Daniel Alberto Vartanián Alarcón
Fellow Since 2000
This profile was prepared when Daniel Alberto Vartanián Alarcón was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2000.
The New Idea
There is a serious problem of solid waste disposal of used tires in Costa Rica. These tires either fill landfills or are used as highly-contaminating fuel. Another serious concern for Costa Rica is that coastal marine resources are rapidly declining, putting at risk the marine environment as well as the livelihood of family fishermen. Daniel's program uniquely unites these two concerns, resolving them both by turning used tires into an environmentally-safe means to restore marine stock. Traditional policy to protect marine life is to place restrictions on fishing. But such policies hurt people who find refuge from unemployment and lack of economic opportunity in fishing. Daniel's answer is to utilize used tires to build artificial marine reefs. This solution significantly increases fish stocks and partially resolves the problem of tire disposal. Tires are tied together and weighted down so that they will rest on the ocean floor, at a depth of 12 to 15 meters. The submerged structures provide microorganisms a place to adhere, which in turn provides a breeding ground for coral, algae, and invertebrates. In this environment, fish, lobster, and other creatures find a haven with food and protection, encouraging reproduction and growth. It is estimated that one cubic meter of artificial reef can create marine life for the equivalent of two kilograms of fish for a year. But the ingenuity of Daniel's program is really in the details. Daniel has been able to create partnerships among seemingly unrelated players and make potential opponents jointly dependent on a successful outcome. In his pilot project on the Nicoya Gulf, Daniel worked with a group of twenty fishermen to create an artificial reef that only six months later looked to generate four tons of fish per year. All members of the community were involved in the process. Local businesspeople donated transportation and materials. Fishermen provided the cords used to tie the tires together and transported them to the site. The success of the project brought national press coverage, government support, and further alliances. Hotels on the Gulf are now interested in working with Daniel's group to develop scuba tours and fishing tournaments. An additional component of Daniel's program seeks to find alternative uses for those tires he is unable to use in building the reefs. This will reduce even more the number of used tires contaminating the environment, and at the same time bring in funds to sustain reef construction. This aspect of the project will convert tires to rubber scrap and sell it for environmentally-safe, economically-productive use in construction and paving materials.