It’s early on a Saturday morning. Many residents of San Pedro la Laguna, a town located on the southwest shore of Lake Atitlán nearly 140 kilometers away from Antigua Guatemala, wash their clothes and bathe on the lakeshore. As the townspeople go about their day, the roughly 45 members of San Pedro’s Association of Fishermen walk along the shore telling jokes in Tz’utijil, listening to ranchero music, and collecting trash.
Since 2006, members of the Association of Fishermen of San Pedro la Laguna have set their fishing rods aside to take up garbage bags and clean the scenic shores of the lake once a month. Their wives and kids also join them in their efforts.
“There was a moment seven years ago when we began to notice that the garbage was beginning to clog the streams and fill up the shores,” says Pedro Hernández, a member of the association who has fished on the lake for nearly 27 years.
Some of the fishermen walk along the shore collecting the trash, while others take the traditional wooden boats out onto the lake and fish out the garbage that floats on the water. There isn’t a lot of trash in the lake this time around, but according to the fishermen, it’s because there haven’t been any heavy rainfalls.
“It is always worse following the rains”, explains Nicolas Túmez, the representative of the association who has fished on the lake for over 30 years. “The rivers bring trash from the hills, and then deposit it in the lake.” According to Túmez and Hernández, this is the result of many nearby municipalities not properly disposing of their waste.
“Many municipalities utilize the ravines near their towns to get rid of the garbage”, says Hernández. “The rains brings that garbage into the lake.”
The fishermen finished collecting the trash around noon. They sit and enjoy orange soda and cookies as they wait for a truck from the municipality to come pick up the garbage. They claim that their municipality is actually disposing properly of the waste, and that it won’t find its way back into the lake.
For years, the fishermen gained little recognition from the local government for their work. However, little by little, the municipality has acknowledged the positive impact that the fishermen have had. On this particular occasion, the sodas and cookies were donated to the Association of Fishermen of San Pedro by the local authorities.
“We have worked to make our municipality presentable for tourism, so that people can come and enjoy our lake”, explains Hernández. “Now we are slowly getting closer to them, and they are recognising our work.”