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Santo Tomás de Castilla Bay


Conservation benefit: New 67-acre fish replenishment zone; environmental education

Community benefit: Ecotourism equipment, technical help to prepare request for fish replenishment zone, scholarships for fishers’ children, solar power

Date Approved: 06.2019


This project supports a local conservation-based tourism initiative.


This project protects ocean ecosystems, making coastal communities more economically and physically secure in the face of climate change.

The Elephant Stone Keys are three small islands in beautiful Santo Tomás de Castilla Bay, on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala. Mangroves fringe the islands, which also have dry tropical forest and limestone caves. The bay is a spawning area for many species of fish, including mackerel, snook, jackfish, corvina, and tarpon. More than 350 species of resident and migratory birds are found there, including egrets, herons, cormorants, frigatebirds, spotted sandpipers, and semipalmated plovers.

Fishers from outside the area, however, are using destructive fishing methods. To protect the fishery, the local fishing communities will establish, and enforce, a 67-acre no-take (“fish replenishment”) zone. They will use only artisanal line fishing in the area, part of the Green Cove (Ensenada Verde) Reserve.

The area has great potential for ecotourism because it is close to a cruise ship port and natural attractions such as Rio Dulce National Park. The communities will use a Seacology grant to buy gear such as binoculars and bird guides. They will also add solar panels to the visitors center. Local youth will receive environmental education and scholarships so they can get the skills they need to land good ecotourism jobs.

Creating the fish replenishment zone will have immediate benefits. The ultimate goal, however, is to get the national government to declare an official protected area. That would allow the artisanal-fishing requirements to be enforced against everyone, including outsiders. To apply for that enhanced status, the communities need technical help. Part of a Seacology grant will be used to get that expertise.

Our nonprofit partner is FUNDAECO, a Guatemalan NGO that, like Seacology, has a long and successful history of working with indigenous communities and provides financial incentives for environmental protection. FUNDAECO has a good record of establishing and maintaining protected areas.

Project Updates

June 2020

Our project partner had been moving ahead with classes for the fishers’ children, to teach them English as well as management and tourism skills, but the government suspended all classes because of the pandemic. On March 16, the government shut all tourist facilities. Our field representative, Marcos Terete, reports that with fewer people, wild animals—dolphins, for example, are sighted more commonly.

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December 2019

Considerable progress has already been made on this project. On the ecotourism front, our partner has bought solar panels; built a small platform, dock, and stairs; and bought a dozen bird field guides and pairs of binoculars. They’ve also met with government tourism officials and hosted a boat captain interested in bringing tourists to the area in 2020.

They are also moving ahead with classes for the fishers’ children, who will learn English as well as management and tourism skills. The courses will run for 12 weeks, beginning in February. Our representative Marcos Terete wrote that the emotion of the local children who will participate is evident. They see this project as a chance to improve their personal and family income, and are proud to show the beauty of the Green Caribbean to local and foreign visitors.

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