The COVID-19 pandemic has left few people and communities untouched, and has been especially hard on those people who work in the informal economy, including fishers in low and middle income tropical countries.

Our fisher partners are the key to grassroots conservation efforts, but most have been left with little to no income due to the decline in tourism, export markets, and lack of local demand for seafood. Because we work closely with fishers and their communities, we have been in the position to witness the impacts that COVID-19 has had on these vulnerable groups, and to help to mitigate some of their most pressing needs.

The transition to virtual learning has left hundreds of thousands of children behind, and women bear the brunt of the burden for ensuring their children are able to continue their education.

In Honduras alone, it is estimated that 400,000 students have dropped out of school since the beginning of the pandemic. Our Education and Outreach team has also been in regular contact with school administrators, educators, parents, and students in Belize, Honduras, and Panama, and we have been adapting our strategies to identify needs and provide educational content that is modified for virtual lessons. 

Through a series of interviews, we strive to bring to light the individual and universal stories of people who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Having open and honest conversations with fishers, educators, parents, and conservation groups will help us to adapt to the ‘new normal’ and to seek more resilient outcomes for conservation and livelihoods.

Key Outcomes

Emergency relief

Thanks to individual funders, the Paul Angell Foundation and the MAR Fund, we were able to provide emergency funding support to 22 partner fishers in Belize, Honduras, Panama, and Cabo Verde over a period of 4.5 months. Funds were used to purchase food, pay rent and utilities, and to pay medical bills for themselves and their children.

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Many families have little or no access to the internet, and students in some countries rely upon cell phones to receive and submit their homework. We created short, visual lesson plans that can be distributed via WhatsApp to students. The presentations that we normally deliver in schools were recorded with audio, and broken into small snippets that can likewise be shared by WhatsApp or other chat applications.

Guna Yala Support

All tourism to Panama stopped and the Guna Yala Comarca closed its borders in March and tourism has not returned since despite a cautious reopening of the borders and airports. Hand-stitched molas are traditionally made and worn by the Kuna women, and are sold to tourists as souvenirs. With the loss of tourism, this important revenue stream for Guna families has also been curtailed. We commissioned mola masks, embroidered with species that we work with in the Caribbean, to be sold with 100% of the proceeds going to support the women crafters and Guna communities with food and fisher support, educational and environmental projects. Thus far 500 masks have been commissioned, and forty women employed, that is bringing in nearly $15,000 to the community in these difficult times.

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Sharing our work

Although we have been unable to get into the field to conduct research, we continue to work from home and share our results and insights with the public and the scientific community. During Panama’s Oceans Month, we began a series of webinars, ‘Miercoles con MAR’ (Wednesdays with MAR), to share the ongoing research and conservation efforts in the country. The series will continue on Wednesdays, with broader topics on our work throughout Belize, Honduras, Panama, Micronesia, and Cabo Verde. We have also been invited to participate in thematic webinars in several countries, presenting information on everything from shark conservation to deep sea fisheries.

Miercoles con MAR:

Invited webinars:

Fast Facts

  • 21 fishers supported with short-term funding for living expenses
  • 6 fishers interviewed for assessment of COVID-19 impacts
  • 45 educators interviewed in Belize for assessment of COVID-19 impacts on education
  • 6 lesson plans converted to online formats
  • 45 Kuna families supported during the mola mask campaign
  • 13 Invited webinar presentations