Exclusive look inside Guatemala’s conservation challenges and successes
The World Land Trust (WLT) visits our partner organisation in Guatemala to share skills and knowledge, while getting a first-hand insight into the conservation work we are helping to fund
In April 2011, Ruth Canning from the World Land Trust (WLT) went to Guatemala on a site visit to the Laguna Grande-Sarstún Reserve, funded by WLT. This provided an excellent opportunity for Ruth and colleagues at our partner organisation FUNDAECO (Fundación Para el Ecodesarrollo y la Conservacion) to share skills and knowledge, further strengthening our collaboration. Ruth is WLT’s Conservation Programmes Officer for the Americas, helping to support all 16 of our partner organisations across Central and South America. She helps co-ordinate funding priorities and maintains dialogue with partners from our Suffolk-based office.
Safe haven for wildlife in Laguna Grande Reserve
After spending two days in FUNDAECO’s main office based in Guatemala City, to get a better insight into the organisations’ wider work, Ruth headed to the Caribbean Guatemala region to explore the Laguna Grande-Sarstún Reserve that was funded by WLT. Ruth hiked and canoed through the reserve, exploring some of the 1,658 acres (657 ha) of lagoons, mangroves and tropical forests that stretch from sea level up over 350 metre high mountains. She said:
“The reserve’s environment was really impressive and the surrounding area is home to five big cat species, including the Jaguar, as well as River Otter, the Mexican Black Howler Monkey, and West Indian Manatee. It is also an important habitat for bird species, such as the impressive Harpy Eagle and Reddish Egret.”
Despite its importance to the wealth of wildlife that live here, it is considered to be the single most threatened habitat in the Caribbean Guatemala region. It is being systematically logged and cleared for cattle ranching and agriculture, with less than 20 per cent of the original forest remaining. The Laguna Grande-Sarstún Reserve will therefore provide a safe haven for this wildlife. WLT are working to expand the network of reserves in this area and are supporting FUNDAECO through the Buy an Acre appeal. This means that for as little as £25, you can help purchase and protect this threatened habitat and its wildlife forever.
Pioneering work with indigenous communities
The Laguna Grande Reserve lies within a much larger area protected by FUNDAECO, known as the Rio Sarstún Multiple Use Area. It protects over 4,447 acres (1,800 ha) and is co-managed by an indigenous community organisation, the Sarstún Temash Institute for Indigenous Management. For the country, this co-management is pioneering; it is the first time in Guatemala that an indigenous group and a conservation NGO have formed a consortium to manage a protected area for wildlife. The two organisations run many projects with local people and Ruth took the opportunity to meet members of the Sarstún Fishing Association. This is a collaborative project between FUNDAECO and local fishermen to set-up an aquaculture project to farm native fish species. The fishing association is made up of 72 members of the community and project aims to provide enough income to allow these fishermen to stop harvesting wild fish and further depleting populations. The devastating impact of over-fishing is a global conservation concern, yet this is an example of how our partner organisation is initiating projects to help tackle the problem locally. The Sarstún Fishing Association began by creating a fish farm, where the fishermen grew fish to sell to local restaurants. Ruth said:
“In terms of the work on the ground, the project has been a huge success. But unfortunately not financially; the income from the project was too small to support 30 families and the fishermen feel that if the project was bigger it would be more profitable.”
The fish farm started as a pilot project a year ago and was seen as a learning experience. The group now plans to work on marketing and expanding their work; firstly buying a fridge-freezer to store the fish and then to publicise their work on the radio. At the meeting FUNDAECO pledged more funding so the group could start on some proposals.
Meet the Keeper of the Wild
Ruth also had the chance to meet the new ranger at the Laguna Grande-Sarstún Reserve, Ricardo Caal, who is being funded by WLT’s Keepers of the Wild appeal. Ricardo is from a local village and has been hired to manage and protect the reserve. Ricardo is very experienced in working with local communities, which will be invaluable to FUNDAECO as they continue to strengthen their relationship with local people. Ruth saw the work that Ricardo and the other rangers had recently completed, creating a board walk from the water’s edge into the forest. They aim to link trails within Laguna Grande-Sarstún Reserve with trails in the Sarstún Multiple Use Area, making it easier for visitors to enjoy the reserve in a manner sympathetic to the environment. Along with the other rangers funded by the Keepers of the Wild appeal, Ricardo posts regular updates on our website about his work saving some of the most threatened habitats and wildlife in the world.