- WSL / Aaron Hughes

In conjunction with UN Ocean Week, representatives of Oriente Salvaje and Paso Pacifico met up with surfers and conservationists at the Surf City El Salvador Pro. It gave us an opportunity to share the conservation impact of plastic upcycling made possible through our partnership with WSL One Ocean. The event also allowed us to celebrate and learn from a talented group of Salvadorian female artisans who are transforming discarded plastic garbage into beautiful products such as jewelry, water totes, surf wax combs, and architectural tiles. We discovered that small actions can lead to significant gains for global marine ecosystems. Even tiny plastic bottle caps can be recycled into useful and beautiful products when harvested from rivers and kept from entering the sea!

Our partnership with WSL One Ocean began three years ago when Oriente Salvaje and Paso Pacifico launched our first project restoring native riparian vegetation along the Rio Chilama, a coastal river that discharges into the Pacific Ocean at the famed surf break, Punta Roca. This legendary right point break has formed over thousands of years as Rio Chilama has continually deposited river cobblestones into the Pacific Ocean. Although our first collaborative conservation effort was modest in scale, it provided the foundation for us to begin working together with local community stakeholders. As we planted vegetation along the river in year one, we were also planting the initial "seeds" for expanding participation and awareness throughout the Surf City community and beyond in subsequent years.

WSLOO El Sal 2023 Professional surfer and WSL event wild card Bryan Perez (SLV) joined Ligia Jimenez and local volunteers for the WSL One Ocean initiative in 2023. - WSL / Juani Gayol

Last year, continued support from WSL One Ocean allowed us to take action on plastics pollution, a ubiquitous global issue in marine environments. Team members at Oriente Salvaje designed river intercept systems that capture plastic pollution before it goes into the ocean. The systems were installed and immediately put to work at two rivers, though not without some initial hurdles due to extreme storms and river flooding. Eventually, things were up and running, and the system worked well during the rainy season.

We complemented the river intercept systems with a nationwide ocean awareness campaign called "Esto es tuyo," which means this is yours. The messaging focused on the wonder and beauty of El Salvador's ocean and freshwater resources. Rodrigo Barraza, president of Oriente Salvaje, remarked, "This campaign was designed to generate behavior change by building pride and responsibility for our natural resources and world-class waves. Awareness is the first step toward reducing single-use plastic consumption and protecting our waterways." The campaign culminated with the installation of a mural by Salvadorian surfer and artist Armando Márquez, an artwork that can still be viewed at Punta Roca today.

WSLOO El Sal 2023 River intercept team members from Oriente Salvaje and Paso Pacifico gathered after placing a barrier on the Chilama River last year. This rivers feeds the Punta Chilama break, also known as Punta Roca - WSL / Paso Pacifico

These early wins for the ocean made possible by WSL One Ocean led to additional support from a new partner, Corona. When Corona came on board, it enabled us to expand our conservation efforts to even more rivers and surf breaks in the eastern region of El Salvador. With this support, we have installed four river intercept systems, posted recycling stations at the tourism destination of Oriente Salvaje, and have begun to partner with local artisans in rural communities to produce art from trash. Through this partnership and expanded local stakeholder participation, we now are getting a glimpse of what might be to come in this region at a larger scale. The "Wild East," a region endowed with tremendous biodiversity and epic waves, has been nominated for designation as a new World Surfing Reserve site. This initiative would expand coastal protections through Marine Protected Areas, conserving critical reef ecosystems and encouraging safe passage for humpback whales that migrate annually to El Salvador from California.

WSLOO El Sal 2024 Professional surfer and WSL event wildcard Leilani McGonagle joined by female artisans from Oriente Salvaje, showcasing their upcycled creations. - WSL / Aaron Hughes WSLOO El Sal 2024 A closer look at the work by one of the artisans trained by Lula Mena to create upcycled jewelery from recovered plastic. - WSL / Aaron Hughes

We cannot sustain these impacts without the full support and involvement of local communities in a way that benefits economies and the local surf culture. With Corona and WSL One Ocean support, Rodrigo Barraza at Oriente Salvaje used machinery and trial and error to hone techniques for upcycling plastics that we retrieve from river barriers. Oriente Salvaje is now converting the plastics by sorting and cleaning them and then transforming them into pieces that can be used as raw material for new creations. Salvadorian artist Lula Mena recently joined the collaboration, and with the support of Corona, recruited three local women from Oriente Salvaje. Together these female artisans are now transforming plastic pollution into beautiful and valuable products. Inspired by these products, the artist Lula went further and created a new brand for these upcycled products, called Maré, which has a mission to turn pollution into hope for our oceans.

WSLOO El Sal 2024 Rodrigo Barraza, President of Oriente Salvaje, demonstrating how the recovered plastic is heated and compressed to upcycle into wax combs, jewlery, and more. - WSL / Aaron Hughes WSLOO El Sal 2024 The beautiful Maré collection of upcycled jewelry designed by Salvadorian artist Lula Mena and created by local female artisans. - WSL / Aaron Hughes

The women from communities who recently joined this program expressed their happiness. Angie Johana Mendez Rivas remarked. "My experience is that I feel good being surrounded by successful people who inject a good vibe. I have expanded my knowledge with new skills in artisanal crafts, and this feeling has motivated me to take care of the environment."

These positive impacts started with one small effort that has grown over time and through the support of WSL One Ocean. As surfers head out to the waves to celebrate World Ocean Day on the water, we challenge them to get involved and take action at their local break. In an interview, Dr. Rob Dull - a surfer, Paso Pacifico board member, and Environmental Science Professor at California Lutheran University - urged the international surf community at the Surf City El Salvador Pro 2024 activation event to take action: "Don't just go out and surf and hope that everything is going to be OK. You need to be part of this change. You need to be engaged."

WSLOO El Sal 2024 Professional surfer and WSL event wildcard Bryan Perez alongside Rodrigo Barraza, President of Oriente Salvaje, and Salvadorian artist Lula Mena. - WSL / Aaron Hughes

To learn more and get involved with the partners involved in these efforts, and buy jewelry from Lula Mena's collection, visit the links below:

As surfers, the ocean is our playground and our stadium. Getting involved in protecting and conserving the ocean is critical for us today and for future generations. Show us what you are doing by posting on social media with the hashtag #WSLOneOcean and tagging @wsl and @wsloneocean in your posts. You can learn more and get involved at WSLOneOcean.org.

WSL One Ocean is supported by Shiseido and YETI with regional support from Corona.

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