Earth Island News
UniversitÁrea Protegida (UÁP), a project of Earth Island since August
2003, supports Nicaraguan university students who are doing thesis
research, conservation work, and environmental education in natural
reserves. It has been described by its project director, former Peace
Corps volunteer Olin Cohan, as a "mini Peace Corps" for local
university students who lack the resources to finish their university
degrees with required thesis projects. UÁP matches the needs of these
students with those of local under-staffed NGOs managing natural
In 2003, two UÁP-sponsored students conducted their research on migratory bird patterns in the Padre Ramos estuary in northwest Nicaragua. They worked with the Nicaraguan NGO SELVA to organize community gardening workshops, and gave classes in local schools on topics ranging from garbage management to the specifics of bird identification methods. During their time in the reserve, the two students provided the NGO with valuable information about the area's bird population and habitat, and positively influenced local youth by demonstrating the benefits of higher education. One of these students, Ofelia Arteaga, who is now UÁP's student coordinator, is enthusiastic about how UÁP will continue to demonstrate these benefits as it expands in the upcoming year to support students working in six of Nicaragua's natural reserves.
The natural reserves include two in the mountainous regions of Estelí and Matagalpa (Tisey Estanzuela and Cerro Musún), three in the Pacific marine and volcanic regions of León and Chinandega (La Isla Juan Venado, Estero Padre Ramos, and Volcano Cosiguina), and one in the capital region of Managua (El Chocoyero). Nicaragua is home to 76 natural reserves covering 18 percent of the country's territory, yet a majority are without park infrastructure or systems of natural resource management due to the lack of funds allocated to them by a government drowning in international debt. These six areas where the UÁP program is to be implemented are being managed by local NGOs that were given contracts by Nicaragua's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA) in 2000 in an effort to introduce a co-management (COMAP) structure in natural reserves where no park infrastructure had existed.
COMAP (Co-Management of Protected Areas) is a USAID-financed project initiated in 2000 that aims to form park infrastructure and cooperative management systems in these six selected Nicaraguan natural reserves. Local NGOs are partially financed to work with communities, schools, small businesses, and other institutions to direct community-based conservation efforts in the protected areas. NGO activities include environmental education programs, small loan management to help local populations seek alternatives to the extraction of natural resources, and ecotourism development. The first phase of funding is due to end in December of 2003, and the long-term sustainability of these management systems is in question as the local NGOs search for outside support.
UniversitÁrea Protegida introduces Nicaraguan university students into the COMAP formula to further stimulate local involvement and enthusiasm for the conservation of these areas' natural beauty. UÁP's planned research projects include inventory and habitat study of the red macaw parrot, nesting patterns of the olive ridley sea turtle, the status of Pacific coastal mangrove forests, orchid inventories, and sustainable organic farming of cacao and coffee.
In addition to their research, students work with park rangers and local schoolteachers in an environmental education program that has the students teaching local youth about the specifics of their thesis work, as well as other environmental topics.