A few weeks ago, Fiona Wilmot revisited El Llorón one year after participating in our local workshop on Ecological Mangrove Restoration. El Llorón was, until recently, a mostly dead, dry area of mangrove trees in the Bay of Jiquilisco. Our workshop last year led to the launch, early in 2012, of the first community-run Ecological Mangrove Restoration pilot project in El Salvador, with the aim of restoring El Llorón to its former glory as a major fish and crab breeding ground and nesting area for migratory birds.
This excerpt of an email from Fiona about her experience highlights the exciting revival of this ecosystem only a few months after the restoration process began. The project was recently lauded by the Salvadoran Ministry of the Environment as a model which the government seeks to replicate throughout the country.
Fiona Wilmot is on the Board of the Mangrove Action Project and is currently finishing her PhD in Geography at Texas A&M University.
Written by: Fiona Wilmot
Manuel, Geovanni and I went up the waterway to El Llorón, and the others met us round the corner…. Amazing, [it was] amazing. I could only imagine all the blood, sweat, tears, bugbites, cuts, bruises and fungal infections that went into [physically restoring the water channels]. To me it’s up there with the Panama Canal. [There’s] still a couple of patches that get snarled up when the tide is flowing out…. But otherwise, [it’s] a tidal creek, restored. A couple of martin pescadores [kingfisher birds] and a raptor tigre [bare-throated tiger heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum)] later, and we were getting out in a fizz of jumping shrimp at the place where we held the workshop last year.
What I saw at La Quemada… was what CERP [a multi-million dollar mangrove restoration project in Florida] has only dreamed of in terms of indicator species [species whose presence gives an indication of the health of the ecosystem as a whole]. We’d seen a few pairs of Great White Egrets in the shrimp ponds earlier, but this was [a massive number,] a white-out. Needless to say, as we approached we flushed a lot of them way into the distance. But still, sitting up a tree were two pairs of roseate spoonbills and, I kid you not, a pair of woodstorks. Not just one random, lost bird, but three pairs of very picky waterbirds right at the edge. The water was clear, odorless, and full of life, and I was only bitten by one mosquito. That is restoration!
There are [only] three things that I can think of that would concentrate birds like that: food, scarcity, crowd behavior. In the Everglades, it’s always the dry season that brings birds together and Stuart Pimm [a conservation ecologist at Duke University] has shown how one white bird can bring in a whole flock from a tremendous height, but it’s a process that takes time. So what we saw was not a random thing. Spoonbills have to [be there at] exactly the right hydroperiod [a period when the wetlands is fully covered by water], otherwise they starve, and looking online, it’s the first time that woodstorks have been seen outside some refuge in western El Salvador. Kowabunga!
There were also clutches of 6 whistling ducks flying overhead (practically extinct in the Caribbean), and as we hit the main track, we saw a macho pato real [mallard duck] grazing in a meadow. Gonzalo hadn’t seen one that big since he was at the Nicaraguan border during the war, Manuel couldn’t remember the last time he had seen one at all in the area ([rico con] chili y limón, he kept saying). So all in all, the short-term prospects for calling [this project] a success are huge…
Super two weeks – thanks so much for all your coordination and groundwork.