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Mongabay.com news articles on central america in blog format. Updated regularly.









Belize's world famous coral reefs and rainforests at risk

(03/03/2008) Belize's world famous coral reefs and tropical forests are increasingly vulnerable to environmental problems which could impact its tourism-dependent economy, argues a Belizean ecologist writing in the inaugural issue of the open access e-journal Tropical conservation Science.


The Panamanian golden frog declared extinct by BBC Natural History crew

(02/04/2008) A national symbol of Panama has been declared extinct by BBC filmmakers. The crew was in Panama to film the unique frog for David Attenborough's most recent series on reptiles and amphibians, entitled Life in Cold Blood. The filmmakers achieved their objective and captured the golden frog on film, including rarely seen behvaior.


Scientists discover four species of anole lizards in 24 hours in Panama

(01/13/2008) In January of 2006 a biological expedition uncovered four anole species in a single day. Dr. Gunther Koehler, a member of the expedition, described the discoveries as "a once in a life time experience; during expeditions before, we had found new species, one at a time--but four species within 24 hours, that was incredible!"


Three salamander species discovered in Costa Rica

(01/06/2008) Scientists from the Natural History Museum of London have discovered three new species of salamander in south-eastern Costa Rica. This brings the nation's total to forty-three species, meaning that this small tropical nation contains approximately nine percent of the world's salamanders.


Study shows that sea turtles can recover

(12/18/2007) conservation of sea turtle nesting sites is paying off for the endangered reptiles, reports a new study published this week in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography. A team of researchers led researchers from IUCN and conservation International found that green turtle (Chelonia mydas) nesting on four beaches in the Pacific and two beaches in the Atlantic have increased by an four to fourteen percent annually over the past two to three decades as a result of beach protection efforts.


Only 150 vaquita remain

(11/19/2007) Only 150 individual vaquita, the world's smallest cetacean, remain, according to a new study published in conservation Biology. The species has been decimated as accidental bycatch in fishing nets in its Gulf of California habitat. Researchers--who say there may be only a two-year window to save the species from extinction--have launched a last-ditch conservation effort.


Large-scale agriculture 'compromises' forest's ability to recover

(11/19/2007) As deforestation of tropical forests continues unhindered, one of the future hopes for these damaged ecosystems is regeneration in secondary forests. Some areas that were once slash-and-burned for cattle ranching or subsistence agriculture have been abandoned, allowing scientists to study the possibility of recovery in the rainforest. If anyone has a clear idea of the potential of secondary forests it is Robin L. Chazdon. Dr. Chazdon, a full professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut, has been studying the regeneration of secondary forest for over twenty-five years. She has published over 50 papers on tropical ecology, currently she serves as an active member of the Biotropica editorial board and is a member of the Bosques Project, which measures secondary forest recovery in Northern Costa Rica.


Physicists join fight to save amphibians from extinction

(11/19/2007) Physicists have joined the fight to save amphibians from extinction by using Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) to investigate the properties of frogs skin.


7-year old nature guide becomes Belize environmental hero as adult

(11/16/2007) Each year hundreds of thousands of nature-oriented tourists visit Belize to see the Central American country's spectacular coral reefs, biodiverse rainforests, and ancient Mayan ruins. However few visitors realize that Belize's natural resources are at risk. Timber and oil extraction, agricultural encroachment, coastal development, pollution and unrestrained tourism are all increasing threats to Belizean ecosystems. Unless something is done to address these concerns, within a generation these pressures could present considerable problems for Belize. Dr. Colin Young, head of the environmental science program at Galen University in Belize, says that while he is greatly concerned about these issues, there is still time to ensure healthy forests and reefs in Belize.


Chocolate first used more than 3100 years ago

(11/12/2007) Cacao, the source of chocolate, was in use at least at least 3000 years ago according to evidence found by archaeologists working in Honduras. The discovery pushes back the earliest known use of cacao by 500 years.


Scientists find treatment for killer frog disease

(10/29/2007) New Zealand scientists have found a treatment for a disease blamed for the death of millions of amphibians worldwide, according to a report from BBC News. However, at best, the cure would only be applicable to captive populations. The disease is killing many amphibians in apparently pristine habitats.


As colorful frog leaps toward extinction, experts look for clues

(10/29/2007) A brightly coloured tropical frog under threat of extinction is the focus of a new research project hoping to better understand how environment and diet influence its development and behaviour.


Costa Rica gets $26M debt-for-nature swap

(10/18/2007) Under an agreement signed Wednesday by the governments of the United States and environmental groups, $26 million of Costa Rican debt will be forgiven in exchange for tropical forest conservation. The debt-for-nature swap comes under the Tropical Forest conservation Act of 1998, legislation intended to allow eligible developing countries to forego paying back debt owed to the U.S. in exchange for supporting local tropical forest conservation activities.


Do Costa Rica's payments for environmental services work?

(09/17/2007) While Costa Rica is now known as a world leader for conservation policies and ecotourism, the Central American country had some of the world's highest deforestation rates prior to establishing its reputation. Clearing for cattle pasture and agriculture destroyed much of the country's biodiverse rainforests in the 1960s and 1970s.


Two new species of salamander discovered in Panama

(09/09/2007) Scientists have discovered two new species of salamanders from the mountainous Costa Rica-Panama border region. The findings, published by David B. Wake, Jay M. Savage, and James Hanken in the journal Copeia, push the number of salamanders known in the region to 24, making it a hotspot in terms of salamander biodiversity.


Felix Death Toll Washes Up on Coastline

(09/07/2007) Nicaraguan and Honduran officials have announced that upwards of 100 people are confirmed dead, and another 120 still unaccounted for after Hurricane Felix made landfall earlier this week.


Can remittances and globalization help the environment?

(09/05/2007) Globalization and other economic trends appear to be helping the degraded forests of El Salvador recover, reports new research that evaluated the impact of global trade, land policy changes, and remittances on forest cover. The study, by Susanna B. Hecht of University of California at Los Angeles and Sassan S. Saatchi of the California Institute of Technology, used socioeconomic data, land-use surveys, and satellite imagery to document significant increases in the area of El Salvador covered by both light woodlands and forest since peace accords were signed in the warn-torn country in 1992.


Felix: first time two Category-5 storms hit land in same season

(09/04/2007) Hurricane Felix made landfall in Nicaragua around 7:45 a.m. Eastern Time as a Category 5 storm with top winds at 160 mph (260 km/h), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.


Groups demand AES withdraw from Panama dam projects

(08/23/2007) More than 50 green groups demanded Thursday that AES Corporation withdraw from three controversial hydroelectric projects that are threatening La Amistad International Park in Panama. Environmentalists say the dams threaten to displace wildlife and local communities -- the Naso and Ngobe people -- in the World Heritage site.


Dean was 3rd most intense Atlantic hurricane at landfall

(08/21/2007) Hurricane Dean was the third most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall, according to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center who measured the storm's central atmospheric pressure.


Crop domestication originated in compost piles

(08/19/2007) New research lends support to the theory that backyard gardens and refuse heaps played an important role in early crop domestication.


Clearing rainforest for cattle pasture drives surge in vampires

(08/15/2007) A new study confirms that vampire bats are thriving due to the clearing of rainforest for cattle pasture in Costa Rica. Instead of having to seek out scarce wildlife in the forest, vampire bats now prey on cattle kept in high densities on ranches.


Wild parrots tracked by satellite for the first time

(08/06/2007) Researchers are now tracking wild parrots from space.


"Virgin" rain forests of Costa Rica a misnomer

(07/25/2007) Radiocarbon dating of montane forest soils in Costa Rica uncovered evidence of charcoal that shows its otherwise "virgin" tropical forests are less than 200 years old. The findings, published in the journal Biotropica, have implications for the re-establishment of rain forests after clearing.


Set back for AES on rainforest dam project in Panama

(06/26/2007) The World Heritage Committee moved to assess threats to La Amistad International Park, a World Heritage site shared by Panama and Costa Rica, from AES Corporation's planned construction of four hydroelectric dams on the park's border. The decision was based on an April 2007 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and more than 30 other organizations in the United States, Panama, and Costa Rica.


Coffee plantations may preserve tropical bird species

(06/18/2007) Agricultural areas offer opportunities for conservation in deforested landscapes in the tropics, reports a study published in the April 2007 issue of the journal conservation Biology by Stanford University biologists.


An interview with author and eco-lodge pioneer Jack Ewing

(06/12/2007) In 1970 a young man went to Costa Rica, a place he initially confused with Puerto Rico, on an assignment to accompany 150 head of cattle. 37 years and several lifetimes' worth of adventures later, Jack Ewing runs a eco-lodge that serves as a model for a country now considered the world leader in nature travel.


Can cattle ranchers and soy farmers save the Amazon?

(06/06/2007) John Cain Carter, a Texas rancher who moved to the heart of the Amazon 11 years ago and founded what is perhaps the most innovative organization working in the Amazon, Alianca da Terra, believes the only way to save the Amazon is through the market. Carter says that by giving producers incentives to reduce their impact on the forest, the market can succeed where conservation efforts have failed. What is most remarkable about Alianca's system is that it has the potential to be applied to any commodity anywhere in the world. That means palm oil in Borneo could be certified just as easily as sugar cane in Brazil or sheep in New Zealand. By addressing the supply chain, tracing agricultural products back to the specific fields where they were produced, the system offers perhaps the best market-based solution to combating deforestation. Combining these approaches with large-scale land conservation and scientific research offers what may be the best hope for saving the Amazon.


Rural population decline may not slow deforestation

(06/03/2007) A new paper shoots down the theory that increasing urbanization will lead to increasing forest cover in the tropics. Writing in the July issue of the journal Biotropica, Sean Sloan, a researcher from McGill University in Montreal, argues that anticipated declines in rural populations via urbanization will not necessarily result in reforestation--a scenario put forth in a controversial paper published in Biotropica last year by Joseph Wright of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and Helene Muller-Landau of the University of Minnesota. Wright and Muller-Landau said that deforestation rates will likely slow, then reverse, due to declining rural population density in developing countries.


Globalization could save the Amazon rainforest

(06/03/2007) The Amazon basin is home to the world's largest rainforest, an ecosystem that supports perhaps 30 percent of the world's terrestrial species, stores vast amounts of carbon, and exerts considerable influence on global weather patterns and climate. Few would dispute that it is one of the planet's most important landscapes. Despite its scale, the Amazon is also one of the fastest changing ecosystems, largely as a result of human activities, including deforestation, forest fires, and, increasingly, climate change. Few people understand these impacts better than Dr. Daniel Nepstad, one of the world's foremost experts on the Amazon rainforest. Now head of the Woods Hole Research Center's Amazon program in Belem, Brazil, Nepstad has spent more than 23 years in the Amazon, studying subjects ranging from forest fires and forest management policy to sustainable development. Nepstad says the Amazon is presently at a point unlike any he's ever seen, one where there are unparalleled risks and opportunities. While he's hopeful about some of the trends, he knows the Amazon faces difficult and immediate challenges.


Saving big cats depends on science, practical interventions

(05/21/2007) Big cats are some of Earth's largest and most threatened predators. Long persecuted as perceived threats to livestock and humans, hunted for their skins and purported medicinal values, and losing critical habitat to deforestation and conversion for agriculture, big cat populations have dwindled around the world for the past century. Given these trends, it should come as no surprise that big cats have become the focus of conservation efforts. Not only are large predators often the most vulnerable to human pressures and the first to disappear from ecosystems, but efforts to conserve them effectively help protect thousands of other species that share their habitat. At the forefront of these efforts in Dr. Luke Hunter, a biologist with the Wildlife conservation Society (WCS) where he heads their Great Cats Program. In a May 2007 interview with mongabay.com, Hunter discussed strategies for conserving carnivores and offered insight for students interested in pursuing careers in conservation science.


Why poison dart frogs are poisonous

(05/14/2007) Mites -- not ants as long believed -- appear to be the primary source of toxins used by poison arrow frogs to defend against predators, reports new research published in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Poison dart frogs, colorful amphibians with skin secretions so toxic that they are used by indigenous populations to poison the tips of hunting arrows, are one of several groups of animals capable of sequestering deadly compounds from dietary sources without being harmed. Until now, it was believed that ants were the primary source of these defensive skin alkaloids in frogs.


Climate change could dramatically change forests in Central America

(05/02/2007) Drought could cause dramatic shifts in rainforest plant communities in Central America, reports a new study published in the May 3 issue of Nature. The research shows that many rainforest plants are ill-equipped to deal with extended dry periods, putting them at elevated risk from changes in climate projected for the region.


AES Corp seeks to flood rainforest World Heritage site

(04/23/2007) American power company AES Corporation seeks to flood sections of Panama's La Amistad World Heritage site, alleges a coalition of more than 30 environmental groups that today filed a petition against the electric utility.


Frogs avoid damaging UV-B radiation, reducing extinction risk

(04/18/2007) Poison arrow frogs appear to make special effort to avoid exposure to damaging ultraviolet-B radiation, according to research published in the journal Biotropica. The findings are significant in light of increasing levels of UV-B radiation due to ozone depletion.


Bad news for frogs; amphibian decline worse than feared

(04/16/2007) Chilling new evidence suggests amphibians may be in worse shape than previously thought due to climate change. Further, the findings indicate that the 70 percent decline in amphibians over the past 35 years may have been exceeded by a sharp fall in reptile populations, even in otherwise pristine Costa Rican habitats. Ominously, the new research warns that protected areas strategies for biodiversity conservation will not be enough to stave off extinction. Frogs and their relatives are in big trouble.


Racing sea turtle named in honor of Stephen Colbert

(04/13/2007) An eleventh turtle named Stephanie Colburtle has joined competitors Yahoo!, Travelocity, Plantronics, West Marine, Dreyer's Ice Cream and other sponsors in The Great Turtle Race, a unique international sea turtle conservation event that will take place online from April 16 to April 29 in a global bid to raise awareness and funds for the critically endangered leatherback turtle.


Maize cultivated at least 7,300 years ago in Mexico

(04/09/2007) Anthropologists have found the earliest known evidence of maize cultivation in Mexico. The discovery, published in the April 9-13 edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, pushes back farming of the ancestor of modern corn to about 7,300 years ago.


Billion Tree Campaign gets pledges totaling 562M trees since January

(03/06/2007) The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced that its 'Billion Tree Campaign' has so-far achieved commitments to plant 562,769,095 trees, following a pledge of 250 million trees by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of Mexico.


Panama Canal port projects threaten mangroves

(03/06/2007) Port development and land speculation in Panama is turning some of the Caribbean's most productive mangrove forests into landfill. The landfill would be used for container storage near the city of Colon, at the mouth of the Panama Canal. But local scientists say the transformation could have unintended environmental consequences.


Indigenous populations deforested New World rainforests before European contact

(02/28/2007) Indigenous populations used fire to clear large areas of tropical forest well before the arrival of Europeans reports a new study published in Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. The research has important implications for understanding the impact of present forest development on biodiversity and forest regeneration in the tropics.


Bioprospecting links health and biodiversity conservation in Panama

(12/07/2006) The difference between bioprospecting and biopiracy as at times controversial, but a program run by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) suggests that training professionals in high-biodiversity regions can help bring benefits to local populations while promoting biodiversity conservation. The program, called the International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG), is profiled in the December issue of the journal BioScience.


Rising seas may be killing Florida palms

(08/08/2006) Palm trees on Florida's west coast appear to be dying more rapidly than in previous years because of sea level rise tied to global warming. University of Florida scientists who began monitoring a large coastal study area in North Florida in 1992 reported widespread deaths of palms and other trees in low-lying coastal areas in the past. But the latest survey of the waterfront area along the Gulf of Mexico reveals new and unsettling numbers: Of 88 large, mature palms that died at the rural Levy County site between 1992 and 2005, 66 percent, or 58, have died since 2000.


Increased hantavirus risk in the US southwest

(07/13/2006) The Four Corners region of the United States will be at greater risk for hantavirus outbreak this year than in 2005, say scientists at Johns Hopkins University, the University of New Mexico, and other institutions.


Consumers want environmentally friendly computers

(06/26/2006) A study conducted earlier this year by Ipsos-MORI on behalf of Greenpeace found that consumers say they would be willing to pay more for an environmentally friendly computer. The amounts ranged from $59 in Germany, $118 in UK, $199 in China and $229 in Mexico.


Central America agrees to jaguar corridor

(05/23/2006) A group of environment ministers representing the seven nations of Central America and Mexico have agreed to establish a network of protected areas and wildlife corridors to safeguard jaguar populations, according to the New York-based Wildlife conservation Society. The decision was made at the Second Mesoamerica Protected Area Congress held in Panama earlier this month.


Scientists endorse plan to save rainforests through emissions trading

(05/19/2006) The Association for Tropical Biology and conservation (ATBC), the world's largest scientific organization devoted to the study and wise use of tropical ecosystems, has formally endorsed a radical proposal to help save tropical forests through carbon trading. Under the initiative proposed by an alliance of fifteen developing countries led by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica, tropical nations that show permanent reductions in deforestation would be eligible to receive international carbon funds from industrial nations who could purchase carbon credits to help them meet their emissions targets international climate agreements like the Kyoto Protocol.


Global warming could dry Caribbean, Central America

(04/14/2006) Parts of the Caribbean and Central America are likely to experience drier summers by 2050 according to research presented by UCLA atmospheric scientists in the April 18 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Analyzing 10 global climate computer simulations from various agencies, the researchers found that the majority of the computer models predict a substantial decrease in tropical rainfall to occur by mid-century. By the end of this century, the models show that summer rainfall could decline by 20 percent or more in parts of the Caribbean and Central America.


Forest fires burn in Central America

(04/10/2006) Hundreds of fires are burning across Central America according to NASA satellite images and reports from the ground. Fires have been detected in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.


Red Tide Causes Sea Turtle Die-Off in El Salvador

(03/23/2006) A Red Tide event that occurred off the coast of El Salvador late last year directly caused the deaths of some 200 sea turtles, according to test results released today by the Wildlife conservation Society (WCS) and other organizations.



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