Since our work began in 1996, we have maintained a philosophy that community development must happen in harmony with the natural environment in order to be successful and sustainable. For our partner communities in the Lower Lempa region of El Salvador, this means protecting the Bay of Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve, an ecosystem of global importance and a hotspot for biodiversity.
Watch a six-minute video on environmental issues in the Bay of Jiquilisco.
Shot and Edited by Spencer Stoner at www.spencerstoner.com
Narrated by Christopher Platt
Soundtrack by Bexar Bexar
The Bay of Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve is home to four threatened species of sea turtles, including the critically endangered Eastern Pacific Hawksbill.
Over the last five years, through our partner organization the Mangrove Association, we have supported the creation of six sea turtle hatcheries in coastal communities near the Bay of Jiquilisco. Five of these hatcheries work mostly with Olive Ridleys, Green turtles and Leatherbacks, and one is exclusively for Eastern Pacific Hawskbills. Community members who used to illegally sell turtle eggs on the black market now sell them legally to the local hatchery for the same price.
Local people are hired as rotating attendants for the hatcheries. The hatchery attendants learn about the biology of sea turtles and how to care for them. They bury each net in a secured location on the beach, and regulate its temperature to ensure that it has the right conditions to hatch.
The sea turtle conservation program is not just about sea turtles but about a better livelihood for local community members. By selling turtle eggs to a hatchery, tortugueros (people who historically sold turtle eggs on the black market) can now make an honest income while protecting sea turtles. Our local partners are also working with these men and women to help them find other sources of income to support their families, including sustainable agriculture, ecotourism and sustainable fishing cooperatives.
Through the hatchery project we have supported the release of over 650,000 baby sea turtles into the ocean since 2005. However, for every 1,000 sea turtles released, only one will survive and make it back to the nest as an adult to lay eggs. Baby sea turtles are killed by mostly by bombs from blast fishing, but also by nets from massive commercial fishing ships, predators like sharks, and rising sea temperatures. Our work is more critical than ever in order for sea turtles to survive.
Studies from the UN show that the number of fish in the world’s oceans is declining at an alarming rate, threatening the livelihood and food security of 200 million people. The fisherwomen and fishermen of the Bay of Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve are seeing big drops in number and size of their catch each year. A major reason for this is the practice of blast fishing: the use of homemade bombs and explosives to stun the fish to the surface.
This destructive practice is not just destroying fish stocks. It is also the number one threat to the survival of sea turtles, including the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtle. Of the thousands which hatch on the local beaches, only a handful make it to adulthood. For the survival of this endangered species, we must halt the practice of bomb fishing.
In response to this environmental threat, we are working with our local partners to support the sustainable fishing cooperatives. As of this year there were five cooperatives with a total of over 160 members, and the number is growing. These cooperatives are made up of fisherwomen and fishermen who are committed to less destructive forms of fishing. They are spreading the word about the problems created by bomb fishing. They are also working with scientists from the University of El Salvador to track local fish species, and to create protected areas where the fish can reproduce. By constructing “reefs” of anchored wood to replace the lost habitat, the cooperative members provide a place for fish to lay their eggs. They are patrolling these areas to report any use of explosives to the local authorities.
These fisherwomen and fishermen represent a new wave of environmental consciousness in some of the poorest rural communities of El Salvador. In the country with one of the highest levels of environmental degradation in the Americas, rural people whose livelihoods depend on the land and sea – farmers, fishermen, crabbers – can see that they must protect the few resources they have left.
Since 2011, EcoViva has been a leader in implementing a new model of mangrove forest restoration in El Salvador called Ecological Mangrove Restoration (EMR), a technique pioneered by the Mangrove Action Project. Ecological Mangrove Restoration teaches practitioners to step back and use observation to answer fundamental questions about the root cause of mangrove die-off, then take steps to address those causes. Local input is invaluable. In 2013, EMR was officially adopted by the Salvadoran government as a national priority. To date, a total of 110 hectares of degraded mangroves are recovering.
Indoor toilets are almost nonexistent in rural El Salvador, as are septic systems and sewage treatment. The large amount of human waste flowing into local waterways is not just a major threat to public health. It also contributes to algal blooms in the Bay of Jiquilisco, reducing oxygen availability in the water and thereby destroying fish and other marine wildlife.
Read all about our approach to Ecological Sanitation on our Water and Sanitation page.