The project realized in the Costa del Sol through Fundación Doménech with FIAES support, approaches sea turtle conservation as a vital component of the sustainable development of the community. The executive director of the Fundación Doménech, Fernando Medina, views sea turtle conservation as essential both to the preservation of marine ecosystems and to attract tourism and local development.
With this reasoning, the Fundación Doménech worked with community members to develop a line of high quality hand crafted jewelry with locally sourced natural materials, inspired by the sea turtle. The training process began six months ago with the participation of a jewelry craftsman in training eight people in techniques and process methodology.
Natural materials utilized in the creation of the jewelry and other crafts include coconut shell, Morro gourds (Crescentia alata), cotton, bronze and dyes extracted from seeds. Currently the group has 170 different design models for jewelry and household crafts. Some of the household crafts are decorative planters, candleholders and hanging decorations, and the jewelry line includes necklaces, earrings, charms and bracelets.
Public response to the new craft line has been positive. To date, 5000 pieces have been produced and marketed through special commercial contacts and through social media. The line has been well received by high-end commercial centers because of the quality, attractive presentation and ecological composition of the line. The commercial interaction provides an opportunity to promote and engage shoppers in the protection of sea turtles.
Medina affirms that the synergy of the artists sustains the project. Income from the sales of the products is invested in fair pay for the artists as well as project and sea turtle nursery sustainability. Profits are re-invested in additional equipment and the formation of other artisan groups. The foundation absorbs administrative and operational costs.
The group intends to create a solid chain of production within the community. Fernando Medina, elaborates the need with an example, “The artists need primary materials such as coconut. It would be ideal if some people could sell coconut shells, dyes and other materials that are needed.” Because of limited economic development opportunities in the Costa del Sol, most people rely upon fishing and to a lesser extent the care of private beach houses for family income sources. The generation of environmentally friendly alternatives to earn income is key to improving the quality of life. During this project, artisans were able to earn $260.00 in wages compared to the standard $150.00 minimal wage earnings in the area. This increase has generated excitement among the artisans and has been instrumental in maintaining a high motivation among the core group.
The project also significantly increased awareness and participation of the local population in environmental conservation. People formerly dedicated to the illegal collection of sea turtle eggs were engaged in the collection and incubation of sea turtle eggs, resulting in the release of over 100,000 sea turtle hatchlings. In compensation for their efforts, sea turtle egg collectors were provided incentives such as household items, bicycles and articles to stock small household shops.
The project also produced unique and attractive educational materials designed to raise awareness and educate students in eight area schools. These materials include games, educational books, bookmarks and posters, among others. An additional and innovative result of the project was the creation of 40 modules of artificial reefs to help repopulate fish in the Jaltapeque Estuary.