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News articles on central america
Mongabay.com news articles on central america in blog format. Updated regularly.
Pollution from fossil fuels decreased rainfall in Central America
(02/10/2015) Fossil fuel pollution may have caused a southern shift in a vital rainfall belt across Central America, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience, potentially leading to drier conditions and droughts in some northern tropical countries. Using data from a single stalagmite in a Belizean cave, the researchers were able to create an accurate record of both rainfall and temperature for the last 450 years.
With local help, hawksbill sea turtles make a comeback in Nicaragua
(01/28/2015) Hawksbill sea turtles, a reptile listed as the highest threat level by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, are making a momentous local comeback in Nicaragua’s Pearl Cays. This Critically Endangered turtle, although reduced to 85 percent of their historical numbers, has shown a nesting increase of over 200 percent from just 154 nests to 468 nests in the last 14 years.
Suspects acquitted in shocking murder of sea turtle conservationist
(01/27/2015) Yesterday, the seven men accused of brutally murdering Jairo Mora Sandoval on a beach in Costa Rica two years ago were acquitted of the crime. Sandoval's murder shocked the Central American country—long known for the progressive protection of its lush rainforests and sweeping beaches—but the judge who acquitted the accused cited reasonable doubt and a investigation marred by mistakes.
Scientists rediscover Critically Endangered streamside frog in Costa Rica
(12/26/2014) In the past 20 years, amphibian species around the world have experienced rapid decline due to climate change, disease, invasive species, habitat loss and degradation. Populations have decreased by approximately 40 percent with nearly 200 species thought to have gone extinct since 1980. However, despite these discouraging statistics, new research efforts are turning up lost populations of some vanished frogs.
Conservation conflicting with local ways of life in Mexican reserve
(12/23/2014) Although conservation has good intentions, it can give rise to conflicts when the interests of conservationists put local peoples’ livelihoods at stake. A recent study has uncovered an unhappy symbiosis between Mayan subsistence hunters and authorities in Yucatán, Mexico. A lack of understanding and communication about hunting regulations are forcing Mayan hunter societies to alter their traditional ways of living.
New film highlights local resistance to Nicaragua's canal
(12/11/2014) This fall, filmmakers Tom Miller and Nuin-Tara Key with Pretty Good Productions found themselves in Nicaragua where they heard about a stunning project: the Gran Canal. Approved last year, the canal is meant to compete with the Panama Canal to the south. Built by a Chinese company, it will cut through 278 kilometers, destroying forests and driving through the largest freshwater body in Central America.
Initiative to restore 50M acres of degraded Latin American ecosystems by 2020
(12/07/2014) A coalition of governments and organizations today pledged to restore 20 million hectares (50 million acres) of degraded forests and ecosystems across Latin America by 2020 under an initiative that aims to curb boost rural incomes, fight climate change, and increase agricultural production. The effort is backed by $365 million from five impact investors.
Is the Gran Canal really a 'big Christmas present' for Nicaraguans?
(12/04/2014) "A big Christmas present"—that is how Paul Oquist, an advisor to Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, described the country's plan to build a mega-canal across the nation. Preliminary construction on the canal is set to begin December 24th, despite major concerns over environmental destruction, forced removal of thousands of people, and a lack of transparency.
Indigenous uprising earned tribe territories, but greatest challenges lie ahead
(11/06/2014) In 1925, Nele Kantule led a revolution that would make Guna Yala an independent and sovereign indigenous territory within Panama. Since then, the Guna have maintained a way of life that has allowed them to preserve their natural resources and mainland forest to an exceptional degree. But today, like many indigenous groups around the world, the Guna face some of their greatest challenges yet: the impacts of climate change, encroaching outside influences, and a younger generation that many elders feel is drifting from its roots.
Between the Forest and the Sea: The Yarsuisuit Collective - Part II
(10/31/2014) In this multimedia piece by SRI fellow Bear Guerra, we follow Andrés de León and the Yarsuisuit collective, a group of men who grow and harvest food sustainably in the Guna mainland forest. They also run a store on the island of Ustupu that helps support their families, serving as a model for the wider community.
Between the forest and the sea: life and climate change in Guna Yala - Part I
(10/27/2014) The island-dwelling Guna people of Panama are one of the most sovereign indigenous communities in the world, but now severe weather and sea level rise are causing regular flooding on many of the islands, and will likely force the Guna to have to abandon their island homes for the mainland. This multimedia piece offers an introduction to everyday life and customs in Guna Yala and touches upon the uncertain future the Guna are now facing thanks to the impacts of climate change.
Scientific association calls on Nicaragua to scrap its Gran Canal
(10/27/2014) ATBC—the world's largest association of tropical biologists and conservationists—has advised Nicaragua to halt its ambitious plan to build a massive canal across the country. The ATBC warns that the Chinese-backed canal, also known as the Gran Canal, will have devastating impacts on Nicaragua's water security, its forests and wildlife, and local people.
Balu Wala, or the Kuna ‘good life': how one indigenous tribe is passing on its traditions (photos)
(10/03/2014) Jesús Smith is sitting at his old wooden desk facing the entrance to his house. He's hunched over, shirtless, and wearing his chunky reading glasses while writing copious notes by hand — a favorite pastime. When he sees the profile of one of his students, Julio, walking past his doorway, he yells, 'Hey! I'll see you in class tomorrow!'
What makes the jaguar the ultimate survivor? New books highlights mega-predator's remarkable past and precarious future
(10/02/2014) For thousands of years the jaguar was a God, then it was vermin to be destroyed, and today it is the inspiration for arguably the most ambitious conservation effort on the planet. A new book by renowned big cat conservationist, Alan Rabinowitz, tells this remarkable story from the jaguar's evolutionary origins in Asia to its re-emergence today as a cultural and ecological symbol.
Reintroduction program ups Mexico's scarlet macaw population by 34 percent in one year
(09/25/2014) While listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, the scarlet macaw has disappeared from almost all of its native range in Mexico, is very rare in most Central America countries, and is locally extinct in El Salvador. A new paper published this week finds a reintroduction program was hugely successful in its first year of operation, with a 92 percent survival rate for released birds.
Four countries pledge to restore 30 million hectares of degraded lands at UN Summit
(09/25/2014) In 2011, Germany and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature launched the Bonn Challenge, which pledged to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested lands by 2020. Several countries have already made commitments—including the U.S.—but this week at the UN Climate Summit four more jumped on board.
Fragmented forests hurt some bat species, may benefit others
(09/23/2014) Development of roads and other structures disturb large, continuous patches of habitat for wildlife. This habitat fragmentation is one of the biggest contributors to species extinction, as the local ecology and species interactions are altered. A new study finds that leaf-nosed bat abundances in Mexico are closely linked to how sensitive each species is to habitat fragmentation.
REDD+ versus indigenous people? Why a tribe in Panama rejected pay for their carbon-rich forests
(09/04/2014) There isn’t a word or phrase in the Kuna language for "carbon trading,” and much less for something as complex as REDD+. Standing for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, REDD+ is the worldwide UN-backed climate change mitigation scheme that relies on carbon trading within forest landscapes to fund forest conservation programs. And yet, since 2008, the Kuna people have been hearing lots about it and referring to it often in their private conversations.
The Gran Canal: will Nicaragua's big bet create prosperity or environmental ruin?
(08/27/2014) A hundred years ago, the Panama Canal reshaped global geography. Now a new project, spearheaded by a media-shy Chinese millionaire, wants to build a 278-kilometer canal through Nicaragua. While the government argues the mega-project will change the country's dire economic outlook overnight, critics contend it will cause undue environmental damage, upend numerous communities, and do little to help local people.
Challenging the 'tragedy of the commons': new documentary explores how humans and nature can coexist (VIDEO)
(08/20/2014) In Guatemala, a vast community forest has prospered for centuries despite an ever-growing population, challenging the idea that human inhabitation of an area will inevitably lead to its ecological degradation.
'Natural Reserves' no more: illegal colonists deforest huge portions of Nicaraguan protected areas
(08/13/2014) In southeastern Nicaragua, abutting the coastal Caribbean town of Bluefields, lie two nature reserves - Cerro Silva and Punta Gorda - that are embroiled in a bitter battle for survival against the speedily encroaching agricultural frontier. The forest is all but decimated here, with disconnected patches whose very existence rests precariously in the hands of its occupiers - both legal and illegal.
An untapped resource: new study finds local people may trump scientists at biodiversity surveys
(08/12/2014) Figuring out what species live in a given area is important to the determination of its conservation importance. Traditionally, these biodiversity assessments have been done directly by scientists via surveys, which can be very time-intensive and expensive. However, a new study found that interviewing people in local communities who are familiar with the species of their regions could be just as effective – and much cheaper.
The 90 Percent Diet: reducing our environmental impact by eating less meat
(08/07/2014) In Brian Machovina’s life, a serendipitous influence of people and places have all contributed to his current passion for inspiring people to eat less meat. With fewer grazing animals, Machovina’s studies show that we could make better conservation and production choices with land that would otherwise be used to raise or feed livestock.
Attack of the killer vines: lianas taking over forests in Panama
(07/14/2014) A worrying trend has emerged in tropical forests: lianas, woody long-stemmed vines, are increasingly displacing trees, thereby reducing forests’ overall ability to store carbon. The study, recently published in Ecology, found several detrimental effects of increased liana presence.
Downturn in shade-grown coffee putting forests, wildlife, people at risk
(07/11/2014) Growing coffee in the shade of forests allows native vegetation to persist, thereby reducing the impact of agriculture on the natural landscape. While production of shade-grown coffee surged in recent decades, it is now experiencing a decline. A recent study analyzed the situation, finding that the growth of consumer demand and changes in coffee agronomy has caused coffee production and management to change drastically.
'Exciting implications' for conservation: new technology brings the lab to the field
(06/26/2014) Times have changed, and technological advancements have scaled down scientific equipment in terms of both size and cost. Among them are the tools and procedures needed to conduct molecular genetic analysis. A study published this week explored the potential applications of this new technology, and found that it allows both researchers and novices alike to analyze DNA in the field easily, cheaply, and effectively.
Guatemala establishes new reserve for endangered animals
(06/04/2014) Guatemala has formally established a 19,000-hectare (47,000-acre) reserve that protects several endangered bird and amphibian species, reports the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). The Sierra Caral Water and Forest Reserve received overwhelming support during a vote by Guatemala's Congress. It is the first new protected area designated by Congress since 2005
The matrix matters: scientists find surprising biodiversity between forests
(05/20/2014) In human-dominated countryside areas, forests are often fragmented and scattered among a matrix of developments such as plantations and pastures. Scientists have long overlooked the habitat value of these matrices. However, according to a recent study published in Nature, the biodiversity of altered countryside areas that exist between islands of fragmented forests can be significant and deserving of conservation attention.
Connecting forests, saving species: conservation group plans extensive wildlife corridor in Panama
(05/16/2014) With the cooperation of hundreds of ranchers and researchers, Azuero Earth Project aims to replant a swath of tropical dry forest, connecting the dry tropical forest on the coast to cloud forest further inland. The trees along the 140-kilometer (80-mile) wildlife corridor will create a continuous habitat for the Critically Endangered Azuero spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi azuerensis) and improve the soil for people who farm and ranch along the way.
A new face for palm oil? How a small co-op is changing the industry in Honduras
(04/10/2014) Expanding oil palm plantations are among the top reasons for deforestation globally, along with cattle ranching, timber, and soy. However, a small palm oil production outfit recently became the first cooperative in the world to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification for sustainable growth of African palms, employing a number of innovations to ensure the prosperity of both forests and local communities.
City lights threaten rainforests by deterring bats
(04/09/2014) Fruit-eating bats play an important role in forest regeneration, collecting and spreading seeds far and wide. However, human development may be stymying bat-mediated dispersal. In a new study, researchers found that fruit bats avoid feeding in light-polluted areas, which may significantly affect forest growth.
Researchers use new technique to shed light on endangered tapir
(03/26/2014) A new study, recently published in mongabay.com's open access journal, Tropical Conservation Science, uses a new technique to examine the behavior and distribution of the Endangered Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii) in the southern forests of Mexico. One of four species of Central American tapir, Baird’s tapir was recently ranked 34th on a list of 4,000 endangered animals in need of urgent protection by the Zoological Society of London.
Sloths, moths and algae: a surprising partnership sheds light on a mystery
(03/22/2014) While it spends the majority of its time in the safety of tree canopies, the three-toed sloth regularly places itself in mortal danger by descending to the forest floor to defecate. For years, scientists have been trying to figure out what is driving this peculiar and risky behavior. Now, Jonathan Pauli from the University of Wisconsin-Madison believes his team of researchers has found an important clue to this mystery involving an unusual and beneficial relationship among sloths, moths and algae.
Scientist discovers a plethora of new praying mantises (pictures)
(03/19/2014) Despite their pacific name, praying mantises are ferocious top predators with powerful, grasping forelimbs; spiked legs; and mechanistic jaws. In fact, imagine a tiger that can rotate its head 180 degrees or a great white that blends into the waves and you'll have a sense of why praying mantises have developed a reputation. Yet, many praying mantis species remain little known to scientists, according to a new paper in ZooKeys that identifies an astounding 19 new species from the tropical forests of Central and South America.
Featured video: indigenous tribe faces loggers, ranchers, and murder in bid to save their forests
(03/19/2014) A new short film, entitled La Trocha, highlights the plight of the Wounaan people in Panama, who are fighting for legal rights to their forests even as loggers and ranchers carve it up. The conflict turned violent in 2012 when local chief, Aquilo Puchicama, was shot dead by loggers.
Cocaine: the new face of deforestation in Central America
(03/11/2014) In 2006, Mexico intensified its security strategy, forming an inhospitable environment for drug trafficking organizations (also known as DTOs) within the nation. The drug cartels responded by creating new trade routes along the border of Guatemala and Honduras. Soon shipments of cocaine from South America began to flow through the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC). This multi-national swathe of forest, encompassing several national parks and protected areas, was originally created to protect endangered species, such as Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) and jaguar (Panthera onca), as well as the world's second largest coral reef. Today, its future hinges on the world's drug producers and consumers.
Ecotourism pays: study finds lower poverty where nature-based tourism is prevalent
(02/25/2014) A new study has quantified a point long advocated by advocates of setting aside protected areas: ecotourism pays. The research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), finds that communities neighboring conservation areas in Costa Rica had lower rates of poverty relative to other areas.
Nicaragua Canal could cause ecological disaster, warn experts
(02/20/2014) Nicaragua's plans for a canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans could trigger an environmental disaster through habitat destruction and alteration, introduction of non-native species, pollution, and sedimentation, warns a commentary published in this week's issue of Nature.
Local communities key to saving the Critically Endangered Mexican black howler monkey
(02/14/2014) For conservation initiatives around the world, community involvement is often crucial. An additional challenge is how to conserve species once their habitats have become fragmented. A primatologist in Mexico is bringing these together in a celebration of a Critically Endangered primate species: the Mexican black howler monkey. In 2013 Juan Carlos Serio-Silva was part of a team that not only helped to secure the establishment of a protected area for the Mexican black howler monkey, but also engaged local communities in a week of festivities, dubbed the First International Black Howler Monkey Week.
For agoutis, the night is fraught with peril
(01/15/2014) In a study recently published in the online Animal Behavior journal, scientists from the US and the Netherlands have examined the impact of predation patterns on prey's food foraging habits. The two-year long study on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, focused on the predator-prey relationship between the Central American agouti (Dasyprocta punctata), a common rainforest rodent, and the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis).
Tree islands more effective way to replant the world's forests
(01/09/2014) Worldwide, large swaths of land lay barren in the wake of agricultural expansion, and as global forest cover continues to decline, carbon and water cycles, biodiversity, and human health are impacted. But efforts to restore abandoned pastures and agricultural plots back into functioning forest ecosystems are often hindered by high costs and time requirements. Fortunately, scientists have developed a new method for a more cost effective solution to forest restoration, the establishment of 'tree islands.'
Natural sponges: forests help moderate floods, droughts
(12/20/2013) A new study adds further evidence for the 'sponge effect' of forests.
Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2013
(12/19/2013) China begins to tackle pollution, carbon emissions: As China's environmental crisis worsens, the government has begun to unveil a series of new initiatives to curb record pollution and cut greenhouse emissions. The world's largest consumer of coal, China's growth in emissions is finally slowing and some experts believe the nation's emissions could peak within the decade. If China's emissions begin to fall, so too could the world's.
Camera traps find less mammals than expected in Costa Rican corridor
(12/16/2013) A new study using camera traps in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science has surveyed the diversity of medium and large-sized predators in the San Juan-La Selva biological corridor in Costa Rica, whilst also demonstrating how alteration of habitat is affecting the use of this corridor.
Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2013
(12/10/2013) 1. Carbon concentrations hit 400ppm while the IPCC sets global carbon budget: For the first time since our appearance on Earth, carbon concentrations in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million. The last time concentrations were this high for a sustained period was 4-5 million years ago when temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius higher. Meanwhile, in the slow-moving effort to curb carbon emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) crafted a global carbon budget showing that most of the world's fossil fuel reserves must be left untouched if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Scientists discover new cat species roaming Brazil
(11/27/2013) As a family, cats are some of the most well-studied animals on Earth, but that doesn't mean these adept carnivores don't continue to surprise us. Scientists have announced today the stunning discovery of a new species of cat, long-confused with another. Looking at the molecular data of small cats in Brazil, researchers found that the tigrina—also known as the oncilla in Central America—is actually two separate species. The new species has been dubbed Leopardus guttulus and is found in the Atlantic Forest of southern Brazil, while the other Leopardus tigrinus is found in the cerrado and Caatinga ecosystems in northeastern Brazil.
Longline fisheries in Costa Rica hook tens of thousands of sea turtles every year
(11/14/2013) Hundreds of kilometers of commercial fishing lines slither along coastal waters in Costa Rica, hooking thousands of mahi-mahi and many other marketable fish. But when scientists scrutinized fishermen’s catch, they were shocked by the staggering number of sea turtles accidentally snagged on the lines.
Thought-to-be-extinct 'halloween' frog rediscovered in Costa Rica
(11/04/2013) A breeding population of a critically endangered harlequin toad thought to be extinct in Costa Rica has been discovered in a tract of highland forest in the Central American country, reports a paper published in Amphibia-Reptilia. Atelopus varius, an orange-and-black harlequin toad, was once relatively common from central Costa Rica to western Panama. But beginning in the 1980's the species experienced a rapid population collapse across most of its range.
Nature tours in Costa Rica: an economic alternative to palm oil?
(10/16/2013) Oil palm plantations have been rapidly expanding across the tropics for the better part of the past twenty years due to high returns from palm oil production. But palm oil isn't necessarily the most profitable form of land use in wildlife-rich areas, as one conservation entrepreneur is demonstrating in Costa Rica.David Lando Ramirez, a landowner in Sarapiqui, northeastern Costa Rica, has converted a small patch of oil palm into a thriving ecotourism business centered around people's love of the Central American nation's stunning diversity of birds.
Tapirs, drug-trafficking, and eco-police: practicing conservation amidst chaos in Nicaragua
(10/10/2013) Nicaragua is a nation still suffering from deep poverty, a free-flowing drug trade, and festering war-wounds after decades of internecine fighting. However, like any country that has been largely defined by its conflicts, Nicaragua possesses surprises that overturn conventional wisdom. Not the least of which is that the Central American country is still home to big, stunning species, including jaguars, giant anteaters, pumas, and the nation's heaviest animal, the Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii). Still, not surprisingly given the nation's instability, most conservationists have avoided Nicaragua. But tapir-expert Christopher Jordan, who has worked in the country for over four years, says he wouldn't have it any other way.
Camera-traps reveal surprising mammals at remote site in Honduras (photos)
(09/30/2013) A camera trap survey along the Sikre River in Honduras has discovered that the region is home to a menagerie of rare mammals, including giant anteaters. The survey, published in mongabay.com's open access journal, Tropical Conservation Science, recorded five cat species in 70 square kilometers.
Attempt to export nearly-extinct pygmy sloths sets off international incident in Panama
(09/20/2013) Last Monday, the police officer on morning duty at Isla Colón International Airport, Panama noticed some foreigners loading crates with what appeared to be animals on a private jet. Finding this suspicious, he alerted his supervisor. Within minutes the local police chief, the mayor of Bocas, the director of the regional office of the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), community leaders and heads of local conservation organizations were informed about the incident. Little by little, a crowd of concerned citizens from Bocas town gathered around what turned out to be eight pygmy sloths – some of the rarest mammals on Earth
Mesoamerican Reef needs more local support, says report
(09/13/2013) From massive hotel development through the agriculture industry, humans are destroying the second largest barrier reef in the world: the Mesoamerican Reef. Although global climate change and its effects on reefs via warming and acidification of coastal waters have made recent headlines, local human activities may destroy certain ecosystems before climate change has a chance to do it. The harmful effects of mining, agriculture, commercial development, and fishing in coastal regions have already damaged more than two-thirds of reefs across the Caribbean, in addition to worsening the negative effects of climate change.
Indigenous people of Honduras granted one million hectares of rainforest
(09/12/2013) One-hundred and fifty years after a treaty with England granted the Miskito people rights over their land--a treaty which was never fully respected--the government of Honduras has officially handed over nearly a million hectares (970,000 hectares) of tropical forest along the Caribbean Coast to the indigenous people. The Miskito are found along the eastern coast of both Honduras and Nicaragua and number around 200,000.
Preserving forest, birds boosts coffee profit up to $300/ha by controlling pests
(09/11/2013) Birds are providing a valuable ecosystem service on coffee plantations in Costa Rica, finds a new study that quantifies the pest control benefits of preserving tree cover in agricultural areas. The study, published in the journal Ecology Letters, looked at the impact of the coffee berry borer beetle (Hypothenemus hampeii) on coffee yields. The beetle is the only insect that directly consumes coffee berries, making it a major scourge for coffee farmers around the world, costing producers some $500 million a year.
Scientists outline how to save nearly 70 percent of the world's plant species
(09/05/2013) In 2010 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to set aside 17 percent of the world's land as protected areas in addition to protecting 60 percent of the world's plant species—through the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)—by 2020. Now a new study in Science finds that the world can achieve both ambitious goals at the same time—if only we protect the right places. Looking at data on over 100,000 flower plants, scientists determined that protecting 17 percent of the world's land (focusing on priority plant areas) would conserve 67 percent of the world's plants.
Eighty sea turtles wash up dead on the coast of Guatemala
(08/27/2013) An assortment of marine animals and birds reside along the black volcanic sand beaches of Guatemala’s Pacific coast, but lately both residents and visitors on the southeast beaches of the country have observed a tragic event – the stranding of dead sea turtles. Eighty dead sea turtles have been recorded since the first week of July.
UN REDD program failing to build capacity for indigenous people in Panama
(08/22/2013) The U.N.'s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (UN-REDD) program may be faltering in Panama due to its failure to build capacity for indigenous people who should play a central role in the initiative, argue researchers writing in the journal Nature.
Deforestation ban working in Costa Rica
(08/05/2013) Costa Rica's ban on clearing of "mature" forests appears to be effective in encouraging agricultural expansion on non-forest lands, finds a study published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The study, which was led by Matthew Fagan of Columbia University, found that since Costa Rica implemented its ban on conversion of mature forests in 1996, the annual rate of old-growth forest loss dropped 40 percent despite an agricultural boom in the region. The results suggest that Costa Rica is intensifying agricultural production while simultaneously sparing forests.
Suspects arrested in Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist's murder
(08/03/2013) Eight suspects were arrested during early-morning raids Wednesday in the murder of Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora.
Researchers produce the most accurate carbon map for an entire country
(07/22/2013) Researchers working in Panama have produced the most accurate carbon map for an entire country. Using satellite imagery and extremely high-resolution Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data from airplane-based sensors, a team led by Greg Asner produced a detailed carbon map across the Central American country's forests. The map reveals variations in forest carbon density resulting from elevation, slope, climate, vegetation type, and canopy coverage.
Featured video: saving animals from the illegal pet trade in Guatemala
(07/22/2013) Found in Central America's largest forest, the Maya Biosphere Reserve, the Guatemalan organization Arcas has rescued and rehabilitated thousands of animals since its inception in 1989. Unlike many wildlife rescue centers worldwide, Arcas focuses on rehabilitating every animal for eventually release back into the wild. This means intensive training for each species, including food gathering and predator avoidance. A new short video by Arcas highlights the group's decades-long work.
Featured video: mangroves in El Salvador imperiled by climate change
(07/17/2013) A new short video by Friends of the Earth International highlights the impacts of climate change on mangroves in El Salvador, which local fishermen depend on for their livelihoods.
Conservationists urge Costa Rica to maintain environmental leadership
(06/30/2013) A body representing hundreds of biologists and conservation scientists has urged the government of Costa Rica not to jeopardize its reputation as an environmental leader by allowing carve-outs from protected areas for industrial development. In a declaration issued Thursday at the conclusion its 50th annual meeting, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), applauded Costa Rica's pathbreaking efforts to integrate environmental protection into its national development strategy. But the group warned that proposed projects that would require de-gazetting of national parks for energy projects could undermine Costa Rica's green credentials.
Sea Shepherd to name new ship after slain sea turtle activist
(06/28/2013) Marine conservation group Sea Shepherd will name its newest vessel after Jairo Mora Sandoval, a sea turtle conservationist who was slain on a Costa Rican beach last month.
Why Panama's indigenous pulled out of the UN's REDD program
(06/25/2013) This week in Lombok, Indonesia, the Policy Board of the United Nations climate change program known as UNREDD is addressing the first major test of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the United Nations, which recognizes the right of Indigenous People to stop projects in their territories that could endanger their traditions and livelihoods. The National Coordinating Body of the Indigenous People of Panama pulled out of UNREDD’s national program in February and have called on the United Nations to close the program.
Costa Rican environmentalist pays ultimate price for his dedication to sea turtles
(06/10/2013) On the evening of May 30th, 26-year-old Jairo Mora Sandoval was murdered on Moin beach near Limón, Costa Rica, the very stretch of sand where he courageously monitored sea turtle nests for years even as risks from poachers rose, including threats at gunpoint. A dedicated conservationist, Sandoval was kidnapped along with four women volunteers (three Americans and one from Spain) while driving along the beach looking for nesting sea turtles. Sandoval was separated from the women—who eventually escaped their captors—but the young Costa Rican was stripped naked, bound, and viciously beaten. Police found him the next day, face-down and handcuffed in the sand; Sandoval died of asphyxiation.
Indigenous association to sue to shut down Panama's REDD+ program
(05/17/2013) Panama's largest association of indigenous people will sue the Panamanian government to shut down the country's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program.
Photo: Stunning new pit-viper discovered in Honduras
(05/15/2013) A stunning new species of pit-viper has been discovered in the cloud forest of Honduras. The venomous snake is described in the journal ZooKeys.
Featured video: saving sea turtles in Mexico's Magdalena Bay
(05/09/2013) A new short film, Viva la tortuga documents the struggle to save loggerhead and green sea turtles in Magdalena Bay, Mexico. Once a region for a massive sea turtle meat market, the turtles now face a new threat: bycatch. Loggerhead sea turtles are drowning in bottom-set gillnets, unable to escape from the nets once entangled. The issue has even raises threats of trade embargoes from the U.S.
Frankenfish or scientific marvel?: giant GM salmon await U.S. approval
(05/07/2013) It is hard to think of a more unlikely setting for genetic experimentation or for raising salmon: a rundown shed at a secretive location in the Panamanian rainforest miles inland and 1,500m above sea level. But the facility, which is owned by an American company AquaBounty Technologies, stands on the verge of delivering the first genetically modified food animal—a fast-growing salmon—to supermarkets and dinner tables.
Central America's largest forest under siege by colonists
(05/06/2013) In the last four years, invading land speculators and peasants have destroyed 150,000 hectares (370,000 acres) of rainforest in Nicaragua's Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, according to the Mayangna and Miskito indigenous peoples who call this forest home. Although Nicaragua recognized the land rights of the indigenous people in 2007, the tribes say the government has not done near-enough to keep illegal settlers out despite recent eviction efforts.
Indigenous protester killed by masked assailants in Panama over UN-condemned dam
(03/25/2013) A Ngäbe indigenous Panamanian, Onesimo Rodriguez, opposing the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam project was killed last Friday evening by four masked men. His body was then thrown into a nearby stream where it was discovered the following day. Onesimo Rodriguez was attacked with a companion in Las Nubes, after they had attended a demonstration in Cerro Punta, Bugaba, against the dam. His companion, whose identity is being withheld for security reasons, received serious injuries but managed to escape and is having his injuries tended to by the local indigenous community.
Forging zoos into global conservation centers, an interview with Cristian Samper, head of WCS
(03/25/2013) The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is one of the world's leading environmental organizations. Founded in 1895 (originally as the New York Zoological Society), the WCS manages 200 million acres of wild places around the globe, with over 500 field conservation projects in 65 countries, and 200 scientists on staff. The WCS also runs five facilities in New York City: the Central Park Zoo, the New York Aquarium, Prospect Park and Queens Zoos, and the world renowned Bronx Zoo.
Panama's indigenous people drop REDD+
(03/19/2013) The National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP) has announced it is withdrawing from the United Nation's REDD+ program following a series of disagreements. The exit of COONAPIP from the negotiating table with UN officials and the Panamanian government will likely be a blow to the legitimacy of REDD+ in the central American country. REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, is a program to reduce emissions by safeguarding forests.
First strike: nearly 200 illegal loggers arrested in massive sting across 12 countries
(02/20/2013) One-hundred-and-ninety-seven illegal loggers across a dozen Central and South American countries have been arrested during INTERPOL's first strike against widespread forestry crime. INTERPOL, or The International Criminal Police Organization, worked with local police forces to take a first crack at illegal logging. In all the effort, known as Operation Lead, resulted in the seizure of 50,000 cubic meters of wood worth around $8 million.
World's biggest camera trapping program hits 1 million photos of tropical animals (photos)
(02/14/2013) The world's largest study of wildlife using remote camera traps has captured one million photographs. The project, known as the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network, takes photos of mammals and birds in 16 protected areas across 14 tropical countries in Asia, Africa, as well as Central and South America. Remote camera traps, which take stealth photos of wildlife when no humans are around, have become an increasingly important tool in the conservationists' toolbox, allowing researchers to monitor otherwise hard-to-find animals in remote and often punishing locations.
Rosewood in Belize: the truth behind the smoke
(02/11/2013) In Belize, the uncontrolled and often illegal harvesting of rosewood has been, and still is, one of the major environmental issues in the country. In March of last year, the government established a moratorium on the export and extraction of rosewood, however illegal harvesting continued. On Friday 11 January, the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development made the bold move of burning confiscated illegally cut rosewood flitches.
Amphibian, tapir paradise in Honduras being ravaged by illegal deforestation
(02/06/2013) Located in a mountainous area near the border with Guatemala, Cusuco National Park in Honduras is recognized by researchers as a critical refuge for endangered amphibians in a country that has suffered from widespread deforestation. But while the park largely escaped the devastation that has affected other protected areas in Honduras, the situation seems to be changing: since 2010 there has been a sharp increase in deforestation. Poachers, small farmers, and cattle ranchers are moving into the park using a network of research trails and camps established by Operation Wallacea, a British conservation science NGO.
Three developing nations move to ban hunting to protect vanishing wildlife
(01/21/2013) Three developing countries have recently toughened hunting regulations believing the changes will better protect vanishing species. Botswana has announced it will ban trophy hunting on public lands beginning in 2014, while Zambia has recently banned any hunting of leopards or lions, both of which are disappearing across Africa. However, the most stringent ban comes from another continent: Costa Rica—often considered one of the "greenest" countries on Earth—has recently passed a law that bans all sport hunting and trapping both inside and outside protected areas. The controversial new law is considered the toughest in the Western Hemisphere.
Telling the story of the father of sea turtle conservation
(01/21/2013) In 1959, visionary Archer Carr founded the world's first conservation group devoted solely to sea turtles. Working with these marine denizens in Costa Rica, Carr was not only instrumental in changing local views of the turtles—which at the time were being hunted and eaten at unsustainable rates—but also in establishing basic practices for sea turtle conservation today. Now a new film by Two-Head Video, Inc. tells the story of Carr's work and the perils still facing marine turtles today.
Rainforests teem with insects, most of which are unknown, finds study
(12/13/2012) Researchers in Panama have published the results of the most comprehensive survey of arthropods in a small area of tropical rainforest. At a high level, the findings surprise no one: the Panamanian rainforest is full of insects, spiders, and crustaceans. Yet the results also show how little is known about this large group of organisms — 60-70 percent of the species are thought to be new to science.
Photos: Chinese leopard wins camera trap contest
(11/27/2012) The third annual BBC Wildlife Magazine Camera Trap Photo of the Year contest has produced some stunning and surprising images, including a snow leopard sticking its tongue out, a rare giant pangolin, and wrestling monitor lizards. But the winner this year was the perfect shot of a young leopard in China.
Oil drilling approved for national park in Belize
(11/20/2012) The Belizean government has approved an application by US Capital Energy to drill exploratory wells for oil in the Sarstoon Temash National Park in southern Belize. The decision is believed to have been taken on November 1st by the National Environmental Assessment Committee (NEAC) of the Department of Environment, but the exact terms of the settlement have not yet been made public. The oil company, backed by US energy investment group Aspect Holdings, has applied to drill at five points in the Sarstoon Temash National Park and adjacent areas.
El Salvador mulls total ban on mining
(10/22/2012) On hot days the broken stone and dried up silt from the San Sebastian mine in Eastern El Salvador bake in the sun. The slew of refuse is freckled with rock stained bright blue with cyanide, open to the elements that on rainier days will wash it downhill into the Rio San Sebastian below. The openings of passages into the mine dot the mountainside, and further downhill a bright orange stream with a chemical stench flows into another. The American Commerce Group ceased operating here in 1999 but sought to return when the price of gold began its current escalation.
Gaming for rainforests
(10/03/2012) The average gamer will spend thousands of hours playing video games by the time they reach adulthood, but the most popular games among some demographics — shoot-em-up and sports games — don't seem to offer many dividends to society or the environment. However Jan Dwire doesn't believe that has to be the case. With a small team in Costa Rica, Dwire has developed "Rainforest Rangers", a multi-platform game that teaches kids about rainforests, including their importance and the threats they face.
Jaguar conservation gets a boost in North and Central America
(09/27/2012) Jaguar conservation has received a huge boost in the past few months both in Latin America and in the U.S. An historic agreement singed between the world's leading wild cat conservation organization Panthera and the government of Costa Rica in addition to a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposal bring renewed hope to the efforts to revive the iconic jaguar in its current habitat and return the cats to the American Southwest.
Scientists name new snake species to criticize mine plans in Panama (photos)
(09/18/2012) While scientists increasingly name new species after celebrities in order to gain much-needed attention for the world's vanishing biodiversity, researchers describing a new snake species from Panama have taken a different route. Dubbing the new serpent, Sibon noalamina ('no to the mine!' in Spanish), the scientists are hoping the multicolored snake's unusual name will draw attention to mining and deforestation issues in Panama's remote Tabasará mountains.
Indigenous groups in Panama wait for UN REDD to meet promises
(08/30/2012) A dispute over the implementation of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) in Panama has pitted the United Nations (UN) against the nation's diverse and large indigenous groups. Represented by the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP), indigenous groups charge that the UN has failed to meet several pledges related to kick-starting REDD+ with their support, including delaying a $1.79 million payment to the group to begin REDD+-related activities. The on-going dispute highlights the perils and complexities of implementing REDD+, especially concerns that the program might disenfranchise indigenous groups who have long been the stewards of their forest territories.
Dry forests disappearing faster than rainforests in Latin America
(08/21/2012) Countries across Latin America lost 78,000 square kilometers of subtropical and tropical dry broadleaf forests between 2001 and 2010, according to a new satellite-based assessment published in the journal Biotropica.
Deforestation accelerates in Belize
(08/09/2012) Deforestation in Belize has accelerated since late 2010, reports a new satellite-based assessment of the tiny Central American country's forest cover by CATHALAC (the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean).
Rodent robbers fill role of mega mammals, help spread tropical trees
(08/07/2012) In order to disperse their seeds, large-fruited tropical trees probably relied on massive mammals that roamed the earth over 10,000 years ago. But with giants such as the mastodon now extinct, thieving rodents—who continually excavate and rebury others' seeds—may be filling their role, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Predicting the distribution of tropical dung beetles
(07/09/2012) Although they live in almost every ecosystem in the world—from your backyard to the Antarctic—scientists know very little about many insect species, including many individual species' distribution. A new study in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science attempts to predict the range of 53 dung beetle species in the genus Eurysternus, all of which are found in the American tropics. Dung beetles are hugely important to their environments, since they efficiently devour and recycle waste.
Herp paradise preserved in Guatemala
(05/29/2012) Fifteen conservation groups have banded together to save around 2,400 hectares (6,000 acres) of primary rainforest in Guatemala, home to a dozen imperiled amphibians as well as the recently discovered Merendon palm pit viper (Bothriechis thalassinus). The new park, dubbed the Sierra Caral Amphibian Reserve, lies in the Guatemalan mountains on the border with Honduras in a region that has been called the most important conservation area in Guatemala.
Less than 100 pygmy sloths survive
(05/24/2012) The pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus) is one of the world's most endangered mammals, according to a detailed survey of the population, which found less than 100 sloths hanging on in their island home. Only described by researchers in 2001, the pygmy sloth lives on a single uninhabited island off the coast of Panama. But human impacts, such as deforestation of the island's mangroves, may be pushing the species to extinction.
New frog species leaves scientists' fingers yellow
(05/22/2012) A beautiful, yellow frog species has been discovered in western Panama, according to a new paper in ZooKeys. Scientists were surprised when handling the new species to find their fingers stained bright yellow by its skin, but even after laboratory research the purpose of this dye remains a mystery. The new species, named Diasporus citrinobapheus, is a member of the large rain frog family, whose members skip the tadpole stage and instead are born directly from eggs as tiny froglets.
Animal picture of the day: the boat-billed heron
(05/16/2012) Boat-billed herons (Cochlearius cochlearius) are found in Central and South America, as far north as Mexico and as far south as Argentina. A notably bizarre heron, the species is the only member of the genus Cochlearius. Like many heron species it feeds on a wide variety of freshwater and terrestrial animals.
Jaguar v. sea turtle: when land and marine conservation icons collide
(05/16/2012) At first, an encounter between a jaguar (Panthera onca) and a green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) seems improbable, even ridiculous, but the two species do come into fatal contact when a female turtle, every two to four years, crawls up a jungle beach to lay her eggs. A hungry jaguar will attack the nesting turtle, killing it with a bite to the neck, and dragging the massive animal—sometime all the way into the jungle—to eat the muscles around the neck and flippers. Despite the surprising nature of such encounters, this behavior, and its impact on populations, has been little studied. Now, a new study in Costa Rica's Tortuguero National Park has documented five years of jaguar attacks on marine turtles—and finds these encounters are not only more common than expected, but on the rise.
Wildlife in the tropics plummets by over 60 percent
(05/15/2012) In 48 years wildlife populations in the tropics, the region that holds the bulk of the world's biodiversity, have fallen by an alarming 61 percent, according to the most recent update to the Living Planet Index. Produced by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the index currently tracks almost 10,000 populations of 2,688 vertebrate species (including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish) in both the tropics and temperate regions.
Oil company blamed for fire in Belize national park
(05/01/2012) At the end of March in southern Belize the sun beats down through blackened trees onto what was the only known low-lying sphagnum moss bog in Central America. Now it is an expanse of ash and pale crusts of burned moss onto which dragonflies settle briefly before passing on. Fire spread through the area at the end of February 2012, and since then reeds have begun to sprout, but otherwise it remains a scene of devastation with no sign that the moss is regenerating.
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