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From Words to Visuals: Re-thinking the Protected Area Management Plan

Protected area plans are often long, complex documents that may just end up sitting on the shelves and unused. Over the coming weeks, GWC aims to take a novel approach to the standard protected area plan by developing a plan that is entirely visual, transcending language barriers and accessible to anyone who stands to gain from the plan.

To do so, a GWC team heads this week to one of GWC’s priority areas, Indio Maíz Biological Reserve in southeastern Nicaragua. Indio Maíz is one of the last strongholds for biodiversity in the country, holding global remnant populations of endangered species such as Baird’s Tapir, Jaguars and Great Green Macaws. The reserve is home to the Rama and Kriol indigenous groups, who have the legal rights and custodianship over the land and rely on the resources the reserve provides. Nevertheless, their land, culture and food security is threatened by degradation, mainly due to the invasion of cattle ranchers who over-hunt and fish the area, in addition to clearing hundreds of hectares of primary forest to establish cattle-grazing pastures.

Meeting with women from Greytown. (Photo by Mike Appleton)

Officials and stakeholders from the Rama and Kriol Territory have now agreed on the need for a shared plan that sets out their common vision and agreed practical actions for protecting and sustainably using Indio Maíz. In recent months, the GWC team and its local partners have visited all responsible agencies and local communities to secure agreement and support for both the plan, and the planning process.

In late October, we will facilitate a series of highly participatory workshops and meetings in local towns and forest villages that will enable people to share the reasons why they value the area, to identify what threatens it and to agree what should be done to protect and sustainably use it.

What we aim to develop here is a plan that is, in the words of one community member, “short but rich.” It has to be concise but comprehensive, accessible not just to experts and officials, but also to the communities that inhabit and gain their livelihoods from Indio Maíz.

Meeting with the Indio Maiz rangers on a previous trip. (Photo by Mike Appleton)

To create a plan that strikes the right balance of depth and usefulness, this plan will be visualized—something we haven’t seen done before. We will be using techniques from the field of data and information visualization to communicate, without relying on text, why the area is valuable, what threatens it and how local communities can engage in protection and sustainable use.

Finding a common visual language to communicate complex ideas for multiple groups is no small feat, however the potential of using a visual approach for protected area plans—where detail is minimized and literacy hurdles are leaped—has huge application in global conservation efforts.  Can we find a better way to communicate protected area management plans?  We are excited to find out over these coming weeks.

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