By Margaret Southern
For many people in the United States, food comes from the grocery store. Most Americans would be hard pressed to determine the real origins of much of the food we eat. But residents of the Cayos Cochinos islands off the northern coast of Honduras know exactly where their food comes from: the ocean outside their doors.
Here, it’s not just their stomachs that rely on the bounty of the ocean—it’s almost their entire economy. But overfishing and industrial fishing continues to put pressure on their marine resources. The Nature Conservancy is working with partners and locals to protect their reefs through education, conservation and income-generating projects.
In 2007, the Conservancy and the Cayos Cochinos Foundation identified almost 20 income-generating projects with the goal of increasing income for households that depend heavily on the reef.
One of these projects was the construction of a small tourist complex managed by the East End community. The community hopes to attract tourists with two eco-friendly cabins, which were built with outside funding, and an ocean-view restaurant serving traditional Garifuna meals, funded by the Conservancy. The Conservancy is connecting the community with tourism service providers to promote best practices and ensure the protection of conservation targets.
The Cayos Cochinos Foundation, along with the Conservancy and other groups, has also worked with the communities to establish management plans that encourage no-take zones and the construction of artificial reefs that serve as nurseries for small fish. And through other partnerships, laws have been passed that will eventually prohibit industrial fishing around the marine protected area.
All of these initiatives are important in creating sustainability in the reefs and communities of Cayos Cochinos. According to Francisco Velasquez, a school teacher in East End, if it weren’t for the Conservancy, they wouldn’t still be living on that island.
“Our livelihood depends on fishing, but in the past large ships would come in and sweep the whole ocean clear of fish. There was nothing left for us to eat,” Velasquez said. “But now with the conservation of this area the fish are returning, and through the tourism project we are creating new solutions to increase our income and improve our lives.”
In Cayos Cochinos, these projects would not have been possible without Anthony Ives. A former San Francisco stock trader who at one point was managing 50 billion dollars for the state of California, Ives found his way to Honduras after Sept. 11 through the Peace Corps. He created the Foundation Heart Ventures-Grupo de Apoyo al Desarollo (IHV-GAD) to have a focus on education, conservation and job creation, with the idea that it is not possible to separate the three objectives.
“We have found that an integrated approach is much more sustainable, and we’re very happy that the Conservancy shares our long-term vision to sustainable conservation,” Ives said. “We hope to convince other organizations that through an integrated approach that involves education, we can achieve sustainable development while focusing on the environment.”