Help Local Leaders Save the Mesoamerican Reef

Oct 2, 2014

MAR Leadership News: July - September 2014

The MAR Fellows 2014 together with the consultants
The MAR Fellows 2014 together with the consultants

1. What are the MAR Fellows doing…?

The Board of Experts for the sustainable management of materials in the Yum Balam APFFYB. On July 29th, a meeting in Kantunilkín, head of Lázaro Cárdenas Municipality, Quintana Roo, Mexico, was held with members of the municipality, the Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP, by its Spanish acronym) represented by Denisse Angeles (2014 MAR Fellow), the Association of the Riviera Maya Hotels with Fernando del Valle (2014 MAR Fellow), the civil society organizations with Tzahyrí Peraza (2014 MAR Fellow) and with the support of the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature with Elisa Lopez (Leadership ).  The purpose of the meeting was the sum of multisectorial efforts to implement an integral plan for the sustainable management of the materials in the area. Despite the complicated situation due to a long history of tensions, the meeting was a success reaching very promising agreements for future actions.

TreadRight Award - Contiki to the best conservation and sustainable tourism project. Tzahyrí Peraza (2014 MAR Fellow) project which is focused on the creation of a recycling micro enterprise on the island of Holbox and Carlos Segura (2012 MAR Fellow) to promote the consumption of lionfish through the strengthening of the cooperatives, were selected by the TreadRight Foundation and Contiki Holidays to receive a scholarship of $ 4,500 USD each to carry out their projects. Congratulations Fellows!

Chain of bottles for a good cause.  The 2014 MAR Fellows Tzahyrí Peraza, Lemuel Mena, and Fernando Valle were joined into more than a network, a rather real living chain from the Island of Cozumel to the Island of Holbox to reduce plastic consumption of a secondary school. Organized by Tzahyrí, Lemuel took 150 high quality sport thermos accumulated after the events of Iron Man Cozumel Test in the materials collection center of the island and through the ferry moved them to Playa del Carmen. There Fernando took the witness (the thermos) and transported them by road to Cancun, in where Tzahyrí received them and finally by bus, taxi and ferry, delivered them in the Holbox school. For years, in the dining facility of the school (on its way to become the first "zero plastic school" of Mexico thanks to the constant efforts of Tzahyrí) more than 600 PET bottles after a single use were discarded; and yet behind this initiative, the thermos of Cozumel are reused every day producing zero plastic waste. Good for you Fellows!


2. Successful Workshop in Guatemala

From the 23rd to 30th of August, 2014, the 2014 MAR Leadership Cohort attended the third leadership workshop that took place between Guatemala City and Rio Dulce, in the Guatemala's Caribbean.

During the first three days of the workshop, the consultants Mark Lichtenstein and Laura Cardoso from the Syracuse Center Solutions for Sustainable Communities, provided feedback in regards the progress made by fellows’ teams, and provided interesting training on communication strategies, disclosure and education, facilitation of debates and socio-cultural factors affecting the resolution of communitarian conflicts. The consultant Izarelly Rosillo talked about the progress in the reform of the General Law for the Prevention and Management of Waste (LGPGIR, by its Spanish acronym) in Mexico, amendment in which she and Dr. Cristina Cortinas (who could not join us in Guatemala due to health problems) are very active participants.  Dr. Rosillo also provided the group with a training about argumentation techniques. The workshop was also attended by Carlos Saavedra from the Summit Foundation and six fellows of previous cohorts that accompanied us along through different points of the workshop.

Following the successful Cozumel´s induction workshop model, a Forum on Integrated Solid Waste Management in the countries of the MAR was organized, which on this occasion had the honor of having, as the venue,  the main auditorium of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG ) in Guatemala City. The event was a success comparable to the previous one with an abundant audience throughout the day and with the presence of representatives of the central government of Guatemala, as well as of the City of Livingston in the Department of Izabal, in where the 2014 leadership project in Guatemala focuses its efforts; members of the most representative civil society organizations related to managing solid waste in the country were present too. Throughout the day, the fellows shared their projects, experiences and concerns with all of them.

The second half of the week began with a field trip to the Amatitlán Lake, which was guided by the experts of the Authority for the Sustainable Management of the Amatitlán Watershed and Lake (AMSA, by its Spanish acronym) and to the associated landfill. The rest of the week was held in Rio Dulce, Izabal, where the introspection and personality analysis workshop ran by the Psychologist Carlos Terzano was developed. Finally, La Garza School Boat took us through the canyons of the Rio Dulce up to its mouth in Puerto Barrios, where we finally disembark to go back to Guatemala City.

In conclusion, it was a very exciting workshop, filled of emotions, learnings, as well as new challenges to which no fellow was indifferent.


3. International Beach Cleaning

On September 21, the MAR Leadership Program joined Ocean Conservancy Initiative on the Beach International Day, accompanying them on beaches along Quintana Roo, Mexico. Last year, Ocean Conservancy worldwide collected 12,329,332 pounds (approx. 5,600 tons) of trash along 12.914 miles of shoreline, of which Mexico collected about 50 tons. Data from 2014 have not yet been published, but the expectations are very high!  This has been a great initiative to keep our shores free of debris, for the Leadership Program as well as for the MAR Fellows to support.


4. The World Water Week Twitter Chat

On September 3rd, within the framework of the World Water Week, an open forum on Twitter was held to discuss today´s issues on the global water crisis and the future of this resource.  This event was organized by the TreadRight Foundation. MAR Leadership project officer, Elisa Lopez was invited as panelist to participate in the event.


5. Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Workshop

During July 24th and 25th a Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Workshop was held at the Akumal Ecological Center, Quintana Roo, Mexico, taught by Rosario Espinoza (from the Center for Civic Collaboration) and organized by the Kay Kanan Alliance, in which the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature is a member.  The goal of the workshop was to strengthen the dialogue, listening and effective negotiation skills of Alliance partners. In the training both MAR Leadership Program director, Maria Eugenia Arreola and the project officer, Elisa Lopez participated.

Successful Workshop in Guatemala
Successful Workshop in Guatemala
Beach cleaning in Quintana Roo
Beach cleaning in Quintana Roo
Chain of bottles for a good cause
Chain of bottles for a good cause


Mar 31, 2014

MAR Leadership News: April - June 2014

Dear MAR Leadership friends:

We are happy to share with you our latest deveopments. I hope you find this report interesting. 

New 2014 MAR Leadership cohort

We are proud to present the MAR Leadership 2014 Cohort. Their projects will focus on Sustainable Materials Management. 2014 MAR Fellows are: Tanya Barona from Punta Gorda Belize, Emerson Garcia from Belmopan, Belize, Mario Salazar, From Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, Joanna Giron from Guatemala City, Melissa Alvarez from Guatemala City, Laura Palmese from Tegucilgalpa, Honduras, Cindy Flores from Roatan Honduras, David Barahona from Roatan, Honduras, Lemuel Manases from Cozumel, Mexico, Monica Alba from Cancun, Mexico, Fernando del Valle from Playa del Carmen, Mexico, Denise Solis from Kantunilkín, Mexico and Tzahyri Peraza from Holbox, Mexico.Check them out at

This year, the MAR Leadership Program has the "regional vision" of fostering integrated waste management systems and preventing environmental pollution. These actions will positively impact the reef and public health in five communities (Holbox and Cozumel in Mexico; Punta Gorda in Belize; Livingston in Guatemala, and Roatán in Honduras). In order to overcome this conservation challenge, 2014 MAR Fellows will use the Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) approach which emphasizes source reduction, materials reuse, composting, recycling, job creation, and regional economic development as alternatives to ordinary disposal methods.  

Monica and Lemuel’s project is: An Integrated Programe for Sustainable Materials Management in Cozumel Island. Denisse, Tzahyri and Fernando will design and implement the project: Integrated Waste Management Plan in the Natural Protected Area of Yum Balam (Which includes Holbox). Mario, Melissa and Joanna’s project is: Solid Waste Management in Livingston, a Pilot Project that can be Replicated in Coastal and Marine Areas. David, Laura and Cindy’s project is Sustainable Materials Management through economic political, educational and social development.

Successful Inception Workshop for the 2014 cohort, 22 – 28 June 2014 in Cozumel, México

During the workshop, Cristina Cortinas, Izarelly Rosillo, and the team from Syracuse Center for Sustainable Community Solutions, led by Mark Lichtenstein and Laura Cardoso assisted 2014 fellows in developing their project ideas and integrating them into one project for each selected community. Andrés Jorge González engaged all in an interactive storytelling course. Eda Roth (former Broadway actress and communication consultant) taught fellows how to ensure that the audience pays attention to their presentation and how to speak in public. A forum for solid waste management was also held. The objective of this forum was to open a space for government officials and members of the various sectors who are interested in integrated solid waste management system in Quintana Roo, exchange ideas and experiences with MAR Leadership consultants and fellows.

During the workshop, we took a field trip to visit Cozumel’s sanitary landfill and visited the transfer station where waste is collected and recycled. In the afternoon we embarked to Cozumel Reefs National Park. We visited Colombia Bajo Reef: this site, located within a Protected Area, is one of the island’s healthiest reefs. Various species of living coral, groups of fish, sea turtles and other species are present. Because the site is frequented by tourists, the implementation of good practices by tour operators and tourists alike is essential.

New MAR Leadership team

The MAR Leadership team has recently evolved. Elisa López joined us in April as Project Officer. Elisa studied her career in oceanography at the University of Vigo, Spain and at the Arctic University of Norway. She got a MSc in Marine Sciences and Limnology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). After some years travelling and enrrolled in oceanographic campaigns, Elisa has spent the last four years teaching and researching the Mesoamerican Reef. She worked for The School for Field Studies (SFS) in the Turks and Caicos Islands and Global Vision International (GVI) in Mahahual, Mexico. Thalia Medina is the new Program’s Administrative Assistant. Thalia earned her bachelor’s degree in Institutional Management at Universidad Panamericana, and she has a multidisciplinary background that has allowed her to develop in both public and private institutions. She has collaborated with IMPULSA JA Worldwide, organizing and coordinating educational programs for children and youth. We prize Thalia’s ability to solve problems so that the program runs smoothly, as well as her attention to detail. Alejandra Iñigo is supporting the program in the area of communication and social networks. Alejandra is currently studying Neurosciences and is teaching mathemathics. She is co-founder of Glía Centro de Aprendizaje where she develops communication strategies. Her passion is to share knowledge and continuous learning is the reason why she likes to work in the MAR Leadership Program. 

To see the photos download the PDF report 


The MAR Leadership Program thanks our donors, including individual donors fromGlobalGiving,for their support and generosity.

We hope you enjoy it and thank you very much for your continued support MAR Leadership Program!

Warm wishes,

The MAR Leadership Team


Dec 26, 2013

End of the Year MAR Leardership Report

Dear friends of MAR Leadership,

The end of 2013 is upon us, and we want to take this moment to share with you some of the things that we did this year in MAR Leadership.

2013 was a year of challenges and opportunities, reflection and learning. A year in which we proudly saw MAR Fellows shine and reach their personal and professional goals. Many of them obtained new positions and responsibilities; all of them achieved great things, promoting information exchange and synergies with their colleagues and contacts.

We’re attaching an end-of-year newsletter that describes the year in greater depth.

Thank you for your collaboration and support. We hope that 2014 is a great year for you and that we all continue working together for the Mesoamerican Reef System.

Warm wishes,

The MAR Leadership Team

Sep 25, 2013

Mariela's mangroves

Hi everyone!

We're gearing up for the launch of our new call for applications, and soon we'll be interviewing candidates for the 2014 cohort of MAR Leadership! It's a very exciting time.

While we are working on that behind-the-scenes, we'd like to share with you the story of Mariela, 2012 MAR Fellow, and her mangrove restoration project on the island of Guanaja, Honduras. 

Also, remember the video series we shared with you last time? Parts 3 and 4 have been launched, so click here for lionfish or here for lobsters.

And now, without further ado, here's the first half of Mariela's story as related by the staff of Leadership Learning Community, who carried out our external evaluation. We'll share the rest next month.


Heroes of the Swamp

Chapter 1: The Story of Place

“Guanaja” means the island of the Caribbean pine trees. Guanaja is one of the Honduran Bay Islands of striking and diverse geographical beauty, covered in the deep green Caribbean pine trees endemic to the region. When viewed against the turquoise blue water of the Caribbean Sea, it becomes clear why many call this island paradise.

The three main towns on the island are Bonacca, Mangrove Bight, and Savannah Bight. The majority of the population of Guanaja, approximately 10,000 people, lives in Bonacca, which is actually on a cay off the main island. Bonacca has been called the Venice of the Caribbean because of the bridges and canals that connect the community. Passing the island, we can see young kids laughing and jumping into the water from the boat dock.

Guanaja was devastated in 1998 by Hurricane Mitch, a Category 5 hurricane that pounded the island’s coast for three days. Strong winds destroyed one-third of the islands, including homes and hotels, and many were without power for months. Most of the residents of Guanaja have rebuilt their homes; however, many still talk about life pre- and post-Hurricane Mitch, given how much it changed the island. The mangrove population, which used to be thriving, was wiped out entirely. It is estimated today that 95% of the mangroves have not recovered. The skeletons of the mangroves, now black and white, still remain rising high above the water. Among the devastation, small green leaves can be seen poking out of the water; the mangroves are growing back thanks to the heroic efforts of a growing group of dedicated volunteers who have become stewards of the swamp.

Chapter 2: The Story of Mariela

MAR Fellow Mariela Ochoa, a 32-year-old intelligent, tenacious, and jovial woman, is a central character in this story. Mariela’s ability to impeccably plan our site visit demonstrates how proud she is of her work and of the volunteers. She organized boats for travel around the island, presentations, and interviews with community stakeholders and fishermen, as well as traditional meals such as the delicious tapado, or fish coconut soup, and lobster and lionfish ceviche, scheduled for us over the two days that we were visiting Guanaja.

Mariela moved to Guanaja two years ago for a job with the National Marine Park of the Bay Islands, leaving most of her family and support network back in La Ceiba. Though Mariela has many family members who migrated to New York, including her mother, she has found her second family in Guanaja and among the MAR Fellows. Since moving to Guanaja she has been working to replenish the mangrove population of the island.

When asked what sparked her passion for the mangrove plants of Honduras, Mariela shares her story about growing up in a small town in La Cieba in the Garifuna culture. She knew little about the environment or conservation. It was not until she began her university studies in Tourism and Ecology that she was randomly assigned to explore the mangrove ecosystem. As she learned more about the mangroves, she was taken with their beauty and impressed by what she learned about their growing conditions and environmental importance. Eager to share what she learned, Mariela organized a field trip for her classmates to see the mangroves. Needless to say, Mariela aced her class.

Mangroves are essential because they provide nurseries for juvenile lobsters and crabs, and they are an important renewable resource for community building because mangrove wood, being durable and water-resistant, is good for building homes. In Guanaja the mangroves are a particularly important part of the ecosystem because they help prevent the island’s erosion from ocean waves. Mariela’s MAR-L project focusing on mangrove restoration was a perfect coupling of her passion for mangroves and working with the community, including fishermen.

Mariela’s project focuses on repopulating the mangrove forest in the southern part of Guanaja, which was hardest hit during Hurricane Mitch. Her principal project donor is Scott Peterson of Fly Fish Guanaja, and over a dinner at his hotel on our first night in Guanaja, the mangrove volunteers discussed how this project has been a labor of love. As Mariela explains, “There weren’t even enough seeds to collect to be able to replant the trees along the coast. When we started our project we had to go to other Bay Islands to get seeds to plant here on Guanaja.” Then began the process of trial and error. They moved their garden away from the beach where seeds were being devoured by blue crabs. As they moved their mangrove gardens inland, they were faced daily with the labor-intensive challenge of transporting the salt water required by the plants to their inland home.

Through ingenuity and hard work, Mariela, together with schoolchildren and community volunteers, perfected her approach and now has the most successful nursery to date, producing 100,000 mangroves last year: 50,000 red and 50,000 black and white. MAR-L hopes of project replication have taken seed with Mariela. She has received funding to create a manual of mangrove restoration, with Guanaja as a case study. Mariela sees this as an opportunity to help others learn from and adopt the process used in Guanaja. She hopes that her work with the mangroves will be replicated not only elsewhere in Honduras but also in the rest of the MAR region.


Thanks for reading and for your support of MAR Leadership! Keep an eye out next month to hear the story of Mariela's project and how MAR-L has impacted her life. 

Mariela in the mangrove nursery
Mariela in the mangrove nursery
Happy volunteers (and seeds) at the nursery
Happy volunteers (and seeds) at the nursery


Jun 25, 2013

MAR Leadership news - June 2013

Dear friends and supporters,

Happy (northern hemisphere) summer! We have a lot of news to share with you, but first and foremost we encourage you to check out this amazing video about the MAR Leadership Program. We're thankful to Céline Cousteau and The TreadRight Foundation for making this video a reality! A link to Part 2 is in the links list at the bottom of this report. 

Planning for 2014:

Last week in the MAR Leadership Program we had our annual strategic planning meeting in order to create our work plan for next year. Our Executive Committee (Carlos Saavedra, María José González, and Lorenzo Rosenzweig) was present in this meeting. They gave us excellent advice on how to organize our next cohort in order to keep supporting conservation at Mesoamerican Reef. A lot of great ideas came up, and we’ll be sharing them with you shortly. We expect to launch our next call for applications in September.

MAR Fellow updates:

  • Carlos Segura (MAR Fellow 2012, Mexico): “I was invited by 2010 MAR Fellow Yanú Ramírez (Honduras) to attend the ‘Forum for Tourism, Sustainability and Climate Change in Central America,’ where I presented the MAR Leadership Program and my project on private protected areas, as well as helped organizers make the forum a carbon neutral event.
  • Cleopatra Méndez (MAR Fellow 2012, Guatemala): “My project of co-management fishing areas started on March 15 with a donation of US$ 65,000.00 from MAR Fund. We had a ‘trinational fishing forum’ where my project was presented as a way to mobilize the coastal communities. On May 16 we presented the project to some important stakeholders: coastal communities of Río Sarstún.”
  • Giacomo Palavicini (MAR Fellow 2012, Honduras): “In March I participated (with 2010 MAR Fellows Ian Drysdale and Jenny Myton) in an Honduran television program called ‘Frente a Frente,’ where we talked about conservation efforts in the MAR and specifically in Roatán. In May I went to the College of Marine Sciences in Baja California, to participate in Oceanography Week, where I presented my project and the MAR-L Program.”
  • Joel Verde (MAR Fellow 2012, Belize): “In May, I was named as advisor on the Advisory Committee established for the Manatee Sanctuary. In the last 3 months I’ve had meetings with the Forest Department, Fisheries Department, and Hol Chan Marine Reserve managers in Belize. I am coordinating a meeting between these organizations, SEMA, and ECOSUR to determine the reach of my project and to establish a workgroup that directly supports systems-level conservation planning based on the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation. The Fisheries Department has agreed to lead the process; we hope we’ll start an Open Standards workshop at the end of 2013.”
  • Mariela Ochoa (MAR Fellow 2012, Honduras): “We are creating an education program with the Guanaja Mangrove Project volunteers in order to create incentives and promote the participation of local actors, such as fishers, in the project. I’m also developing a methodology for training local teachers to create an environmental education program. In addition, I’m working on creating a manual for mangrove restoration with the help of a biologist and the support of the volunteers.”

MAR Leadership external evaluation:

With the third cohort completing the program, the MAR-L Executive Committee decided to test the program premises and learn from MAR-L’s experience and the field to identify what is working and what could increase MAR-L’s impact.

The evaluation, carried out by Leadership Learning Community, was designed to gather data (input from fellows, observations of projects, and feedback from co-workers, supervisors, and fishers) to answer three questions:

  • What have been the most significant program outcomes on the leadership skills of individuals, the effectiveness of the network, and the sustainability of the reef?
  • Are the basic premises of the program being validated by the experience so far?
  • Are there opportunities to strengthen the program, drawing on lessons from the programs first three years of operation and broader experience of the leadership development field?

In summary, the results are the following:

In its first three years, MAR-L has achieved impressive results on multiple levels. The curriculum design has facilitated deep personal transformation and fostered strong bonds within and across cohorts. These bonds are translating into action and benefits to MAR as fellows share learning and techniques that enhance their performance. There are many examples of fellows seeking each other out as partners in transnational meetings or to successfully champion a protected area. Fellows understand that enduring change in the MAR will not happen without the involvement of fishermen; in every site visit conducted, this was evident in the clear affection between fellows and people from their communities. It is early in the program to expect systems-level change, yet the program is clearly delivering results and affirming the premise that young leaders can be successfully supported to implement new and replicable ideas that can contribute significantly to the health of the MAR. MAR-L now has the potential to build on these successes and chart new territory in leadership development by focusing on increasingly concrete goals and by building for continued network growth and success.

Project design manual:

Our fellows receive high-quality training in project design from Paquita Bath (Aligning Visions). Recently, we decided we wanted to share this training more widely. The result is the MAR Leadership Resource Book, an 80-page instruction manual, co-authored by Paquita Bath and María Eugenia Arreola, which will soon be publicly launched (we are finalizing the Spanish version). The manual has already been circulated to members of our Executive Committee, as well as among participants at the CCNet and Creating Space conferences that Program Director María Eugenia Arreola attended in April and May 2013.

This manual is a complete training curriculum showing how the MAR Leadership Program has adapted the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation methodology for small-scale projects. Our approach is designed to empower individual action that can build on the local connections, commitment, and place-based understanding that are necessary for effective projects. 

We hope that with the publication of the MAR Leadership Resource Book, more MAR region stakeholders will have access to a guide for designing excellent conservation projects.

Yuself Cala on MAR Leadership
Yuself Cala on MAR Leadership
With community leaders during evaluation visits
With community leaders during evaluation visits


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Project Leader

Maria Eugenia Arreola

Mexico, Distrito Federal Mexico

Where is this project located?

Map of Help Local Leaders Save the Mesoamerican Reef