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The ELLAS Initiative


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Empower Women


ELLAS, the Environmental Learning, Leadership, Adventure, and Stewardship Initiative, is transforming Nicaragua's La Flor coastal and marine protected area into a geotourism destination. By strengthening female enviropreneurs, empowering coastal communities as environmental stewards, using technology to enable participation and learning, and harnessing market forces through ecosystem service payments, the ELLAS initiative is averting large-scale environmental destruction.

The Approach

The ELLAS Initiative works directly with women, children, and communities to ensure the region’s current and future ability to sustain ecological efforts. The Initiative uses science-based monitoring to gauge the effectiveness of management at marine protected areas and the protection of key indicator species – like sea turtles and spider monkeys – which are also flagship tourism species.

Through its application of technical capacity and marketing platforms, the ELLAS Initiative enables communities to remain grounded, avoid the sale of traditional farmland, and maintain marine-based livelihoods. It also ensures local decision making for La Flor's future.


Our 25 female enviropreneurs manage tourism-centered businesses, including kayaking tours, a guide association, hostels, locally-sourced seafood restaurants, and a tree nursery supporting watershed restoration. In coordination with our sea turtle program, women have also formed a sea turtle nursery, generating income by protecting nests and educating others about sea turtle conservation.

In addition to the strides the ELLAS Initiative has taken in the cause of women enviropreneurs, it has led to an increase in community volunteers, ecological awareness, endangered species’ protection, a pro-conservation outlook in LaFlor’s youth, and eco-tourism.

The ELLAS Initiative began as a result of Paso Pacifico’s work with the people of La Flor in 2006. While speaking with members of the La Flor community, Paso Pacifico discovered that the community was not allowed to enjoy its own land. Rangers managing La Flor’s protected beaches were distrustful of La Flor’s people and suspected the community would attempt to sell the sea turtle eggs from the beaches on the black market. Thus, the rangers restricted community access to La Flor’s beaches.

Paso Pacifico felt (and continues to feel) that local people would appreciate the ecological uniqueness of their community only if they were allowed to be involved with, and aware of, it. Immediately, Paso Pacifico began taking local families on field trips to Marine Protected Areas and establishing a connection between people and place.



The ELLAS Initiative was a featured commitment at the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative.

At the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative, Paso Pacifico's Executive Director, Sarah Otterstrom, was invited to lead a session on Women as Agents in Driving Climate and Environmental Solutions. Sarah and Jane Madgwick from Wetlands International shared success stories of women in restoration efforts, leading forestry, agricultural and agroforestry innovation.

Our CGI Commitment Partners for ELLAS include, the US Forest Service International Inst. for Tropical Forestry, The Portable Light Project, and the Municipal Governments of San Juan del Sur and Cárdenas, Nicaragua.



The ELLAS Initiative won Ashoka's prestigious "Changemakers: Geotourism Challenge 2010" Award.

Geotourism is defined as tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.

Geotourism incorporates the concept of sustainable tourism—that destinations should remain unspoiled for future generations while allowing for ways to protect a place's character. Geotourism also takes a principle from its ecotourism cousin, that tourism revenue should promote conservation—and extends it to culture and history as well, that is, all distinctive assets of a place. 





This initiative receives its primary funding from the

 Interamerican Development Bank Multi-lateral Investment Fund (IADB-MIF): 

Contact Us

PO Box 1244 • Ventura, CA 93002-1244
Phone: 1-805-643-7044

Carretera a Masaya Km 12.4
Residencial Villas del Prado, Casa No. 7
Managua, Nicaragua
Phone: +505-2279-8423
Phone: +505-2279-7072

© 2006 Paso Pacífico