Photo: Children colored jaguars after learning about the species in our second Festival for the Conservation of Indio-Maíz in Maravilla, Nicaragua. (Photo courtesy of Fundación del Río)
In a spate of recent articles and blogs Nicaragua has been touted as “the next Costa Rica” for ecotourists with a taste for tropical climes. While the country has an endlessly fascinating history, rich cultural diversity, many beautiful natural areas, and has managed to limit the violence that plagues other Central American nations, there are many aspects of Nicaragua that betray this budding reputation as an ecotourism paradise. Perhaps the most important is the country’s startlingly high rates of forest loss, particularly within its protected areas.
For the past 6-7 years, cattle ranchers and illegal loggers have brazenly invaded the indigenous territories and protected areas of Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast, converting thousands of square kilometers of lowland rainforests into extensive cattle pastures. According to Global Forest Watch, Nicaragua was the 17th highest country in the world in terms of percent forest loss (2001-2014) relative to tree cover in 2000. Others estimate that the country loses 700 square kilometers of forest a year, mostly in the country’s two biggest biosphere reserves. In a recent conservation forum, scientists estimated that Nicaragua’s Bosawás Biosphere Reserve has already lost 70 percent of its biodiversity.
The country, it seems, is headed toward the total collapse of its protected area system and incalculable losses in biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The little political will to establish and conserve expansive protected areas that existed in the 1990s and early 2000s has vanished almost entirely, leaving civil society groups, the private sector, and indigenous people as the only consistent defenders of the country’s two remaining core areas for its magnificent biodiversity: the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve and the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve.
GWC is supporting those fighting to save Nicaragua’s biodiversity in a variety of ways:
- We have worked for the past two years with the indigenous Rama and afro-descendant Kriol population of the Indio-Maíz Biological Reserve to design and implement an indigenous forest ranger program that has helped them build their capacity to monitor and defend their ancestral and legally titled forests. We have also worked alongside the Rama and Kriol on species research and conservation efforts to boost local level protection for globally endangered species, such as our project focused on the largest terrestrial mammal in the Americas, the Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii).
- In collaboration with local partners Fundación del Río we recently held “Festivals for the Conservation of Indio Maíz” in two different cattle ranching communities along the western border of the Indio-Maíz Biological Reserve. During our festivals we bring indigenous ambassadors into cattle ranching communities to give them the opportunity to explain firsthand how the environmental destruction affects them, their communities and their culture. In this way we give the indigenous people, cattle ranching allies, and others the opportunity to network and build regional conservation strategies together. We have reached more than 400 rural cattle ranchers and farmers to date and will hold our next festival on July 29.
- This month, in collaboration with the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University (BICU), our team led a week-long field course for local university students and natural resource professionals focusing on wildlife field techniques and the application of rigorously collected wildlife data in conservation and management programs. Aside from training our engaged and inquisitive group of participants in data collection, survey design and data analysis, we also collected valuable data on the biodiversity of the Kukra River, a large river just south of Bluefields in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region. During the course’s practical component, our students detected 61 species of wildlife, including a squirrel (Sciurus richmondi) that is endemic to Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast.
While we continue to make significant local progress in collaboration with our local partners, the scale of our collective efforts do not yet ensure the survival of Nicaragua’s natural heritage. Here in Nicaragua (and globally) we need to reach an even broader audience and incentivize and motivate diverse sectors to innovate solutions for conservation. In coming months and years, we will continue to train and build the capacity of the students and professors who will become the future conservation leaders of Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast, and to work with local partners and indigenous groups to cultivate an increasingly large and diverse network of concerned citizens from various sectors of Nicaraguan society working together to design and implement long-term conservation solutions.