying from water stagnation due to blockages in freshwater flows caused by human developments near these ecosystems. To date, mangrove restoration initiatives in the Bay of Jiquilisco have relied heavily on uninformed manual planting, with very limited long-term results. Such practices are typical throughout Central America, and most mangrove areas around the world, and a more effective, ecological approach is needed to restore and manage the region’s dwindling mangrove forests. Only by restoring the correct hydrological flows to the ecosystem can mangroves be revived.
This can be done through a method called Ecological Mangrove Restoration (EMR), which has been implemented successfully for 20 years by scientists and practitioners with the Mangrove Action Project (MAP) in Florida, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but has never been introduced to Central America. Together with MAP, EcoViva and its local partners are engaging El Salvadoran ecologists, conservation practitioners and local leadership in mangrove ecology and restoration techniques in the Bay of Jiquilisco, and will work together with national and local organizations alike to create a training and education program in restoration for the needs of the Central American coastal environment and its communities.
Over the last 20 years, scientists and practitioners at MAP have pioneered the teaching and application of EMR in the field. The 6-step “Training of Trainers” program, consisting of science-based curriculum conveyed through workshops and in-field exercises, focuses on restoring natural hydrological processes. The EMR concept is based upon a set of basic ecological principles and, when applied, has been shown to restore a much more naturally functional and biodiverse mangrove ecosystem when compared to other more capital and labour intensive methods such as hand-planting alone. This practice of hand planting propagules and seedlings is aptly described as the “gardening method,” whereby monoculture plantations of usually one or two varieties of mangrove are established. Most often, these “gardening” efforts have failed to establish any significant mangrove cover.
The forum and workshop will bring together government officials, international scientists, and local Wetlands Rangers to jointly address the problem of how to improve hydrological flows to stagnant tracts of mangroves. Wetlands Rangers, referred to locally as Guardarecursos, are local community members who have been trained to protect the Bay of Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve. They are part of a pilot project initiated by eight local communities covering 4,735 acres of mangrove forest. Working with conservation scientists, community leaders conducted a thorough assessment of the species living in these areas, and their vulnerability to environmental threats such as overfishing, deforestation and water contamination. Through this process, the communities declared this area a ‘local protected zone’ in which all activities are closely monitored and regulated, including chopping down trees, fishing or harvesting crabs and shellfish. The Wetlands Rangers patrol the mangrove forest every day to enforce the local regulations.
The workshop itself will be co-facilitated by these Wetlands Rangers—a testament to their local knowledge and the experience they have accumulated by becoming managers of their local ecosystem. Indeed, the forum and workshop mark a new step for EcoViva and our local partners in exerting real national leadership in the science-based and community-based management of precious ecosystems in El Salvador.