This year, we at EcoViva have chosen to commemorate World Wetlands Day (February 2nd) by taking a look back at our work specifically focused around the Bay of Jiquilisco, a “Wetland of International Importance” as declared by the Ramsar Convention.
In the Bay of Jiquilisco, the dizzying tangle of channels through mangrove forests provides sanctuary to a wide variety of species, as well as food and income for local families. Finding balance within those two activities can be tricky- but promoting conservation while ensuring productive rural livelihoods is crucial for rural development, and the future of important wetland resources the world over. While sometimes these issues do not come with easy solutions, community members are taking the reins to ensure a better future for themselves, their families, and the Bay of Jiquilisco.
For example, local shellfish collectors currently work to ensure the survival of three local species of shellfish that live deep in the mud beneath the mangroves. These shellfish provide a source of rural income, and their dwindling population has not gone unnoticed. There is even evidence of an eminent collapse of one shellfish species, prized for its particularly large size and high quality of meat. Together with support from EcoViva, cooperatives in the Bay have responded by setting aside productive shellfish grounds for protection amidst the shade of mangrove trees. These collectors deposit shellfish “seed”, or smaller individuals, in what is essentially a protect shellfish “bank” in the mangroves , and then extract them only as they become large enough to market for the best price. Not only are they monitoring the size of these mollusks and managing their extraction, they also take part in vital habitat restoration.
As the cooperatives work to restore wetland habitat, sustainably harvest shellfish, and look greater marketing opportunities (rather than participating in a system with multiple intermediaries that distort prices), they search for ways to continue working and living lives based in these wetlands while protecting, conserving, and restoring them.
While the shellfish collectors are hard at work on the edges of the wetland, the fishermen and women busy themselves out on the open water, catching fish and organizing into cooperatives that practice Pesca Limpia, a sustainable fishing practice focused on the protection fisheries while also lowering the number of blast fishermen and women in the bay.
Working with the shellfish collectors and the fishermen and women are the wetlands rangers, who protect the Bay and educate people who live and work in and around the wetlands. In patrols the wetlands rangers execute by water and by land, they keep track of who and what they encounter and infractions they see or hear about. They also help to collect data and enforce rules of how to live and interact with the wetland.
Community members are also taking the initiative to implement a local resource management plans in the wetland, ensuring that the mangroves and many species that seek refugee there will be around for generations to come.
With all of these initiatives currently in the Bay, what comes next? One priority in 2013 at EcoViva is helping to link the cooperatives more directly to consumers, allowing the shellfish collectors and fishermen and women to receive a higher wage for their labor intensive trade. EcoViva is also working to assessing the actual and future value of the resources in the Bay, whose conservation and wise use offers an important engine of rural and coastal development that needs to be taken into account.
Within the Bay of Jiquilisco, people are organizing not only to protect mangroves and surrounding estuaries in this international wetland, but to live peacefully within them, using resources sustainably so both the community members and the habitats thrive. On Feb. 2, for those of us who love a good shellfish ceviche, take a moment to think about where that shellfish comes from!