Paso Pacífico was founded in 2005 to meet the unique environmental and economic challenges of Nicaragua's Pacific Slope.
Just over ten years ago, Sarah Otterstrom, still a doctoral student, was in Nicaragua doing research on climate change in the dry mountain forests, but it was the realization she had on the beach one night that would change her life.
Sarah, who grew up in the woods at the edge of high desert country in Pacific Northwest, wanted to understand how the fires of traditional agriculture and hunting affected tropical forests. After a couple years leading tourist expeditions through the rainforest canopy in Costa Rica, she had grown interested in climatological cycles and their link to fire and storm events, and their eventual role in forest regeneration. She'd seen the extreme poverty of rural Central America and was beginning to understand that economic development needed to be considered in environmental conservation plans.
One night, Sarah visited Nicaragua's Chacocente Reserve during sea turtle nesting season. Upon arriving, she learned that the nesting conditions were treacherous. In addition to heavy rains, the last turtle-nesting event had been plagued by violence. Chacocente has long been an important nesting site and the Ridley's Olive sea turtles arrive by the thousands every waning crescent moon. That year, park rangers were on hand to patrol the beaches, counting turtles at night, and removing "at risk" eggs by day. Nests too near the tide level or the mouths of riverbeds are considered to be at risk, because their eggs are likely to be inundated by water. The practice was to deliver these "at risk" eggs to improverished villagers, for whom turtle eggs were a traditional meal.
By the end of the arribada (mass nesting event), 8,000 turtles would nest, and each day hundreds of impatient locals would line up with plastic bags, begging for another ration of turtle eggs. They knew the magnitude of this nesting period, and while they'd consume some of the eggs themselves, most of them planned to sell the turtle eggs to the intermediaries who took them to the city market. In areas of extreme poverty, nesting sea turtles provide a cash income to desperate people.
On the beach that night, ten Nicaraguan soldiers, armed with rifles, were on the lookout for poachers. At one point a mob of drunken men sent someone onto the dark beach as bait. One of the soldiers chased him into the thorny coastal forest where the other men awaited him with sticks. They grabbed the young soldier's rifle and shot it into the air with glee, beat him severely with sticks, and kicked him repeatedly. When a second soldier came to his rescue, they beat him as well, and escaped with both the stolen weapons. The rescuer suffered only mild injuries, but the first soldier was hospitalized for head trauma. Both young men were fortunate to have survived. Poachers have been known to shoot and kill soldiers patrolling the beach at night. The conflict is real.
Sarah camped on the beach that arribada and pondered the state of things. On the one hand there were starving people lined up and begging for eggs. They just wanted to feed their families. On the other hand, these majestic ancient turtles were fighting their way up onto the beach in search of safe nesting grounds where they could fulfill their evolutionary duty. The enormity of the challenge overwhelmed her.
Our First Connection for Conservation
A few years later, as a delegate to the 2002 World Congress on Protected Areas in Durban, South Africa, Sarah met Liza Gonzalez, then the Director of Nicaragua's National Protected Areas System. They were thousands of miles from home, but they realized their hearts and minds were in the same place, back in the Rivas Province where they knew they could integrate advances in conservation science and economic understanding to protect biodiversity and enrich the livelihoods of the people.
Committed to realizing their shared goal for vibrant local economies alongside healthy biological corridors that span from ridge to reef, Sarah and Liza joined forces to found Paso Pacifico in 2005. Together, they manage the community empowerment programs, environmental education programs, and scientific studies which bring together private landowners, local businesses, government agencies, local and international NGOs, schoolchildren, and conservation scientists to tackle what once seemed an enormous challenge. Every day they're making connections for conservation, and affecting positive change for the people and wildlife of Nicaragua.
PO Box 1244 • Ventura, CA 93002-1244
Carretera a Masaya Km 12.4
Residencial Villas del Prado, Casa No. 7
© 2006 Paso Pacífico