Community-Based Mangrove Restoration in El Salvador

Since the second half of the 20th century, more than 80 percent of all major armed conflicts occurred directly in biodiversity hotspots that sustain nearly half of the world’s plants and rare animal species. Conflict is increasing competition for scarce resources now more than ever and deepened the economic impoverishment of vulnerable and displaced populations.

A century ago, 100,000 hectares of saltwater forest were reported in El Salvador. Today, only 40% remain, accounting for less than 2% of the national territory (40,000 hectares). With an average lifespan of 25 years, these saltwater forests contribute to flood control, water purification and storage, fisheries, timber production, and aquifer recharge. Beginning in the 1950s, uncontrolled agricultural expansion led to indiscriminate logging of mangrove and freshwater forests. Since the 1990s, naturally occurring climate events have had devasting impacts on the Lower Rio Lempa: Hurricane Mitch (1998), Tropical Depression E12 (2011).

The main threats are the loss of key habitats and existing biodiversity, sedimentation and obstruction of rivers and canals, loss of hydrological balance, drying of mangroves due to increased salinity, and the loss of livelihoods due to the impact on biodiversity and overexploitation of natural resources. Economic impoverishment led to the overuse of mangroves for cooking fuel and construction, and put pressure on land for agriculture and aquaculture, destroying these protective barriers along coastlines, putting people and property at greater risk from storms. Entire ecosystems relying on mangroves for proliferation and serving as food sources have all but disappeared in denuded areas, and vital carbon sinks are destroyed. Sedimentation and obstruction of canals have affected the hydrological flow causing the degradation of several hectares of the mangrove ecosystem.

Expert studies identified the Ramsar coastal wetland sites of El Salvador, the largest mangrove forest in Central America, as needing conservation. Over the last two years, HALO has been implementing a multiprong approach to restoration and reforestation in the ‘El Llorón’ area located in the Jiquilisco Bay Reserve — one recently cleared of explosive contamination by HALO. Working in partnership with Asociación Mangle, HALO employed local people to provide livelihood opportunities to those who were at risk of recruitment by violent gangs. These teams were trained in the Community-based Ecological Mangrove Restoration technique (CBEMR) and have restored more than 1,600 mangroves within an 80-hectare area. Using expert guidance from the Mangrove Action Project, HALO teams continue to monitor the more than 330 chinampas constructed in the Quemado sector.

Project Goals:

  1. Contribute to the ecological restoration of mangrove and freshwater forests in the western sector of Xiriualtique-Jiquilisco by removing blockages, restoring the natural flow of water, planting seedlings using the ‘chinampa’ method.
  2. Reinforce economic development through project-funded local management which improves livelihoods in the community by ensuring responsible use of the mangrove. Conduct environmental education session on restoration and conservation efforts of coastal ecosystems to influence positive behavior change.
  3. Enhance protection of coastal communities from extreme weather events and reduce their impact on lives and livelihoods by contributing to climate change mitigation through increased carbon sequestration.

Project Location:
The location is the department of Usulatán, El Salvador. The defined areas are close to the Las Mesitas community, the western area of Jiquilisco Bay. The Rio Lempa feeds into the canals and Jiquilisco Bay. Clearance activities are conducted along the El Manzanillo canal, in the El Rico area (13.25833°N, -88.76747°W). Chinampas are created in the El Quemado area, in the Reserva Natural de Bosque Salado (13.274669°N, -88.764813°W).

Project Activities:

  1. Clear canals by removing sediment and obstructions to restore the natural tidal flow and create conditions for natural regeneration of the mangrove forest.
  2. Conduct an ecological survey to identify new areas requiring intervention to conserve or recover ecosystems, helping provide an improved understanding of the scale of the area of impact in Jaquilisco Bay and the type of intervention required.
    a. Monitored by two coastal conservation advisors, this ensures the process is carried out to best practice, and analyze lessons learned to enhance the effectiveness of future interventions and scale-up.
  3. Replant native trees in altered topography areas where high flood levels impede natural regeneration by using the proven Aztec ‘chinampa’ technique.
    a. The species planted will be: Avicennia germinans (10%), Laguncularia racemosa (40%), Rhizophora spp (50%). These species adapt well to higher flood levels which is common in the Jiquilisco Bay area and are determined by tidal submergence patterns.
    b. If propagules are planted, they are collected from fringe mangroves in the vicinity of the intervention area. When translocating seedlings, they are chosen according to their height (less than 50cm).
    c. The ‘chinampa’ method has been recently implemented in El Salvador and there is little historical data to draw on. After one year of planting activities, survival is estimated at 95%, however, monitoring activities will continue and seedlings will be replanted, as necessary. Conditions inhibiting growth will be investigated and addressed. While this is a high survival rate, there are no previous projects to pinpoint the density.
  4. Employ local staff of 18 at-risk young adults and female heads of households, offering an alternative to migration and crime. The team is led by four individuals with experience in conservation and restoration efforts.

Project Scale:
The total area of the project, including restoration, conservation, and planting, is 90 hectares.

The estimated total number of trees conserved, restored, and planted is 105,567.
• Conserved: 54,067 trees, an estimation using average density of sites next to the proposed intervention areas. In El Rico, the average density of 655 trees/ha for an intervention area of 30,000 ha, giving a total of 19,667 trees. In the El Horno/El Llorón sector, the average density of 800 trees/ha and an area of 43 ha, giving a total of 34,400 trees.
• Restored: 50,000 trees. The number of trees restored is based on a random sampling carried out by Mangrove Action Project in 2023, which estimates an average density of 5,000 trees/ha, extrapolating this to El Quemado (10 ha).
• Planted: 1,440 trees. HALO anticipates constructing 360 ‘chinampas’ or dispersal centers, each with an average of 4 trees.

El Rico is conducting conservation efforts and the density is expected to remain at around 600 individuals/ha. El Horno/El Llorón is conducting restoration efforts and in 5-10 years, the density will be comparable to that of the reference sites nearby, i.e., between 400 and 1200 individuals/ha (avg of 800).

Projected Outcomes:
1) Clear and/or remove sediment from 6km of canals in Jiquilisco Bay.
2) Maintain 3.7km of rehabilitated canals and chinampas constructed in the area.
3) Conduct an ecological survey to identify areas of intervention, including appropriate techniques.
4) Construction of new chinampas and reforestation in areas of degraded areas of mangrove and freshwater forests with a focus on recovering ecosystem services.
5) Implement a periodic monitoring program in intervention areas and baseline ecosystems to effectively track an efficacy rate.
6) Update local management systems by revising legal documents, this will be conducted in collaboration with Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) and organized local community groups.
7) Promote training sessions for local communities, MARN Staff, and other groups of interest with the aim of increasing knowledge on conservation, monitoring biodiversity, and providing management tools to support the conservation of Jiquilisco Bay. During progress updates and results, community members will provide feedback.
8) Identify and promote sustainable alternative uses of the mangrove ecosystem.
9) Provide communication outputs.