Countries of the Region
Belize, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico,Nicaragua,Panama
Central America is a narrow strip of land covering 533,000km2, joining two continents and separating two oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific. It has a diverse range of habitats with nearctic and neotropical faunal and floral elements. In general terms, it includes the highlands of the interior with its volcanic chains, with humid forest and mountains, descending to the coastal plains of the Pacific Ocean which are narrow and dry, and the plains of the Caribbean coast, which are wide and very humid.
Central America has a high population density, with a large percentage of the population living in conditions of poverty (30-40%). Agricultural land, economic development and population growth are concentrated in the central volcanic areas on the Pacific coast, where environmental problems are more acute and the original vegetation cover is scarce outside existing protected areas.
The establishment of protected areas dates back to the beginning of this century. Central America has more than 400 protected areas by law (as of October, 2000). The most significant changes relating to protected areas occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly with the development of specific legislation for protected areas. For example, in 1981, Belize enacted a law for protected areas, and Costa Rica and Guatemala also developed protected areas legislation in the 1980s. Also, in 1987-88, the basic ideas regarding national systems and the regional system of protected areas in the region were developed.
Key issues for protected areas in the region include:
- Linkages and corridors: The Mesoamerican biological corridor is a co-operative effort between Mexico and all seven countries of the region to link their protected areas and to integrate conservation and land use practices. This approach has been seen as a useful model for application elsewhere, and there are a number of lessons to be learned.
- Adequacy of coverage: There are a number of significant gaps in the protected area system. The region has adequate protection of mountain ecosystems, such as volcanoes containing cloud forest, and low tropical rain forest. However, many unique ecosystems and endemic species are not well represented within the Central American System of Protected Areas (SICAP). Particular gaps exist in relation to wetland, coastal and marine areas and also in relation to conservation in the dry and semiarid zones.
- Adequacy of management: The need to improve management effectiveness has been recognised as an important issue in the region. Increasingly, this region has witnessed the involvement of agencies other than government in the establishment and management of protected areas. Particularly important is the need to develop sustainable financing mechanisms to ensure the long term financial flows to support conservation and management of protected areas in the region.
The Central American Program responds to the needs of the Regional System of Protected Areas and those of the WCPA network itself. For the next two years the following priorities have been identified:
Networking: the commission will work on identifying new leaders in each of the seven countries to add new membersto this network in the region. The commission must improve it´s membership in the next two years.
Cooperation with the IUCN Regional Office: work with ORMA will contribute to design, and implemention of new projects to increase the capacity of the region in properly managing the growing threats to protected areas in Central America.
There is a great need to work on issues such as:
- Methods to evaluate the effectiveness of Management in Protected Areas (Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras and Guatemala);
- Analysis of better options to promote and facilitate comanagement arrangements of Protected Areas (Belize, Guatemala, Panama and Nicaragua);
- Policy development about indigenous peoples and protected areas (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama); and
- Environmental services for protected areas (Costa Rica, Panamá, Guatemala, and Él Salvador)
Cuban Crocodile (C. rhombifer)
Photo: John Thorbjarnarson / wcs