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.
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, EMR techniques have been applied to over 7,000 acres of degraded mangroves, and considerable regeneration has been observed.
EcoViva and our partners have spearheaded the creation of the Mangrove Alliance, a coalition of community-based conservation organizations concerned with protecting the mangrove forests of Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America). The Mangrove Alliance facilitates coordination and collaboration among all the actors who have a stake in the well-being of the mangrove forests of Mesoamerica – first and foremost the local communities who live from the forest, as well as conservation organizations, scientists and other experts, and policymakers. EcoViva assists the leaders of the Mangrove Alliance set agendas, strategize for maximum impact, and plan national and international convenings and technological exchanges.
Sea Turtle Conservation
Over the last decade, through our partner organization the Mangrove Association and AMBAS we have supported the operation of seven sea turtle hatcheries in coastal communities of El Salvador. 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 collaborate with local hatchery to conserve the species.
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 nest in a secured hatchery on the beach, and regulate temperatures to ensure the right conditions for the hatchlings.
The sea turtle conservation program is not just about sea turtles but about a better livelihood for local community members. By collaborating with the 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 alternative 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 1,500,000 baby sea turtles into the ocean since 2005. However, scientists estimate that for every 1,000 sea turtles released, only one will survive and make it back to the nest as an adult to lay eggs. Juvenile sea turtles are killed by bombs from blast fishing, nets from 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 fishers of the Bay of Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve are seeing big drops in the number and size of their catch each year. One 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.
In response to this environmental threat, we are working with our local partners to support sustainable fishing cooperatives. These cooperatives are made up of men and women who are committed to less destructive forms of fishing such as hook and line. 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 “artificial reefs,” or fish aggregating devices, to replace lost habitat, the cooperative members provide a place for fish to take refuge and lay their eggs. Community volunteers patrol these areas to report any use of explosives to the local authorities.
These fishers 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, fishers, crabbers – can see that they must protect the few resources they have left.