CATARINA— Residents living around the crater shores of the singularly fetching Laguna de Apoyo are becoming increasingly aware that building a sustainable tourism industry in their beloved nature reserve means making concerted and consistent efforts toward conservation and cleanliness.
In the first annual “EcoFest,” a weeklong ecological festival organized this week by the staff of the Peace Project, a local environmental organization, residents and foreign visitors are joining together to clean-up the lagoon and raise awareness about the importance of keeping it that way.
From trail clean-ups to beach pick-ups, residents are rallying to keep their volcanic lagoon looking good just in time for the incoming rainy season to bring everything back to life.
“It’s a very important festival for biodiversity,” says local resident Celeste Salinas, who studies tourism administration in Masaya. “It’s a week when we learn how to take care of nature.”
Salinas said she has seen more neighbors and visitors joining in on clean-ups and paying attention to the environment. She thinks the awareness campaigns are working.
“It’s different now than in the past; there is less trash, kids are learning more about how to care for the environment and more people are participating now,” she says.
Javier Latino, who works for the Catarina municipal government’s environmental department, agrees the Laguna de Apoyo is looking cleaner than ever.
“Eight years ago, there were mountains of trash. But today people put trash in barrels. There is greater understanding of the importance of caring for the land,” Latino said, as he holds two large trash bags.
Latino says Catarina’s municipal government is allocating nearly 8 million córdobas ($328,000)—or 15% of its entire budget—to land maintenance, water sanitation and disaster prevention. That’s a dramatic increase in funding from a few years ago, when virtually no money was earmarked for those environmental issues, he says.
While locally organized clean-ups have become increasing commonplace in recent years, this is the first year that Catarina’s municipal government and Laguna de Apoyo park rangers asked the Peace Project to partner with them for a week-long event dedicated to environmental awareness, says Sarah Dobson, executive director of The Peace Project.
“The alcaldia approached us first. They said they see tourism as an opportunity but want it to be sustainable,” the 23-year-old U.S. native said. “Business owners on the lake want to keep it clean, and I think people who live here are getting better about caring for the lake because there is a concept that this is our home.”
Ecology professor and naturalist Erick Vandenberghe, who has worked in the area for 20 years, is pleased by the area’s green progress.
“Ten years ago, there was no regular concerted effort to keep the beaches clean. Now there are tighter regulations on things like chopping down trees for firewood,” Vandenberghe says. “Five years ago the monkeys came back…they are the first species to tell you if you have continuous tree cover.”
The naturalist is optimistic the trend will continue.
“As tourism grows, the locals realize the value of wildlife,” he says. “Solving problems comes from creating a change in attitude.”
On Thursday, the ecological festival will feature an "EcoFair" with live music, theater, exhibitions of local environmental projects and green technologies.
On Friday, the EcoFest will have a carnival with a recycled-costume parade.
The festival will conclude this weekend with a two-day underwater clean-up to remove garbage from the lagoon itself.