Guatemala enjoys a privileged geographic location in Central America, with coasts on both the Pacific and Caribbean Oceans. The Guatemalan coast spans 402 km, 254 km of Pacific and 148 km of Caribbean coastline. The marine territory is estimated to cover 120,229.59 km2, which includes the Exclusive Economic Zone (EZZ) of both oceans.
Our context and challenges:
Guatemala’s Pacific coast comprises 6 departments, 17 municipalities and close to 300 communities; an estimated of 620,228 people live in the coastal municipalities, within a highly diverse social and cultural framework. The average percentage of people living in poverty in the Pacific coast region is 56% and the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty is 12%.
- FISHERIES: The fishing industry generated a total of 22,900 jobs by 2014, of which 97% were in local fisheries, according to the FAO. Overexploitation of marine-coastal resources, especially due to unsustainable fishing practices, is a major problem.
- BIODIVERSITY: Guatemala has been recognized by the Convention on Biological Diversity as part of the Megadiverse Countries. In the Pacific, at least 1,505 species of flora and fauna have been reported, some of them listed as vulnerable under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
- COASTAL ECOSYSTEMS: Mangrove forests are the main natural ecosystem along the Pacific coast, covering a total of 17,670.56 hectares, and are used for firewood and construction by local communities. The country has lost about 50% of its original mangrove cover since the 1950s.
- MARINE PROTECTED AREAS: Within the Guatemalan System of Protected Areas (SIGAP) just 2.95% of the total national territory represents marine-coastal protected areas (MPAs), the majority corresponding to Punta Manabique Wildlife Refuge in the Caribbean. These MPAs are insufficient for conserving the country’s rich marine-coastal biodiversity according to the Aichi Targets (10% of coastal and marine areas).
- MARINE POLLUTION: Contamination of water bodies caused by unplanned coastal development (urban, industry, agricultural and tourism expansion), is a serious problem. In the majority of municipalities of the Pacific, wastewater drains directly into the rivers and estuaries un treated; it is estimated that only 5% of wastewater nationally is treated. Regarding solid waste, rural populations generally burn, bury or throw trash into inappropriate locations such as rivers and green areas (including mangroves).
- CLIMATE CHANGE: Guatemala has been considered as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. The impacts of climate change are related to extreme conditions in the Pacific, from temperature increases which implies a drastic reduction in water availability, to more frequent storms and severe flooding during the rainy season. Long term, mangroves will be affected if rises in sea level and temperature occur; climate change would adversely affect ecosystem services, acidification especially can impact marine organisms such as corals, snails, mussels, oysters and shells.
All the actors and sectors in the country, incdluing national and local governments, NGOs, academia, private sector and civil society, have a framework of reference that provides the necessary guidelines to contribute to the achievement of SDG 14, the National Coastal Marine Policy and the Development National Plan 2032.
Protecting oceans and life below water (SDG 14) is more than relevant to Guatemala’s sustainable development, as coastal-marine goods and services are linked with human wellbeing.