Jorge García Polo
State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF), and Centro de Estudios Atitlán, Universidad del Valle de Guatemala
Co-Authors: Stewart Diemont
A biocultural ecological engineering framework that links traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) with science, management, and policy could be vital for Mesoamerica and elsewhere where indigenous and local groups have a history of environmental management. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, a formerly pristine volcanic lake with a long history of Mayan traditional use, is now heavily impacted by land management that results in cultural and environmental degradation. Littoral wetlands are important areas for fish spawning, waterfowl nesting, erosion control and nutrient cycling. Wetland loss has diminished livelihoods of local peoples of the Lake Atitlan region. Mayan TEK influences fishing, crab and snail collection, and harvesting of wetland plants Typha domingensis (cattail) and Schoenoplectus californicus (sedge). These plants, together called tul, are traditionally used to weave crafts, such as sleeping mats. Interviews with farmers, fishers and artisans were conducted in three Tzutujil-speaking communities: Santiago Atitlan, San Juan La Laguna and San Pablo La Laguna. Interview results were categorized into uses, environmental impacts, and restoration of wetland plants. Collaborative fieldwork included stressor rapid assessment, water quality measurements, sediment analysis, and macrophyte diversity. All results were analyzed in participatory workshops with TEK-holders, practitioners and scientists. Findings showed that water level is a major driver of plant decline and the principles of traditional wetland management were widely used. This research will inform a more holistic vision for Lake Atitlan restoration.