Mar 20, 2013

Under the Weather in Upper Guatemala

¡Buenos días!

Every morning I wake up in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, to the blue mountains of the Cuchumatanes that rise more than 2 miles above sea level. This morning, the temperature in the city is around 5 ° C (40°F). Here, January is typically the coldest month of the year and yet I am travelling from Huehuetenango to the upper parts of the Cuchumatanes Mountains, where nighttime and early morning temperatures can dip even lower, often below freezing.

Passing through the towns of San Juan Ixcoy, Soloma, Santa Eulalia, and San Mateo Ixtatán along the way I pass through fog, heavy rain, and then a little drizzle. Eventually, I arrive at the city of Barillas where it is no drier. In fact, it rains here about 11 months out of the year.

A local villager is all smiles in the early morning fog.
The weather here in northern Guatemala is predictably unpredictable. Sometimes, on days without a cloud in the sky, I’ll  suddenly be in the middle of a heavy downpour. Other times, there will be sunshine day after day and only a light rain at night. It can make travel plans and deciding what to wear pretty difficult.
For example, one day I visited the Maxbal lagoon in Barillas and decided not to pack rubber boots. When it was time for us to hike – since we couldn’t go any further in our truck, I realized just how big a mistake that was. Trail conditions were a mess since it had rained heavily the night before, but I needed to continue on to the lagoon, and so I hiked. I fell more times than I care to admit, but I learned my lesson. Wherever, whenever, and no matter what, you should always bring rubber boots. 

Muddy conditions after a rainstorm.
Another time, last year, I was participating in a community training in the middle of the village of Xapper at a tin-roofed community meeting house. The day was beautiful and bright, and then, around noon, a shower came down so intensely we had to suspend the training since no one could hear anything over the relentless pounding of the rain on the roof! We had to wait nearly an hour until the rain had subsided enough to continue the training. 

A view from the village center, with a tin-roofed meeting house and expansive mountains in the distance.
The weather in this area is much more than just an unpredictable inconvenience, though. The land itself is very hilly and mountainous with large areas that have been completely deforested due to illegal logging and slash-and-burn agriculture. Without trees and vegetation the heavy rains wash away soil and frequent landslides occur that can destroy remaining trees, cause water contamination and harm people and buildings as well. Additionally, the landslides often spread across highways and streets, restricting reliable transportation access, emergency evacuation routes, and communication with rural communities.
From desert to jungle, from chilly to oppressive heat, Guatemala is a land of diverse climates, in part thanks to our expansive and majestic mountains. The climate is unpredictable, but the work EcoLogic does, and our commitments to communities and to conserving the land are consistent and unwavering. 

Daniel Herrera, Program Officer for Guatemala
Daniel first joined EcoLogic in 2010 as a field technician, and in 2012 became a Program Officer, overseeing all EcoLogic's projects in Guatemala and providing technical assistance to our local partners.

Mar 4, 2013

Mighty Mexican Mangroves

Hola Friends!

I recently visited the Papaloapan River Wetlands with Pronatura Veracruz, a regional nonprofit in Mexico that partners with EcoLogic. We were meeting to discuss mangrove conservation. Mangroves can refer to salt-water wetlands or to the types of salt-hardy tree species that live there. Mangroves protect coastlines from erosion by wind and waves. They are also home to hundreds of species of fish, crabs, shrimp, and other shellfish (some of which are very tasty!). It was an enriching day and full of surprises.

Prior to the visit, I had the pleasure of talking to some fishermen on the Papaloapan River in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz and got their perspective on the changes that the river has suffered over the years and how it has affected them.

One said ... "it seems as if it’s a completely different river, and now you can’t fish it like before, but as long as God wills it, we are still managing to feed ourselves from it.” This brought to mind discussions with environmentalists and conservationists about “the exploitation of natural resources." However, when watching the fishermen it was clear that they had their "art" and only kept fish of a certain size, returning the smallest back to the river, and respecting the cycle of life.

A mangrove tree stands tall along the Papaloapan River in Mexico.
In that moment I realized that "conservation by the people," was not something that we had to teach or implement, it was something we had to assess and enhance. Fishermen already believe they need to protect what they have.

During the tour of the river, I saw many of the different types of threats to mangroves including cattle ranching and sugar cane cultivation, and I especially saw the impact they have on the species that live there. I was also astonished by the large amount of fish to be found swimming around the large mangrove roots. A tour the Papaloapan River to see the extent mangroves.

A tour of the Papaloapan River to see the extent of the mangroves.
Our friends at Pronatura explained that the success rate for efforts to reforest mangrove trees is actually very low. This is because government led mangrove reforestation projects while well intentioned, have often been undertaken in locations that did not have the best ecological characteristics to ensure the success of such efforts.

Pronatura saw the situation and a few years ago they decided to establish a pilot plot to identify techniques to increase the success rate of mangrove reforestation projects. In just a short time Pronatura has achieved impressive results, with the successful establishment and spread of mangroves at the pilot site.

But for EcoLogic the success of any restoration project is not just about planting a certain number of trees and then saying "we’re done." We believe a project must go further and integrate communities into this process. So in this final stage of the mangrove restoration pilot project, we are working with Pronatura to raise community awareness of the importance of the mangroves, and to involve the local people actively in the process of conserving the mangroves.

With that in mind we are producing a documentary called "Reflections on Water" which will explain about mangroves and their importance, and we will invite people from the communities in the area to watch the video.

There is still a lot of work to do and challenges ahead, but I know that if we work together with partners like Pronatura and local communities, we can advance the preservation of this fragile ecosystem on the Papaloapan River.

-Marco Acevedo, Program Officer for Mexico
Marco works on EcoLogic's projects in Mexico and has direct experience in preparation, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of environmental conservation and rural development projects in Mexico.