Saturday, July 31, 2010

3,000 Miles South: harmonizing surfing and ocean conservation in Nicaragua


As any surfer knows, surfing is about a whole lot more than catching waves.
True, the stoke from catching that perfect barrel is second to none, but think about how much better it is when the view from that perfect barrel, or from your board between sets, is of a beautiful natural landscape.
Or how much better your session is on the days you surf with a school of dolphins or a solitary seal.
We surfers are lucky - on a daily basis, we get the unique opportunity to commune with the ocean and its creatures--to remember why conservation of our natural resources is so important.

In California, though we may often surf with seals and views from the lineup include natural landscapes, far more frequently, that view is obstructed by houses, and you might surf with trash like used syringes, plastic bottles, or dirty diapers. 3,000 miles south of here, off the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, the view from the lineup is of lush coastal mangroves and expansive seasonally dry tropical forests, and sea turtles are common surfing companions.
The 300 km of Pacific coastline receives consistent swell and prevailing off shore wind, with many of the best waves breaking in front of pristine beaches.
Yes, Nicaragua is a surfing paradise, but it shares California's struggle to maintain trash-free beaches and clear waters.

Ventura-based conservation organization, Paso Pacífico, is working tirelessly to preserve this Central American country's natural biodiversity and beautiful coast.
The organization annually coordinates Nicaragua's participation in the International Coastal Clean-up, an event sponsored annually by the Ocean Conservancy which again and again reveals the need for action.
Last year's Clean-up removed 332, 924 pounds of trash from Nicaragua's coastline, including 521 tires, 2,595 diapers, and 95,561 plastic bags--nearly twice the numbers of the same items found in Mexico.

Paso Pacífico sees Nicaragua's need first-hand, and has begun programs in the Paso del Istmo as a starting-point for conservation.
Paso del Istmo is biological corridor designed for the narrow Rivas Isthmus located on Nicaragua's southwestern coast, sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and Lake Nicaragua, Central America's largest freshwater lake.
For millennia, this narrow passageway has served as a land bridge for wildlife migrating between North and South America.
But under the pressure of growing population, agriculture, and land development, the Paso del Istmo and its ecosystems face a serious threat.
Paso Pacifico has targeted this area, from the forested mountain ridges to the ocean's rocky reefs, as one of the most important for the continued health of the nation's ecosystems.

Though adventurous ex-pats have been surfing in Nicaragua for years, surfing has become increasingly popular with young Nicaraguans.
Particularly in coastal fishing communities, surfing is both an outlet and a source for positive energy.
For years now, particularly in the US but abroad as well, organizations like the Surfrider Foundation have proven that tapping into a surfer's passion can help achieve real action in ocean conservation.
With a recent grant from SIMA, Paso Pacífico will harness Nicaragua's growing passion for surfing to expand environmental protection and education programs to the Nicaraguan surfing community and beloved ocean playgrounds.
Paso Pacífico will hire and coordinate with a local surfer to educate peers about marine conservation issues and to communicate emerging threats of coastal development.
Local surfers will also lead their communities in Nicaragua's International Coastal Clean-up, thereby involving even more of the coastal population in conservation efforts.
Last year, Paso Pacífico mobilized over 6,000 volunteers in Nicaragua, but this year Paso Pacífico hopes that increased awareness will draw far greater numbers.
If you plan to be in Nicaragua or Ventura, CA on September 25th and are interested in joining Paso Pacífico's cleanup efforts, or if you are interested in participating in your own local beach cleanup, you can find out more information here.

Paso Pacífico's other ocean conservation initiatives extend beyond the beaches to marine wildlife.
For example, a community ranger program protects endangered sea turtles, an ecotourism guide training program provides jobs in sustainable tourism, and hands-on educational projects with local schools motivate local children.

Paso Pacífico pictures a Nicaragua where surfers and sea turtles continue riding waves together, where diapers and tires in the lineup are not a common reality, and where an empowered Nicaraguan population becomes part of the solution.
With the help of the surfing community, Paso Pacifico is working to realize that vision along Nicaragua's important and fragile Pacific coast.

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