(No, this isn't part of the Hawaiian Islands! It’s called Hawaii because when the founding father of this Pacific coast town first arrived 50 years ago, he had seen a postcard of the island of Hawaii and thought he saw some similarities.)
Guatemala's Pacific coast stretches 250 kms between Mexico and El Salvador and is made up of volcanic plains on which some of Guatemala’s richest agricultural lands and largest farms lie. Because of this intense agricultural activity, the coastal plain - unlike the Petén region whose forests have remained relatively healthy - has lost much of its original biodiversity. However, the coastal fringe – especially its beautiful mangrove wetlands, lagoons and volcanic sand beaches – remains comparatively untouched, home to a rich variety of marine and bird life.
ARCAS's base of activities on the south coast of Guatemala is the Hawaii Park, a 3-hectare protected area on the beach, 2 kms west of the village of Hawaii and 7 kms east of the eco-resort town of Monterrico. The Park consists of a large, comfortable rancho with volunteer quarters, two smaller volunteer houses, kitchen, library/office, bathrooms and internet service. Environmental exhibits and trails highlight the threats to sea turtles and other natural resources of the area. Crocodile and iguana captive breeding pens lie just behind the main rancho. On the beach, one hundred meters away, is the main sea turtle hatchery, turtle hospital and educational tanks, and a lookout tower for those spectacular Hawaiian sunsets.
Sea Turtle Conservation and Research
The Pacific leatherback turtle is unfortunately nearly extinct with only 2000 individuals remaining in the entire Pacific ocean!
In 1993, ARCAS initiated its conservation activities in the Hawaii area primarily as an attempt to counteract threats to leatherback and olive ridley turtle populations by over-harvesting by local egg collectors. Despite their endangered status, virtually all sea turtle nests in Guatemala are poached and the eggs sold as a supposed aphrodisiac; clearly not necessary given a population growth rate of nearly 3%.
Under its Sea Turtle Conservation Program, ARCAS operates the most productive of the 21 hatcheries in Guatemala. It solicits donations of sea turtle eggs from local collectors, reburies the eggs in the hatchery and after an incubation period of roughly 50 days, the hatchlings are released into the sea. It also operates the El Rosario Hatchery in the small fishing village of the same name, 8kms to the east. Over 50,000 sea turtle eggs were collected at the Hawaii and El Rosario hatcheries in 2009, accounting for nearly 40% of all the eggs collected in Guatemala.
In collaboration with thesis students and researchers from all over the world, ARCAS also carries out very detailed research on sea turtles, including ambient conditions in hatcheries and on the beach, hatchling success rates, GPS registered crawl counts and beach profiles. In 2007, it initiated a pioneer study with the Naval Command of the Pacific to study hatchling success rates in nests left in situ.
It is currently collaborating on a DNA study of olive ridley sea turtles in the Pacific Ocean, and is initiating water quality and wildlife monitoring in the mangrove wetlands of the Hawaii area.
If you would like to participate in these research activities Please contact ARCAS at
Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
The population of this the largest reptile in the world is in grave danger of extinction due to the industrial longline tuna and swordfish fisheries as well as unregulated egg poaching on nesting beaches.
The leatherback’s decline has been clearly documented by Spotila (2000) and Crowder (2004) who show a reduction of 99% of nesting females in the last 25 years and an overall population remaining in the western Pacific ocean of less than 1000 individuals. (Leatherback Trust).
In response to the urgency of the situation, ARCAS has worked with CONAP, the Humane Society and other colleagues to impose a total ban on leatherback and hawksbill egg collecting in Guatemala.
On the Hawaii Park, ARCAS also carries out iguana and spectacled caiman captive-breeding, offspring of which are released into the nearby mangrove wetlands to re-inforce wild populations.
Environmental Education and Community Development
ARCAS believes that any successful conservation effort must not only be directed at protecting natural resources but at helping local residents meet their economic, educational and social needs.
An important aspect of ARCAS's program in Hawaii is environmental education.
ARCAS staff and volunteers offer classes, offer green English courses, and conduct beach clean ups and hatchling releases races with local school children.
The aim of all these activities is to teach local children the need to conserve the natural resources on which they depend.
ARCAS also offers training courses to local adult residents in such subjects as ecotourism, food preparation and preservation, gender, health and sanitation.
Hawaii Protected Area
ARCAS is working with the Guatemalan government’s National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) to establish a 4000 hectare protected area focused on the mangrove lagoons and wetlands of the Hawaii area. As part of this process, it has held a series of consultative community workshops to develop a strategy which includes management lines in such topics as disaster relief, research, ecotourism, waste management and education.
Together with the Monterrico Reserve to the west, this protected area will help ensure the conservation of what little remains of the mangrove forests on the south coast of Guatemala and will protect the most important sea turtle nesting beaches in the country.
It will also serve as a model for sustainable integrated coastal management for other areas of Guatemala and the region.
Finca El Salado
In 2007, with the support of the Netherlands Committee of the IUCN, the Disney Worldwide Fund for Nature and the Wildlife Land Trust, ARCAS purchased the 25 hectare El Salado Farm.
The farm is located on the northern fringe of the Chiquimulilla Canal and consists of approximately 1/3 mangrove and 2/3 dry forest, and includes a pre-Mayan archeological site. ARCAS is currently reforesting the farm, and will be developing it as a private nature reserve in order to begin hosting birdwatchers and ecotourists, giving local residents economic alternatives to extractive practices of the past.
It will also serve as a buffer zone for the mangroves against the expanding sugar cane industry and to establish research programs to monitor sugar cane’s effect on water quality, flora and fauna.
For more questions about ARCAS contact us at
We look forward to hearing from you!