The remarkable island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua consists of two volcanoes – one dormant and forested, the other active – joined together by a low strip of land. The island is internationally recognised as an important area for birds, including those migrating south from North America.
Since its designation as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – the aim of which is to promote a balanced relationship between people and the natural world – Fauna & Flora has been working with islanders to increase grassroots participation in biodiversity conservation and make the use of natural resources more resilient and sustainable.
Key threats to Ometepe’s wildlife and forests include increased demand for new farmland, unsustainable tourism development and climate change. Fauna & Flora is helping to tackle these threats through targeted species conservation, environmental education, improved land stewardship and environmentally friendly farming. Together with local partners, we focus on supporting women and youth groups to participate in and influence the conservation and management of the island’s natural environment. We are also involving tourism businesses in conservation, working with local entrepreneurs to generate funds for the protection and restoration of forest on the volcano slopes.
In collaboration with local community cooperative Biometepe, Fauna & Flora is working with local farmers to help them adopt environmentally sensitive farming practices. Our approach also helps Ometepe’s farmers adapt to a changing climate. As a result, they are increasingly aware of the benefits of crop diversification, agroforestry and techniques to improve ground cover and soil quality in protecting crops from increased rainfall and landslides. These strategies are being shared across the island, with farmers advocating their new, sustainable and biodiversity-friendly techniques to other farmers.
By working with local stakeholders we can help people living on the island to realise their vision and shape the future of Ometepe, combining conservation of biodiversity and other natural values with compatible economic and human development.
Fauna & Flora is also working with local conservation group Biometepe to protect the yellow-naped amazon, a critically endangered parrot that is a prime target for the pet trade in Central America.
Poaching pressure on this highly coveted parrot is severe, but the Ometepe population has remained relatively unscathed by virtue of its inaccessibility. Even here, an estimated 40% of nests are thought to have been plundered in recent years to supply the illegal pet trade.
The project team is working with local people to better protect the nests. Once active nests have been identified and mapped, community-led patrols are put in place to combat poaching. By supporting a network of local guardians and providing incentive payments for nest protection, we hope to stay one step ahead of the poachers.
We are already learning from our successful sea turtle conservation efforts in Nicaragua, which have seen community members make the transition from egg poachers to turtle guardians.
As with sea turtles, anti-poaching measures are only half the story. Long-term protection of the Yellow-naped amazon will ultimately hinge on demand reduction. With that in mind, Fauna & Flora and Biometepe are engaging with schools and the wider community to spread the word about the threats the parrots face – particularly from the pet trade – and the impact this is having upon wild populations.
Raising awareness of the plight of the parrots, and encouraging communities to value them as part of their cultural heritage, is vital to the long-term success of the programme. Saving the Yellow-naped amazon will, in turn, help safeguard the forest and the livelihoods of the communities who depend on it.