EplerWood International focused on developing financial sustainability strategies for El Salvador’s parks and sea turtle conservation programs in 2010, as an extension to their work in the country from 2007-2009, funded by USAID. Megan Epler Wood helped design a Plan for Tourism Concessions, focusing on tourism in Montecristo National Park, home to the biosphere reserve cloud forest ecosystem known as El Trifinio which is shared by El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This underutilized park has excellent infrastructure for camping and day visits, and a historic farm house that dates to the earliest colonial settlements in the country. The project’s task included work with MARN, the Ministry of Natural Resources, to develop a program that allowed socially responsible business to operate authorized tourism businesses in the park, while generating revenue for local well being and environmental conservation.
On El Salvador’s coastline, a dramatic and total ban on the harvest of all sea turtle eggs in early 2009 has led to an emergency effort by USAID to support the conservation of sea turtle nests and help provide alternative livelihoods to local people. Four of the six species of the world’s endangered sea turtles come to the beaches of El Salvador to lay their eggs, and it is estimated that up to 99% of the eggs are stolen from nests and sold for human consumption, regardless of species. El Salvador has the majority of nests of the Eastern Pacific hawksbill turtles, one of the world’s most endangered sea turtle populations.
In 2010, the EplerWood International team worked with local partners to establish the best sites for visitors to view sea turtles, developed protocols for tourism visitors, and launched an educational tourism program that benefited conservation, educate local youth, and helped egg collectors generate a new form of income that is not dependent on destroying the endangered turtles.