This project brings together local fisherfolk and rural communities in the lower Sarstoon River Basin and coastal-marine area, along the disputed Caribbean border of Belize and Guatemala, to help develop and put in place cooperative strategies to promote healthy fisheries and protect the coastal ecosystem.
While at present no marine conservation areas have been legislatively declared in this zone, a combined total of over 50,000 hectares of terrestrial wetland conservation areas have been declared by national governments and recognized by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. The restrictions placed on local villagers have caused tension and mistrust, however, due in large part to a lack of adequate consultation before imposing protected areas on people. Over the past decade, bay fisheries have declined significantly due (in part) to inappropriate fishing practices, such as using gill and drag nets, illegal cross-border fishing, and indiscriminate fishing in known spawning areas, mainly by Guatemalan fisherfolk. In addition, the area suffers from ineffectively applied seasonal closures and counterproductive marine resource zoning, particularly as a result of the lack of coordinated regulations between Belize and Guatemala.
EcoLogic has worked in the region, first in Belize and later in Guatemala, to support learning exchanges, community meetings, resource management planning and execution, shared resource-use agreements, environmental education activities, and cultural activities that promote cross-border cooperation and understanding. Agroforestry, fuel-efficient stoves, and composting latrines are among EcoLogic’s livelihoods interventions in the area. In addition, we have provided support and expertise to develop value-added fish processing and cold storage.
Conflict is intensifying in and around the Sarstoon-Temash National Park between the indigenous peoples of Belize and a US oil drilling company, US Capitol Oil, which has been moving forward with exploration and drilling activities for the past two years. In spite of opposition from the local and indigenous peoples of the area, and the significant and documented negative impacts of US Capital Energy’s activities on the animal and plant life of the park, the company continues to invest in exploration and infrastructure to drill for oil throughout the park. If these activities continue we feel certain they will have severe negative impacts on the biodiversity and ecosystems of the park and on the sovereignty and wellbeing of the indigenous Belizeans living in the area.
Local Partners: Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) in Belize, Mayan Association for Well-Being in the Sarstun Region (APROSARSTUN) in Guatemala.
Year Project Began: 2004
Recent project highlights:
- Led a soccer tournament to promote cross-cultural communication and cooperation. Matches were held between five communities (three in Guatemala, two in Belize). The final was played in February 2013 and won by the team from the community of Barranco, Belize.
- A team of students from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers university created a set of maps, based on data about the Sarstun region, that illustrate a variety of issues, actualities, and trends, including tree cover and vegetation density, flood plains, temperature and climate change predictions, pollution and development, biodiversity hotspots, and fisheries activity. The team visited the region in early 2013 to present their findings to community members, as well as to Greg Ch’oc, founder and executive director of SATIIM.
- In late 2012-2013 installed fuel-efficient stoves and latrines on Belizean side of river for the first time.
- eNews: Switzer Foundation Interview with EcoLogic’s David Kramer
- Blog: A Bridge Over Troubled Waters
Country: Belize and Guatemala
Year Project Began: 2004
Size of Project Site: 52,158 hectares: 35,202 hectares of Guatemala’s Sarstun River Multiple Use Zone, and 16,956 hectares of Belize’s Sarstoon Temash National Park, including five buffer zone communities in Belize
Languages Spoken: English, Garifuna, K’ekchi’, Spanish
Sources of Income: Fishing, farming, mineral extraction, timber extraction, hunting, oil drilling
Unique Environmental and Geographic Features: The Sarstun River forms the border between Guatemala and Belize, including along the edge of Sarstoon Temash National Park in Belize, which is recognized as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. A combined total of over 50,000 hectares have been declared terrestrial wetland conservation areas by national governments and recognized by the Ramsar Convention.
Ecosystems: Tropical wet forest, wetland, coastal/marine
Endangered Species: At least 37
Select species at this project site:
- American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)
- Big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla)
- Black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra)
- Black-handed spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi)
- Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi)
- Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)
- Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
- Morelet’s crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii)
- Thomas’ sac-winged bat (Balantiopteryx io)
- Van Gelder’s bat (Bauerus dubiaquercus)
Select progress made by EcoLogic and local partners in 2012-2013:
- Established 17.2 hectares of agroforestry plots.
- Constructed 36 composting latrines (27 in Guatemala, nine in Belize).
- Built 175 fuel-efficient stoves (150 in Guatemala, 25 in Belize).
- On the Belizean side of the river, held community meetings, workshops and learning exchanges. Themes included: seasonal closure calendars, protected area co-management, sustainable fishing techniques, threatened species, and causes and effects of overfishing.
- On the Guatemalan side of the river conducted learning exchanges and workshops. Themes included fisheries and aquaculture laws; watersheds and microwatersheds; risk reduction management in response to climate change; safe and sanitary production of value-added fish products, such as sausage; sustainable fisheries management; and alley-cropping agroforestry.