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Preserving Guatemala’s Biodiversity USAID/Guatemala Biodiversity Project

The Guatemala Biodiversity Project (July 16, 2018 – July 15, 2021) was a critical and timely response to growing trends impacting protected areas that, if continued, could have led to significant loss of key conservation gains made in Guatemala in recent decades. Across the country, including in and around project intervention areas, exploitative productive ventures and illicit activities led to growing biodiversity loss, degradation of soil structures, and contamination of waters.​

Despite early project closure and the COVID- 19 pandemic which significantly impacted operations, the project achieved key outcomes under each of its four tasks:

  • TASK 1: Improve Conservation Approaches through better Information on key Species and Ecosystems​
  • TASK 2: Support National and Sub-National Policy and Legislative Reforms​
  • TASK 3: Build Capacity for Effective Enforcement and Prosecution of Crimes Committed Within Protected Areas​
  • TASK 4: Engage Local Stakeholders in Conservation Efforts​

The project was dedicated to addressing institutional and resource challenges and constraints at the heart of encroaching threats to key ecosystems and species within protected areas. Through a local systems approach, it contributed to improved management and governance of the country’s System of Protected Areas (SIGAP) at the national level and in interventions areas in Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve, Maya Biosphere Reserve, and the Pacific Coast.​

The Guatemala Biodiversity Project monitored quetzal (the national bird of Guatemala), among other endemic species, in the cloud forests of the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve to evaluate the health of ecosystems that host diverse animal species. (Sergio Izquierdo)

One of the largest mangrove forests on the Pacific Coast, the Machón-Guamuchal Ramsar Site is ripe with aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity and serves as one of the last remaining habitats for migratory birds on the country’s western Pacific corridor. The Guatemala Biodiversity Project supported the strengthening of protected areas in the Pacific Coast region with the objective of strengthening conservation efforts of the mangrove ecosystems of Manchón-Guamuchal Ramsar Site and La Chorrera Private Natural Reserve. (Sergio Izquierdo)

Forest fires are one of the most important threats to biodiversity in Guatemala’s protected areas. The Biodiversity project provided training to forest firefighters through practical workshops on forest fire control and prevention in coordination with the U.S. Forest Department, CONRED (Coordinadora Nacional para la Reduccion de Desastres) and INAB (Instituto Nacional de Bosques) in Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve. (Danilo Valladares)

A fisherman looks for the best place to achieve a good day in the Chiquimulilla channel, located in the Sipacate-Naranjo National Park. (Sergio Izquierdo)

Below, we introduce each of the intervention areas and their conservation targets, then highlight standout achievements at the national level and in each of the intervention areas.​

A country that contains 14 ecoregions, including forests that cover more than 30 percent of the country and the highest rate of species endemism in Central America, Guatemala boasts protected areas that cover approximately 30 percent of the national territory.​ ​

National-Level Engagement

  • Supported the creation of four new Specialized Justice Units (Zacapa Court, Zacapa and Escuintla Prosecutor's Offices, and Analysis Unit in the Environmental Prosecutor's Office).​
  • Laid the groundwork for an environmental forensic laboratory at the National Institute of Forensic Sciences of Guatemala (INACIF).​
  • Operationalized a fully functional scientific database, the National Biodiversity Information System for Guatemala (SNIBgt), that collects and retains open-source data for use by decision-makers and the general public.​
  • Used the Human and Institutional Capacity Development (HICD) methodology to develop Institutional Performance Improvement Roadmaps that identify and address capacity gaps in CONAP, National Civil Police´s Nature Protection Division (DIPRONA for its acronym in Spanish), Attorney General’s Office, the Judicial Branch, Centro de Estudios Conservacionistas (CECON), and the SMBR Board of Directors. Oriented towards intervention sites, these roadmaps were used to build capacities of participating stakeholders.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM: (1) Participants from Guatemala Birdfair, an international bird tourism fair promoted by the project, observe birds in Yaxhá Nakum Naranjo National Park (Danilo Valladares), (2) A team of the Nature Protection Directorate of the National Civil Police participates in a training workshop (Juan Manuel De La Cruz), (3) Overview of the participatory environment within the Biodiversity Expo 2019, organized by the project to sensitize children and young people about the importance of biodiversity and the need to conserve it (Danilo Valladares)

Maya Biosphere Reserve

The Maya Biosphere Reserve is Mesoamerica’s largest protected area, spanning 2.1 million hectares to form the heart of the Selva Maya which crosses Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico.

Project Achievements in the Maya Biosphere Reserve

  • Established critical responses to forest fires, including training and equipping forest firefighters and developing an Institutional Protocol on Forest Fire Response, Threat Control Monitoring Plan, a Proposal for Regulations of agricultural burns, and daily monitoring practices. ​
  • Advanced the use of innovative technologies for species and ecosystems monitoring and environmental justice, including logging a total of 77 low-altitude overflights over more than 27,983 km, in coordination with 18 institutions.​
  • Led income-generating initiatives that promote licit livelihoods, including ecotourism with the Association for the Sustainable Development of the Yaxha National Park (ASODESTY), Carmelita Cooperative, Uaxactún Tourism Association, Dos Aguadas Community and La Técnica Cooperative, among others.​
  • Developed CONAP´s Confiscated Livestock Management Protocol with MBR stakeholders, like WCS and Petén’s Livestock Roundtable.​
  • Promoted payment for ecosystem services mechanisms, including the National Forest Incentives Program (PROBOSQUE) and Forests for Life, to connect cattle ranchers with financial incentives to conserve private land along protected areas.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM: (1) A forest firefighters’ brigade from the National Council of Protected Areas works on a fire prevention and control day in the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve (Danilo Valladares), (2) A jaguar (Panthera Onca) perches in front of the camera trap, a device to monitor biodiversity (WCS), (3) The conservation of the last population of Red Macaw (Ara macao) living in the Maya Biosphere Reserve was supported by the project (Sergio Izquierdo), (4) Aerial footage from a low-altitude aircraft overflight in the Maya Biosphere Reserve (Sergio Izquierdo), (5) A flock of scarlet macaws flights across the Maya Biosphere Reserve, where the project supported the monitoring of macaw nests to assess reproductive success, increase captive reproduction, and analyze and document potential threats to natural nesting areas (Sergio Izquierdo)

Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve

The second largest in the country with 2,426 km², the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve contains Guatemala’s largest remaining cloud forest and a diverse range of animal and plant species.

Project Achievements in the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve

  • Developed the “Park Rangers School” in coordination with CONAP and CECON to train park rangers on biodiversity monitoring and legal information regarding biodiversity, among others.​
  • Drafted and presented a proposal to the Ministry of Culture and Sports, that formally nominates SMBR as a World Heritage Site under the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).​
  • Strengthened SMBR’s Monitoring Information System in coordination with FDN, monitoring river and stream flowrates in three priority watersheds (Hato, Mululhá and San Jeronimo) key to local communities and connecting its data to the SNIBgt.​
  • Used the HICD methodology to build the capacity of SMBR´s Board of Directors and its ability to address environmental threats, including a proposed regulation for Board meetings and a strategy on how to approach illicit activities. ​
  • Trained park rangers in the use of SMART, expanding its use in the region and generating threat reduction information in various monitoring routes.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM: (1) An ocelot visits the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve (Sergio Izquierdo), (2) The Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve is characterized by its humid forest and ferns (Sergio Izquierdo), (3) An aerial view of a group of forest firefighters participating in training conducted by the U.S. Forest Service with support from the project (Danilo Valladares), (4) Park Rangers participate in a birdwatching training (Danilo Valladares)

Pacific Coast

Guatemala’s Pacific Coast contains diverse ecosystems that are home to more than 200 species of wildlife, including mangroves critical to bird migration and sea turtle and fish habitat.​

Project Achievements in the Pacific Coast

  • Strengthened CONAP’s Costa Sur local monitoring information system and CECON’s local forest fire monitoring system, supporting CECON’s development of a forestry inventory, and connecting its data to the SNIBgt.​
  • Developed mangrove forest inventories and management plans for Monterrico and Hawaii Multiple Use Reserves and a national mangrove forest cover map.​
  • Completed a diagnosis of the 2019-2020 forest fire season along the Pacific Coast and a roadmap that assigned roles and responsibilities and formed an Early Warning Group.​
  • Established alliances with DIPESCA and local management authorities and fishermen to develop a Fisheries Management Plan that addressed threats to estuarine artisanal fisheries identified through monitoring in Monterrico, including undersize fish catch and illegal gear.​
  • Implemented a sea turtle nest temperature monitoring protocol to identify egg incubation temperatures in several sea turtle hatcheries, providing scientific data that fostered decisions that contribute to the conservation of the species.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM: (1) An adult parlama turtle swims near the Pacific Coast of Guatemala (Sergio Izquierdo), (2) A kingfisher lands in a mangrove (Sergio Izquierdo), (3) Seabirds fly in the Sipacate Naranjo National Park (Sergio Izquierdo), (4) A woman travels by boat through the Sipacate Naranjo National Park on the Pacific coast of Guatemala (Sergio Izquierdo)