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"It’s incredible what the ocean gives you, even though you have nothing to give her in return."

Ocean Witness Angélica shares her story

We can take lead in recovering the health of the sea, but only if we do it together.” Angélica had been fishing her whole life, but stopped 8 years ago. Nowadays she works at an NGO to raise awareness among the fishermen, so that they respect the rules and protected areas. Because of her love for the ocean, Angélica works hard to make others aware of environmental issues. This way the generations after her will be able to enjoy the ocean just as much as she did. Today she shares her story.

become an ocean witness
09 November 2018 | Guatemala

What’s your first memory of the ocean?

As a child I used to get up early to take a swim, which is definitely one of my first and favorite memories. But I have many memories of the ocean, like an encounter with dolphins when I was alone at sea. Entering the ocean and being a part of it, is a wonderful experience. Everyday, the ocean provides us with food and life and it allows us to support our family. It’s incredible what the ocean gives you, even though you have nothing to give her in return.

"The ocean provides us with food and life everyday and it allows us to support our family."
Angélica

What does the ocean mean to you today?

My mother has always taught me to respect the ocean and other natural phenomena. I especially respect the ocean, because all life depends on it. Back when my husband and I were still fishing, I used to convince him that we shouldn’t go when the waves were wild and unsteady. Or whenever we were fishing and the ocean would surprise us with big waves, I just knew it was time to leave. I like to believe it’s the ocean getting angry and telling us to go.

Whenever we were fishing and the ocean would surprise us with big waves, I just knew it was time to leave. I like to believe it’s the ocean getting angry and telling us to go."
Angélica

How has the ocean changed over the years according to you?

Unfortunately, there have been many changes in the ocean. Only a few years ago, in 2015, there wasn’t enough oxygen in the water in our part of the Caribbean. That was a wake up call to us that climate change is very real. We had not believed in it so much before, because we did not really see or experience it. It was a very rough time; fish left the sea and resorted to rivers. In Guatemala, the fishing area is very small so it affected many communities.

Another problem is the agriculture in our region, where farmers produce African oil palms and bananas. The African oil palms are an introduced species and are causing a lot of damage, including the use of pesticides. Many of these pesticides end up in the river. The Motagua river is one of our biggest rivers, running through the entire country. It’s already polluted with garbage, leaving the entire coast line covered in an incredible amount of plastic garbage. But there are many more problems we are facing such as the effects of climate change, little control or legislations, immigration, pollution, cultivation and deforestation.

My biggest frustration is the lack of interest from the government in valuable long term projects that focus on fisheries and the protection of our oceans. We need the government to finance research and support our projects. We don’t have any funding available, no social insurances and the artisanal fishing industry is not considered a financially contributing industry. While actually, it provides a lot of jobs and it is one of the most visible economical activities. Our communities are too vulnerable to depend on donations alone. Many of the communities are located on the polluted seaside and are easily exposed to the effects of hurricanes as well.

"My biggest frustration is the lack of interest from the government in valuable long term projects that focus on fisheries and the protection of our oceans."
Angélica

What do you do to make a difference?

I haven’t been fishing for 8 years now. I work for an NGO and it’s my job to raise awareness among the fishermen and teach them about the environment, so that they respect the rules and the protected areas. It’s a difficult job and it’s hard to make progress. Not because people don’t want to, but because they are unaware of environmental issues.

So let’s imagine that it’s 2030 now. What do you think the ocean looks like?

If we want to save the oceans before that time, we need to do a lot of work. It is time to join forces. The fishing sector has come to a point where respecting the protected areas is a matter of choosing between a living ocean or a dead one. Everyone will benefit from the efforts we make. The first step is to increase awareness. We need to watch the sea with curiosity, respect and admiration the way our ancestors did. Almost all of them were fishermen to support their families.

So it is time to give something back to the ocean and encourage people to become more aware of the occurring issues and make sensible decisions about their use. That’s why we have started to organize the fishing sector and proposed ‘no take zones’ in the sea. These zones are a part of Marine Protected Areas and are left unspoiled for five years. It’s like an investment in biodiversity and preservation from which entire communities could eventually benefit.

The use of ‘no take zones’ is one of the measures we are trying to apply and develop. We are inviting communities and organizations from all over the world to join us. We can take lead in recovering the health of the sea, but only if we do it together.

"We can take lead in recovering the health of the sea, but only if we do it together."
Angélica

About Angélica

Angélica is a former fisherwoman from Guatemala, where she lives in a small village on the Caribbean Coast with her family. She dedicates her time to voluntary work to raise awareness for sustainable fishing practices among local fishers. She is seen as the female pioneer of the artisanal fishing industry and has a leading role in Guatemala. Angélica is proud to have been a fisherwoman for much of her life. In addition, she has been working for more than 15 years for the promotion of Marine Protected Areas in the Caribbean Area in Guatemala. Together with fellow fishermen and -women, she founded the Organización Representative del Sector Pesquero Artesanal del Caribe Guatemaltec y lago de Izabal. She has won the Peter Gladding Memorial Award for her contribution to sustainable commercial fishing. This award was presented by Gulf and Caribbean fisheries institute. She was also praised by the Ministry of Environment and Nature for her contribution to the development of sustainable fisheries in the Caribbean in Guatemala.

 

PS Elske, thank you for translating this story! Thanks to your time and effort, even more people will get to read this amazing Ocean Witness story. 

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Angélica

Guatemala

Angélica is a former fisherwoman from Guatemala, where she lives in a small village on the Caribbean Coast with her family. Together with fellow fishermen and -women, she founded the Organización Representative del Sector Pesquero Artesanal del Caribe Guatemaltec y lago de Izabal. She has won the Peter Gladding Memorial Award for her contribution to sustainable commercial fishing.