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Rescuing the Mangrove in the Bay of Jiquilisco

June 7, 2012

Various efforts to save 70 hectares of mangrove forest are underway

Written by: Regina Miranda,
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Original Spanish-language version

For 40 days, a group of men and women have taken up the task of saving 70 hectares of mangrove that are on the brink of drying up in the Bay of Jiquilisco. Given that bigger machinery can’t make it into the area, this gargantuan task must be done with shovel and pickax.

The 48 “rescuers” live in various communities of the Bajo Lempa in San Marcos Lempa, Usulután, and travel to the region of the El Llorón canal daily to dig ditches to reestablish the natural drainage in the area, which will allow the flow of freshwater and saltwater; this is the movement that makes possible the growth and reproduction of mangrove forests.

“It’s hard work to be digging here, but as long as we have no other choice, we’re going to keep coming,” said Silvia, one of the temporary workers on the project.  Nonetheless, the knee-deep mud levels, the constant mosquito bites, and the blazing rays of the sun seem not to matter to Silvia and the rest of her fellow workers, since at the end of the four hours of work per day, they return home with six dollars in their pockets.

“Now I have two groups.  Some of them are digging and others are removing dry roots,” explains Henry Castillo, one of the persons in charge of the project.

Castillo believes it’s necessary to open more draining ditches in the area, given that, as he points out, the ground level has risen to about 30 to 35 centimeters above what’s normal, ever since the mangrove system began to deteriorate some fifteen years ago.

What’s happened is that, during winter, the very roots of the mangroves, along with the residual debris dragged there by the Lempa’s overflow, obstruct the drainage, and as a consequence, the freshwater stagnates, causing trees and other species that live among the roots of this forest to die.

Last year, after the Tropical Depression 12E storms that ravaged the country, freshwater remained stagnant and the forest is consequently no longer a suitable habitat for crabs to reproduce.

Currently, people are working on the rehabilitation of 4.2 kilometers of drainage in El Llorón, seeking to restore the flow of freshwater and saltwater. The entire drainage system is about 2 meters wide and 60 centimeters deep.

This project began about two months ago and is carried out by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, (MARN), with assistance from the Project for the Consolidation and Management of Protected Natural Areas, (PACAP), and the Initiative for the Americas Fund, (FIAES).

The FIAES has worked on 1.2 km, from an area called El Quemado to some drainage systems located on the edge of the main road.  There remains a bit of soil that should be removed, but for the moment, work on the project has stopped.

Meanwhile, the stretch MARN and PACAP are working on is about three kilometers long, and in it, some digging and soil extraction is still needed.  According to the workers themselves, the repairs must be finished by the end of the month, when the project is due for completion.  “Winter is now here, but we feel that we’ll be able to finish what’s left to do and everything will be fine,” says a confident Castillo.

One of the challenges faced by the workers is that removing dried wood is not an easy task, since its high volume makes extraction difficult.  “We hope the river (Lempa) does not overflow as much as in previous years, because if it does, it could drag all of the wood down, causing the drains to clog,” Castillo predicts.

The waiting years

In order to see the positive effects of their work in repairing the drains and restoring the replenishment of the mangrove forest, workers must wait approximately three to four years, at least.  “We trust that, God-willing, we will be able to save this mangrove.  And if we do, we’ll be successful,” affirmed Manuel González, one of the rangers in charge.

Manuel has been witness to the various efforts carried out to save this area, and he notes that in addition to its natural beauty, the mangrove serves as a protective barrier against flooding.

“What we would do before is simply come to river and toss the wax of the Istaten (mangrove tree) in the water.  How was it going to grow like that?  Then we learned of the new methods,” says González.  He hopes that once they’ve finished their work, nature will run its course, and the mangrove will be restored.  “We’ll see what seeds the tide itself brings up and they’ll take root on their own,” says González.


The Vice Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, Lina Pohl, explained that the system implemented in this area is one of natural regeneration.  “If you restore the freshwater and saltwater levels that reach the mangrove, the forest itself will naturally be restored,” stated Pohl.  According to her, this process, put in place also in Indonesia, resulting in positive effects, is considered most ideal for saving the mangroves.  Depending on the results, this method could be implemented in other areas, still within the Bay of Jiquilisco, where mangrove forests have been severely damaged.  Jorge Ovidio, General Manager of FIAES, stated that the institution’s investment in the project has been some $11K.

The Vice Minister added that there is already an approved sum of $350K, which will be used to recover other areas of the mangrove forests in the Bay of Jiquilisco.  The starting date for this project has not been set.  In the Bay of Jiquilisco area there are about five thousand hectares of protected freshwater and saltwater forest, of which 1,900 are mangroves.  Mangrove forests grow in flat areas that fill with water when the tide rises, and they line the border where the land ends and the sea begins.  But if these trees remain in water all day, especially if it’s freshwater, they will dry up and fall at the root.

In 1950, there were 100 registered hectares of mangrove forests nationwide.  Today, there are only 35,235, which means a little over 60% of mangrove forests have been lost, and if nothing is done, in about six years, they are likely to disappear.  Mangroves function as carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide and thereby reducing levels of carbon dioxide in the air.

Another FIAES project in the region has also been the rehabilitation of the drainage points of the Nancuchiname freshwater forest, located in the villages of El Zamorán and La Canoa.  The Nancuchiname is an alluvial forest, that is, it is sustained by floodwaters in its lower regions.  Its trees are generally quite tall and lush, and have very wide roots.  There are also shorter species, such as the Huiscoyol, which create hospitable environments for the fauna of the area.

Translated by: Morelia P. Rivas,

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