Each January, a group of graduate students from the Monterey Institute of International Studies travels to El Salvador with EcoViva. This group, called Team El Salvador, works with our partners to conduct research on local initiatives. Amy Kessler was a member of Team El Salvador 2013 and returned this summer to continue one of their projects. Below, she writes about her experience and shares some initial findings.
by: Amy Kessler
Coming to the Bajo Lempa last January as part of a team of students from the Monterey Institute of International Studies allowed me to see first-hand the commitment of the communities in the region to promoting a sustainable future. I was impressed by their organization and willingness to meet for hours to discuss sustainable community tourism and the Local Plan for Sustainable Use (PLAS [formerly referred to as PLES]).
Coming back to the Bajo Lempa this summer, I have become even more impressed by the communities’ dedication to sustainable development, as I have also gained a better understanding of the complexities behind their support. Over the summer, with the support of the Mangrove Association and my EcoViva partners, Aaron Voit and Nathan Weller, we began the evaluation of the PLAS, focusing on its implementation and socioeconomic impacts. The study primarily has consisted of a number of interviews and questionnaires: first with the park rangers and community leaders to provide a context and understanding of how those in charge view the effectiveness of the PLAS, and then with the community members to gauge their support for the PLAS and its regulations as well as their dependence on the mangrove forests for income and sustenance.
Asking the community members to describe the mangrove forest has garnered a variety of interesting responses, with two of the most common being that the mangrove forest is a “source of life” and that it needs to be cared for. While there is still a gap of knowledge regarding some of the specifics of the PLAS and even the name PLAS itself is rather unknown amongst many community members, in general, the members appear to support regulations that protect the mangrove forest and its resources. The local leaders, better versed in the terminology of the PLAS, promote its regulations, and are aware of their community’s dependence on the mangrove forest, not only for its extractive resources but also for its non-extractive benefits such as flood and storm protection. The park rangers, though limited by their lack of funding, are well trained in the specifics of the PLAS and are knowledgeable sources of information regarding its implementation and compliance.
With the community surveys finished last week, I have just started the process of operationalizing the information to provide a clearer picture of how the PLAS has been functioning in its first three years of existence. Such understanding will better equip the Mangrove Association and the local communities to strengthen the implementation and effectiveness of the PLAS, and thus, facilitate their efforts to sustainably manage the natural resources the communities depend on for food, income and housing.