Protecting the rainforests of Central America

Geographical location:

Latin America/Caribbean > South America > Colombia

Latin America/Caribbean > South America > Ecuador

Typical Awa houses shared by several families. Mataje, Awa Reserve. Awa Ethnic Forest Territory, Ecuador.
© WWF-Canon / Pablo CORRAL

Summary

Stretching across the entire Colombian Pacific coast, from southwest Panama to northwest Ecuador, the Choco-Darien rainforests are some of the most biodiverse regions in the world – thousands of plants and species are found here as well as jaguars and tamarins; humpback whales and marine turtles visit the coasts.

WWF is working with local partners in the region on a number of conservation and sustainable development projects, which include supporting community-based management of forest and the creation of protected areas.

Background

The Choco biogeographic region, which has been recognized internationally as one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet, stretches along the Northwestern edge of South America from Southern Panama to Northwestern Ecuador. This region boasts several types of habitat, including tropical cloud and montane forests to coastal mangroves. The montane forests cloak the mountains and protect the network of streams and rivers that feed freshwater to extensive mangrove forests.

The ecoregion covers a total of 130,000 km2, with the most extensive region found in Colombia covering about 95,000 km2. The specific geographic location along the Pacific coast and the influence of the Andes contribute to the extreme climatic patterns, and thus the variety of vegetation types. There is between 4,000 and 10,000 mm of rainfall on an annual basis, falling aseasonally and varying latitudinally with the highest levels received in the Central Choco.

The ecosystem diversity of the Choco is paralleled by high species diversity and endemism (up to 30% in some groups). In addition, important and threatened migratory species depend on the Choco ecoregion. From July to November, humpback whales visit the coast of Colombia and Northern Ecuador to give birth to young whole in November, and make their return migration to the feeding grounds in the Southern hemisphere oceans. The humpback population in Colombia is the only one hat feeds in the Southern hemisphere and breeds in the Northern hemisphere. In addition, there are migratory bird species and sea turtles that nest along the Choco coastline.

In Colombia, there are 7 national parks with at least part of the park located in the Choco ecoregion (Munchique, Farallones, Sanquianga, Katios, Tatama, Utrma and Las Orquideas). In Panama, the Dariin National Park borders with Los Katios. In Ecuador, Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve extends from snow-capped mountains to humid lowland forests. In addition to national parks, there are indigenous reserves in Panama, Colombia and Ecuador, and collective territories of the Afro-American communities in Colombia, many in the process of titling. The population is approximately 93% Afro-American, 4% indigenous (Embera, Waunanas, Kunas, Awa-Kwaikeres and Chachis) and 3% Mestizos.

Objectives

1. New collective territories and conservation units (e.g. national or regional parks) established and management of existing areas and territories consolidated as result of participatory planning processes, zoning and resource management plans, analysis of conservation effectiveness, and organizational strengthening of the local community.

2. Ethnic territories engaged in sustainable forest management and sustainable agricultural production activities validating traditional and local knowledge, with concrete benefits distributed equitably according to gender. Support and training will be provided as part of territorial planning processes, and assistance for forest certification as a market mechanism to improve commercialisation opportunities.

3. Local communities and grassroots organizations influencing national, regional or local policies and processes regarding development and resource use as a result of training in negotiation skills and citizen participation.

4. Community-based organizations and NGO partners are strengthened and demonstrate improved institutional capacity to execute projects both individually and in alliance with other organizations through training provided in administrative systems and other aspects of organizational strengthening.

5. A more favourable policy/legislative framework for the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources is strengthened and consistent with the objectives of key international conventions (Conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change, and Intergovernmental Forests Panel).

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