Conservation Science in Practice-Nicaragua
Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve Management Plan
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The Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve was created as an official
protected area in 1991. However, until 2010, the reserve never enjoyed the full benefits of protection
that would be afforded this designation. GAIA provided logistic and technical assistence to the
first management plan developed for this reserve. The process was coordinated by GAIA director Jeffrey McCrary and
administered by the NGO CLUSA. GAIA also assumed the responsibility of
making revisions to the management plan proposal to include results of the consensus process among civil and governmental institutions.
This management plan was developed with the intention to maximize the participation of members of all
interest groups, with priority given to members of the local communities in the vicinity of the protected area. Fourteen community
meetings were executed in which numerous issues were presented by community members and incorporated in the proposal for the management plan.
The biggest single issue confronted was boycotts and
intentions to disrupt the process on the part of foreigners with intentions to clear and urbanize the forests of the crater interior.
Given its proximity to important urban areas in Nicaragua, its scenic beauty and warm clear waters,
Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve has been under constant threat by developers who intend to destroy the forests to build homes for
wealthy foreigners in environmentally irresponsible profit-making schemes. The development of this first management plan for
the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve represented a potential defeat to many "investors" who opposed the process. GAIA accompanied
the Police and Ministry of the Environment in stopping several projects and in one case, levying a fine against a developer.
Land investment by foreigners is serious business, and investors do not accept defeat easily; attacks have included violent
invasions of GAIA property in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve and a series of legal battles which have resulted in the firing
of four judges from charges of corruption, and both criminal and civil judgments favoring GAIA subsequent to the cleaning of
the legal system.
Although Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is located between two of the
most populous cities in Nicaragua (Masaya and Granada), the reserve continues to contain substantial quantities
of natural forest and a huge lake in very good condition. The list of flora and fauna generated by
GAIA staff (see below) demonstrates that this site is among the most important sites for
biodiversity in Nicaragua. Over 200 bird species are found in the reserve, more than 350 plant species,
over 110 butterfly species, and at least six species of fishes in Lake Apoyo are endemic to the lake. One of those species, the
arrow cichlid Amphilophus zaliosus, has been listed officially as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.
The management plan development was solicited and approved by the Ministerio de Ambiente y Recursos
Naturales (MARENA), and financed and sponsored by Organismo Autónomo de Parques Nacionales (OAPN) in Spain (US$14,500) and GAIA (US$4,000), and
administered by CLUSA. The process took a total of five years to complete, from 2005 to 2010. The finalized management plan received the formal
backing of over 250 members of the civil society, the city councils of six municipalities (Masaya, Granada, Catarina, San Juan de Oriente,
Diriá, Diriomo), and the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources.
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Amphilophus chancho, one of the fish species endemic to
Laguna de Apoyo, discovered by scientists working in a GAIA project. This species is easily
seen while diving in Laguna de Apoyo. Its conservation status has not be evaluated formally, but its extremely small range makes it a candidate for
extreme conservation measures. Photo Ad Konings.
Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is dominated by the lake and the heavily forested crater interior, which is threatened by
deforestation for construction of buildings. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Field studies in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve have been performed on numerous fauna groups. Photo
A tour of students of Apoyo Spanish School to
Catarina, with the lake and Granada in view. Photo Belén Camino.
San Juan de Oriente, on the edge of Apoyo crater, is the most important center of
artisan ceramic pottery in Nicaragua. The Gaia Program supports natural resource conservation in the region which is vital
to the livelihoods throughout the area. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Scientific SCUBA diving in Laguna de Apoyo. Scientific study of the fishes of Laguna de Apoyo is vital to their continued survival.
Photo Topi Lehtonen.
Terrestrial fauna of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is at risk, due to urbanistic development inside the reserve. Photo Lewis Honor.