Chinampas technique used to restore El Salvador’s largest mangrove forest

By Sara Acosta

Jiquilisco Bay Biosphere Reserve, El Salvador, Jun 9 (EFE).- A group of 18 young men and women are employing a technique known as “chinampas” to restore a mangrove forest that lines the shores of the Jiquilisco Bay Biosphere Reserve, the largest saltwater wetland ecosystem in El Salvador and all of Central America.

Mangrove forests in El Salvador are located all along the country’s Pacific coastal region, among the most important of which are those of La Union Bay, Jiquilisco Bay (both in the eastern zone), the Jaltepeque wetland complex (central zone) and the Barra de Santiago wetland (western zone).

According to the Environment Ministry, 60 percent of El Salvador’s mangrove forest cover was lost between 1950 and 2013, falling from 100,000 hectares (386 square miles) to 40,000 hectares.

That reduction was the result of pollution, deforestation, agricultural expansion, aquaculture projects and urban and tourist development.

Jiquilisco Bay was declared a Ramsar site (a wetland site designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention) in October 2005.

That biosphere reserve covers an area of more than 63,000 hectares and contains the largest mangrove estuary in El Salvador, as well as numerous bays, canals, beaches, islands, woodlands and a complex of freshwater lagoons.

The chinampas project is being carried out in that reserve’s western zone by The HALO Trust, with support from El Salvador’s community-led Mangrove Association and the country’s Environment and Natural Resources Ministry (MARN).

The work has involved installing more than 300 chinampas, or floating islands, which are made from bamboo stakes and biodegradable vegetable material and are a technique first used centuries ago by the Aztecs to grow crops on shallow lake beds in the Valley of Mexico.

Sofia Grimaldi, a biologist and expert on mangroves, told Efe that the chinampas technique is used to plant different species of mangrove shrubs and keep the seedlings above the water line.

She said that before the project was launched in 2022 a study was conducted to “learn how low the soil level was” and “based on this information be able to know how high to raise the chinampas.”

Alejandra Rios, a Colombian expert who is a member of the HALO Trust and coordinator of the project, told Efe that chinampas had been used on a small scale in El Salvador.

“But I think this is one of the first (projects) that now has a large number of chinampas, with 330,” equivalent to more than 1,100 mangrove trees.

She said the chinampas ensure the plants are “not so elevated that they lack sufficient humidity, nor so low that they can drown during tidal surges or floods.”

Jose Maria Argueta, director of the Mangrove Association, said talk of restoring those forests through a community-based focus began in 2011 and that a year later the first intervention was carried out in an affected area.

He said the MARN, the Mangrove Association and now The HALO Trust have monitored those interventions, which “has allowed the mangrove forests to be restored steadily, including in areas where we’d practically thought they weren’t going to be restored.”

Rios said mangrove ecosystems are of vital importance for coastal communities because they serve as natural barriers in the event of natural disasters such as flooding and hurricanes.

They also are a food source and provide shelter for many different species, including fish, amphibians and birds, she added. EFE


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