Communities band together to protect El Salvador’s last mangroves

first_imgArticle published by Morgan Erickson-Davis Jiquilisco Bay is home to about half of El Salvador’s remaining mangroves. But many mangrove tracts were nearly wiped out by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and siltation from upstream deforestation and controlled flooding were damaging the rest.In response, local communities formed a coalition, called the Mangrove Association, to help protect and expand the region’s mangroves.Around 80 communities are involved in the Mangrove Association. They work to restore damaged areas, and have re-planted hundreds of acres of mangrove forest. USULUTAN PROVINCE, El Salvador –  “Without the mangroves, we couldn’t live here,” says José Antonio Hernández. “We wouldn’t have any water.”He is standing on a rare dry patch of soil amid a mangrove forest on El Salvador’s eastern coast. While his green button-up shirt bears the logo of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MARN), Juan works as a volunteer on his daily patrols of the mangroves.José Horacio Soriano accompanies Hernández on the patrol. They both work as Natural Resource Guards for the Mangrove Association, a coalition of 80 communities that protects the mangroves of Usulután province.The Lempa river divides Usulután from the neighboring province of San Vicente. The communities at the river’s southern end where it empties into the Pacific Ocean are known as the Bajo Lempa – or Lower Lempa.Hernández explains that he arrived in the Bajo Lempa at the end of El Salvador’s Civil War. In the 1992 Peace Accords, the government committed to redistributing land to the guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and members of the National Guard and Army.The delta of the Lempa River hosts half of El Salvador’s remaining mangroves. Satellite data from the University of Maryland and imagery from Planet Labs show agricultural expansion has led to tree cover loss in and around the mangroves in the past decade. But communities are trying to stem the disappearance of their mangrove forests.José Horacio Soriano walks through the mangroves, which he patrols daily as a “Natural Resources Guard.” Photo by Martha Pskowski for MongabayHernández served in the National Guard during the war, and claimed three hectares (7.4 acres) in the Bajo Lempa. Most of his neighbors are resettled FMLN fighters.Today Hernández’s only weapon is a machete tucked into his backpack.His companion Soriano crouches in the muddy soil and points out tiny bubbles on its surface.“That’s where the punche are hiding. When we started the mangrove restoration there were barely any here, but now they are all over,” he said. The punche crab is an important local food source.José Horacio Soriano holds a “punche” crab, which have prospered in the area since the mangrove restoration began. Photo by Martha Pskowski for MongabayWe are standing in the middle of a 200-acre expanse of mangroves that almost completely died off after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The Mangrove Association began restoring the area in 2013, using the Ecological Mangrove Restoration (or REM, its Spanish acronym) technique. The first stage is restoring the normal hydrology of the area, which had been compromised by years of flooding. Now that water can cycle through the mangroves again, newly planted trees are thriving.El Salvador is Latin America’s smallest mainland country. At 21,040 square kilometers (8,100 square miles), it is about the size of Massachusetts, and has the highest population density in the Americas. It is also the region’s second-most deforested country, after Haiti.Mangroves provide a natural buffer to storms coming off the ocean, as well as habitat for birds, crabs, fish and other wildlife. They also act as carbon sinks, with research indicating they store up to four times more carbon than other tropical forests. But advancing agro-industry, over-fishing and erosion have all taken their toll on the country’s mangroves.A porcupine sleeps in a tree in a mangroves tract known as “La Mesita” near the town of La Canoa. Photo by Martha Pskowski for MongabayMARN has recorded a 60 percent reduction in mangrove cover since 1950. Today, there are roughly 40,000 hectares (98,800 acres) of mangroves remaining in El Salvador. Jiquilisco Bay comprises about half of that total, and was designated a RAMSAR site in 2005.For years, the government neglected the region, but efforts by the Mangrove Association and local communities have helped turned the tide against degradation.From plantation barons to local farmersBefore the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s, the Bajo Lempa was an important agricultural zone, with large plantations producing cotton and sugar cane. During the war, most inhabitants fled as intense fighting took place between the FMLN and the armed forces.Large landowners were forced to give up their properties when the FMLN took control of the region. Salvadorans who had been in exile in Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica began to repopulate the Bajo Lempa in the late 1980s as fighting subsided.The war ended in 1992, and the remaining refugees gradually returned to El Salvador. FMLN fighters and former members of the armed forces claimed parcels in the post-Peace Accords land reform. But their new home presented unique challenges. Meanwhile at the national level, the right-wing ARENA party held on to the Presidency.Luis Ramos, treasurer of the Mangrove Association, explains that most of the new residents of the Bajo Lempa were unfamiliar with the coastal ecosystem.“People came from other provinces, like Morazon, that are mountainous,” Ramos said. “We didn’t know that here it flooded every year. Once we started to plant we found out.”According to Ramos, the national hydroelectric commission would release water from its dam system along the Lempa River every year, without warning the communities.“It flooded every year,” he said. “But the government never helped us, because they knew most of the people here were from the FMLN and left wing.”Luis Ramos was one of the founders of the Bajo Lempa Cooperative and Mangrove Association in the early 1990s. Photo by Martha Pskowski for MongabayRequests for comment from the El Salvador Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources were declined.In 1995, Ramos and others formed a small group that began meeting to address these problems. Together with seven other communities, they formed the Cooperative of the Bajo Lempa and Jiquilisco Bay. While most members were returned refugees or FMLN combatants, former members of the military began to join as well.The early members of the Cooperative built a meeting space in the town of Ciudad Romero, which had been founded by families returning from exile in Panama and named for martyred Salvadoran bishop Oscar Romero.In 2001, the Cooperative founded the Mangrove Association to serve as its legal entity. Today, the Mangrove Association works with international organizations, including California-based Ecoviva, to support local activities.In 2009, Mauricio Funes won the Presidency, and the FMLN took executive power for the first time. The containing wall on the Lempa River was finally repaired, and the yearly flooding in the Bajo Lempa was reduced.The Mangrove Association currently comprises 80 communities, gathered together into entities called Local Groups of the Cooperative. These groups bring together neighboring communities, which then communicate with the central organizing committee.Living off the mangrovesCeiba Doblada was holding its third annual gastronomic festival during Mongabay’s visit, and participants have prepared dozens of dishes to display the culinary richness of the area. In addition to Salvadoran mainstays like pupusas, atole, elote and fried yucca, there is a rice dish with the punche crab, fish stew and fresh mussels, all harvested in the mangroves.Members of the Community Development Association of Ceiba Doblada show off the local dishes they have prepared for the town’s Gastronomic Festival, including a seafood stew. Photo by Martha Pskowski for MongabaySchool children in Ceiba Doblada line up to fill their plates during the community’s Gastronomic Festival. Photo by Martha Pskowski for MongabayAdela del Carmen Palacios del Cid, 32, is President of the Community Development Association (Adesco) in Ceiba Doblada. Adesco is a member organization of the Mangrove Association.“The mangroves support the crabs, sea turtles, fish, mussels, and birds. It’s an ecosystem that’s so full of life, and nature,” Palacios explained in an interview. “And that’s what allows us to sustain our families.”The Mangrove Association helps local communities design resource management plans and set catch limits for crabs, fish and mussels.In the late 1990s, Palacios was involved in local efforts to educate people about sea turtles and discourage the sale of turtle eggs. Instead of collecting turtle eggs to sell, residents of Ceiba Doblada now bring them to the turtle hatchery that was built nearby.In 2014, community members incubated 125,000 eggs and released 100,000 baby green (Chelonia mydas) and olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) sea turtles – respectively listed as Endangered and Vulnerable by the IUCN – on the nearby island of Montecristo. The Fund of the Americas Initiative (FIAES) based in San Salvador provided technical and financial support for the project.Palacios explains that she was motivated to get involved in her community after Hurricane Mitch ravaged the area in 1998.She ran for a leadership position in the Adesco, and became the first woman to be elected.“Back then it was all men in the organizations. They said women weren’t capable of leading,” she said proudly. Today she is the Adesco President in Ceiba Doblada.FIAES Ecoviva, and the Mangrove Association are teaching local communities how to conserve and restore their mangroves.The mangrove restoration project near La Canoa, referred to as “El Llorón” is the most extensive the Mangrove Association has carried out thus far. The Ecological Mangrove Restoration (REM) process includes a diagnostic of each mangrove site, along with a restoration plan.José Antonio Hernández points out the different varieties of mangrove trees that have prospered since restoration. Photo by Martha Pskowski for MongabayIn the case of La Canoa, strong storms such as Hurricane Mitch and the annual overflow of the Lempa River dam contributed to the mangroves’ degradation. While mangroves are adapted to thrive in a mix of fresh and salt water, major flooding can have detrimental effects on the health of these ecosystems. At La Canoa, flooding clogged the canals with silt, which blocked tidal waters from flowing out of the mangroves.The water quality of the Lempa River is another factor that affects the mangroves. The Lempa watershed is shared between El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Improvements have been made in recent years, but fertilizer run-off, sewage and other waste all pollute the river.As part of the REM technique, volunteers cleared debris out of the canals to restore water flow. Once the canals were cleared, they began propagating new mangroves. There are now four varieties of mangrove trees in El Llorón and the new trees are growing quickly. Some of the mangrove species can grow up to 30 meters (100 feet). Their aerial roots that reach above our heads. Black mangrove (Avicennia germinans), white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa) buttonwood mangrove (Conocarpus erectus) and Rhizophora racemosa trees all grow in Jiquilisco Bay. The Mangrove Association has also restored mangroves in the communities of Salinas del Portrero, Sisiguayo and Puerto Parada. They hope to replicate this success in other areas.Environmental and social challenges Despite important strides in conservation, the region faces new forms of environmental and social adversity.Of immediate concern is a spike in violent crime in the Bajo Lempa that began in 2014. Despite this year’s 25th anniversary of the Peace Accords, El Salvador has been one of the most dangerous countries in the world outside active war zones in recent years.The Mara Salvatrucha 13 and Barrio 18 gangs, which have their roots in Los Angeles, are at the heart of the conflict, The gangs have battled to control turf in Eastern El Salvador in recent years and. the Bajo Lempa has found itself in the crosshairs. Most cocaine shipments arrive along the Pacific Coast, and while the gangs are not drug traffickers, they seek to control the territory that the traffickers move through.Many families abandoned their homes during the worst of the violence, and travel between communities was dangerous, but has now improved. Increased police operations in the area have reduced crime, but many residents are uneasy with the frequent police patrols.“Things have calmed down, but for a while it really made our work difficult,” said José Maria Argueta, project coordinator for the Mangrove Association.José Antonio Hernández (L) and José Horacio Soriano (R), Natural Resource Guards in the community of La Canoa, look out from a fire tower on the edge of the mangroves. Photo by Martha Pskowski for MongabayThe Mangrove Association used to receive regular groups of international volunteers, but the visits trickled off as violence escalated. The U.S. State Department travel advisory for El Salvador also deters international visitors.“We are able to host volunteers again but it’s not that easy to overcome the reputation,” Argueta lamented.On the dirt road leaving the mangroves, natural resource guards Hernández and Soriano pointed out a cement shack where gang members used to gather. Spray painted on it is “MS 13.”They said that the gang members stole two boats that they used to patrol along the coast, and they have not had funds to replace them.Climate change is another force bearing down on the region, and the Climate Change Vulnerability Index consistently lists El Salvador as one of the most vulnerable countries. The Bajo Lempa and other coastal regions are on the frontlines of sea level rise, and MARN estimates the country will lose between 10 and 28 percent of its coastal territory this century due to sea level rise.Mario Martínez is a disc jockey on “Mangrove Radio” run by the Mangrove Association in the community of Ciudad Romero. Photo by Martha Pskowski for MongabayStronger coastal storms have hit the region hard since the 1990s. Hurricane Mitch in 1998 was followed by tropical depression E12 in 2011, which had devastating impacts on the Bajo Lempa.Droughts also affect local agriculture, and have become more common and pronounced in recent years. Inconsistent rainfall means farmers lose their crops it they misjudge the start of rainy season.Despite the challenges facing the Bajo Lempa, members of local organizations remain optimistic.“We don’t have a lot of economic resources,” Palacios said while the festival attendees waited to dig into the spread of local dishes in Ceiba Doblada. “But if we work together, we can get a little further every day.”FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the editor of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page. carbon, Carbon Sequestration, Climate Change, Coastal Ecosystems, Community Forestry, Community-based Conservation, Deforestation, Ecological Restoration, Environment, Estuaries, Featured, Forests, Global Warming, Global Warming Mitigation, Happy-upbeat Environmental, Mangroves, Reforestation, Restoration, Rivers, Tropical Forests, Wetlands center_img Popular in the CommunitySponsoredSponsoredOrangutan found tortured and decapitated prompts Indonesia probeEMGIES17 Jan, 2018We will never know the full extent of what this poor Orangutan went through before he died, the same must be done to this evil perpetrator(s) they don’t deserve the air that they breathe this has truly upset me and I wonder for the future for these wonderful creatures. So called ‘Mankind’ has a lot to answer for we are the only ones ruining this world I prefer animals to humans any day of the week.What makes community ecotourism succeed? In Madagascar, location, location, locationScissors1dOther countries should also learn and try to incorporateWhy you should care about the current wave of mass extinctions (commentary)Processor1 DecAfter all, there is no infinite anything in the whole galaxy!Infinite stupidity, right here on earth.The wildlife trade threatens people and animals alike (commentary)Anchor3dUnfortunately I feel The Chinese have no compassion for any living animal. They are a cruel country that as we knowneatbeverything that moves and do not humanily kill these poor animals and insects. They have no health and safety on their markets and they then contract these diseases. Maybe its karma maybe they should look at the way they live and stop using animals for all there so called remedies. 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Focus on deforestation this year (commentary)Bullhorn4dLies and more leisSponsoredSponsoredCoke is again the biggest culprit behind plastic waste in the PhilippinesGrapes7 NovOnce again the article blames companies for the actions of individuals. It is individuals that buy these products, it is individuals that dispose of them improperly. If we want to change it, we have to change, not just create bad guys to blame.Brazilian response to Bolsonaro policies and Amazon fires growsCar4 SepThank you for this excellent report. I feel overwhelmed by the ecocidal intent of the Bolsonaro government in the name of ‘developing’ their ‘God-given’ resources.U.S. allocates first of $30M in grants for forest conservation in SumatraPlanet4dcarrot hella thick ;)Melting Arctic sea ice may be altering winds, weather at equator: studyleftylarry30 JanThe Arctic sea ice seems to be recovering this winter as per the last 10-12 years, good news.Malaysia has the world’s highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest mapBone27 Sep, 2018Who you’re trying to fool with selective data revelation?You can’t hide the truth if you show historical deforestation for all countries, especially in Europe from 1800s to this day. WorldBank has a good wholesome data on this.Mass tree planting along India’s Cauvery River has scientists worriedSurendra Nekkanti23 JanHi Mongabay. Good effort trying to be objective in this article. I would like to give a constructive feedback which could help in clearing things up.1. It is mentioned that planting trees in village common lands will have negative affects socially and ecologically. There is no need to even have to agree or disagree with it, because, you also mentioned the fact that Cauvery Calling aims to plant trees only in the private lands of the farmers. So, plantation in the common lands doesn’t come into the picture.2.I don’t see that the ecologists are totally against this project, but just they they have some concerns, mainly in terms of what species of trees will be planted. And because there was no direct communication between the ecologists and Isha Foundation, it was not possible for them to address the concerns. 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