Located in eastern El Salvador, the Bay of Jiquilisco and its watershed are home to an immense natural wealth and a truly singular system of social organization. Over a quarter of a million people inhabit the area and for most, the bay and its basin provide the means to support themselves and their families. Apart from the major cities of Usulután and Zacatecoluca, as well as the various municipal centers, the region is mostly rural. Coffee plantations predominate in the hilly middle and upper watershed; in the lower watershed, where more than three-quarters of the population lives, inland communities cultivate corn and sugarcane while coastal communities farm shrimp, collect shellfish, and fish in the bay and ocean. The Bay boasts the largest mangrove forest and wetland area in the country, approximately 190 km2, an ecosystem of local, national, and global importance and an anomaly in a country with only two percent of its original forest remaining. It includes four species of mangrove and is a critical habitat and breeding ground for myriad species of marine and migratory birds, fish, and shellfish, as well as a nesting place for four of the world’s seven sea turtle species. These mangroves are also home to the last remaining population of Geoffrey’s spider monkeys in El Salvador. Moreover, the forest protects coastal communities from storm surges and acts as a major carbon sink. In recognition of its immeasurable value, the Bay of Jiquilisco was named a Ramsar site of International Importance in 2005, and a natural protected area under Salvadoran domestic law. UNESCO also declared the Bay a Biosphere Reserve in 2007. Over 20% of all Salvadorans, or roughly 1.5 million people, do not have direct access to water in their households for drinking or bathing. Rural areas suffer disproportionately, with 60% of households that subsist amidst a heavily developed agriculture landscape relying primarily upon surface water for drinking. This surface water is highly contaminated with heavy metals, chemical pollutants from agricultural runoff, and human waste in untreated sewage discharge. Nearly two thirds of the country’s water supply comes from surface sources such as streams, rivers andThe watershed is dotted with sugarcane fields. The sugar industry’s intensive production system, including liberal use of agrochemicals and sugarcane burning, negatively impacts local waterways and communities. There are several proposed large-scale projects in the pipeline (industrial agriculture and Cancún-Style tourism) that could have potentially transformative and harmful impacts on local environments and economies.
Mr. José María "Chema" Argueta is the Jiquilisco Bay Waterkeeper. He was born and raised in the Bay of Jiquilisco and has worked there throughout his entire professional life, focusing on fisheries management, participatory community mapping, geographic data analysis, and protected areas management. He grew up in a fisher folk family and has been instrumental in helping lead local solutions to dynamite fishing, more effective coastal ecosystem restoration, and environmental enforcement in Central America ́s most extensive mangrove forest and coastal estuary. Mr. Argueta has helped improve local models of community-based natural resource management that are now enshrined in national environmental and land use policies in El Salvador. He has a degree in Natural Resource Management.
Asociación Mangle, Kilómetro 85 Carretera El Litoral, Cantón San Nicolás Lempa
Tecoluca, San Vicente