Earth Island News
After hundreds of hours of fieldwork, writing, and the final nervous defense, most thesis papers are filed neatly away in university libraries, never to be seen again. The information they contain rarely benefits the communities from which the information came.
UniversitÁrea Protegida (UÁP) is working to change that in Nicaragua. Since 2003, UÁP has supported Nicaraguan university students conducting social and ecological research in rural communities. Research topics have ranged from organic agriculture in the mountains of Tisey Estanzuela to bird diversity around the estuary of Padre Ramos. Students have lived and worked in rural communities, gaining valuable hands-on experience and affecting the lives of the community through environmental education classes and youth group organizing. So far, nine UÁP student groups have presented their thesis research, and three mid-degree social work groups have completed their required semester in the field.
In September 2006, former UÁP students began translating UÁP projects into community-oriented workshops. One workshop recently took place in Volcán Cosigüina, a protected area in northwest Nicaragua. With an economy based on fishing and small-scale slash-and-burn agriculture, the area is one of the most marginalized in the country. It is also the last area on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua where the scarlet macaw can still be found.
UÁP biology students tracked the few remaining birds, and then spent five days giving the first of a series of workshops to present their findings. The workshop involved local leaders and high school students, and included detailed presentations about the scarlet macaw species, information about the state of the species in the area, forest measurement techniques, and bird monitoring practices. The 20 participants spent an afternoon creating signs promoting the conservation of the scarlet macaw, and placing them in strategic sites around the area.
Local leader Hipolito Lopez, who has lived for 25 years in the rural community of La Salvia, said: "When I was young, I saw hundreds of scarlet macaws in our communities. Now, on rare occasions, I see one or two. Why? Because we have destroyed their habitat, by cutting and burning forests, without even knowing the harm we were causing. Now, thanks to UÁP and the motivated participants of this workshop, we are learning about the macaw, and how to protect the few we still have left."
On the last day of the workshop, participants identified a need to continue educating the surrounding community about ways to save the macaw and its habitat. They agreed to organize a nursery to begin reforesting the area used by the macaw for food and habitat. They also agreed to put pressure on community members involved in the exportation of birds, which is a main factor in the deterioration of the species in Nicaragua.
Another workshop series will study bird conservation and its links with mangrove forest conservation. It will include hands-on activities such as bird watching trips on the estuary, mangrove re-forestation excursions, and the production of artistic environmental interpretational signs for the communities, showing the different plant and animal species that make the area special. The workshops will also be used to develop a small-scale bird-monitoring program to allow community groups to keep track of the bird species in the area.
Upcoming workshops will ensure that the social and ecological information taken from rural areas is given back to communities in ways they can use to improve their lives and protect their natural resources. Through programs like these, UÁP works to transform the youth of today into the education and conservation leaders of tomorrow.