New and Notable on www.eco-index.org: Ecotourism Development in the Mahogany Wetlands Municipal Ecological Park, Bluefields-Rama, RAAS, Nicaragua

Managing NGO(s), country: Bluefields Indian & Caribbean University (BICU), Nicaragua

Project director(s): Francis Castro

Summary: To help conserve biodiversity in the Mahogany Wetlands Municipal Ecological Park in the Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, the Bluefields Indian & Caribbean University promoted ecotourism as a means to develop environmental awareness and economic sustainability for the communities living in the park’s buffer zone. These efforts improved the inhabitants’ quality of life and contributed to sustainable development in the area. The first phase of the project focused on developing skills in the local community to ensure the effective management of small ecotourism businesses. An ecotourism complex was planned with eco-friendly cabins that were built by local stakeholders with materials from the region. Training workshops were also carried out for those involved in the project to provide support and strengthen their skills. The project also included a research, monitoring, and biodiversity conservation component in the park and in adjacent farms, where an effort was made to increase the forest cover.

Annual budget and donors: $60,000 from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), United States.

Principle Accomplishments: Developed and implemented an environmental education and interpretation plan; formed five “Friends of Nature” groups; carried out one community health survey, and one on the level of education in the community; characterized the butterflies, birds, shrimp, orchids, and reptiles and amphibians in the Mahogany wetlands system; implemented a management plan in 10 farms; provided seeds, plants, and tools for reforestation activities on the farms; trained community members in tourism, community organization, customer service, hygiene and cooking, monitoring and natural resource management, ecotourism guiding, and the importance of biodiversity and ecotourism; built an ecolodge for tourists; identified and characterized the park’s ecosystems in order to define the tourism carrying capacity for public use areas.

Lessons Learned: It is important to take local communities into account when an idea is expressed, alternatives are presented, and when decisions are made; overcoming differences helps communities to become involved, find solutions, and improve their living conditions; articulate decisions at the local, regional, national, and international level; ensure the conservation of priority sites, such as wetlands, within the context of human development; if government institutions cannot fulfill their responsibility to protect the park, then its conservation is at risk.

Contacts: Francis Castro, Bluefields Indian & Caribbean University. Avenida Universitaria, Barrio San Pedro, Bluefields, Región Autónoma Atlántico Sur, Nicaragua. Tel: +505/822-1116 exts. 34 and 40. Fax: +505/822-1277. castrofrancis@hotmail.com, http://www.bicu.edu.ni.

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