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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Under the water

We spend hundreds of hours per year under the water in Laguna de Apoyo, in counts of fish, documentation of the quality of the habitat where they live, the vegetation found there, and yes, even in retrieving the trash that folks discard which ends up all along the lake bottom. Here is a small collection of photos which show what we see when we are down there, in the most beautiful spot in Nicaragua. In the photoessay below, you can experience what one of our interns saw during a study of the fish with the director of the Gaia Program, Dr. Jeffrey McCrary. Dr. McCrary is leading an international team in the study of the fishes of Laguna de Apoyo, and to date five new species have been discovered as part of the program. 
These fry of an Amphilophus zaliosus pair recently hatched in a nest hole which is often seen with babies. 

Lots of fish are hanging out in this site, including a probable male Amphilophus zaliosus in breeding coloration in the center of the photo. 


Counting fish along a transect.

Juveniles and nonbreeding adult Amphilophus seek refuge under rocks in Laguna de Apoyo.

Breeding season is approaching, and breeding pairs are forming. A pair of Amphilophus zaliosus are in the foreground, and a pair of jaguar cichlids, Parachromis managuensis, are in the background. 
As can be seen from the photos, several Midas cichlid species are locally abundant in the waters of Laguna de Apoyo. Of the six species recognized in Laguna de Apoyo in this group, the most abundant of the group in most locations is the little Apoyo cichlid, Amphilophus astorquii. Other fish species are in the lake, too: Atherinella sardina, Poecilia sphenops, and Parachromis managuensis, as well as some invasive species.
Fish ahead!

A multispecies school of Amphilophus cichlids.

The species of Amphilophus cichlids in Laguna de Apoyo vary by body shape, spot pattern, and background colors. 

Dozens of cichlids are always under this rock!

Much of the lake bottom is covered with recently eroded sediments which cover the rocks and destroy all the high-quality habitat. Furthermore, ordinary garbage accumulates along our transects, such as this plastic cup, sold by the local bars. 


In some areas where waves clean the substrate, the lake bottom is covered with fine mud or sand. 

Fragments of snail shells (Pyrgophorus coronatus) litter the surface in many places. Snails are an important component of the diets of the Amphilophus species flock in Laguna de Apoyo. 

Filamentous algae has displaced Chara vegetation along the bottom in much of the lake. We do not understand why Chara often disappears from the lake, although it is known that tilapia will consume large quantities of it. 
In shallow areas with small rocks, juveniles of the invasive species Gobiomorus dormitor abound. 

Many shallow areas are covered with snail shell fragments, demonstrating the abundance of snails in Laguna de Apoyo.
A human-altered waterscape in Laguna de Apoyo. Filamentous algae and a plastic beverage bottle displace native fish and vegetation. 
Silversides, Atherinella sardina, put on a show in the water column. Silverside schools may exceed ten thousand individuals. 
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Monday, August 12, 2013

Apoyo Spanish School

Learning Spanish is not always easy. A good teacher is important. An appropriate environment is equally important. We try to emphasize both at Apoyo Spanish School. Ours is the longest operating of the Nicaragua Spanish schools, and our teachers have the most experience of those of any of the schools in Nicaragua. Our teachers have conducted numerous teacher trainings; many of the teachers in other Spanish schools in Nicaragua have learned to teach Spanish with us.
Apoyo Spanish School
Students of Apoyo Spanish School enjoy private Spanish classes with the most experienced teachers in Nicaragua. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
Learning Spanish in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve means receiving high-quality classes with experienced teachers in the longest-running program in the country. It also means enjoying a natural environment, in which monkeys are overhead, the clear water of Lake Apoyo is a few steps away, and interactions with rural people are the order of the day.
Apoyo Spanish School
Spanish classes at Apoyo Spanish School are held from 8 am to 12:30 pm, and lots of homework keep the students busy and learning afterward. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
Our teachers at Apoyo Spanish School have developed our own study materials, based on more than twenty years of accumulated experience. Our methods are so successful that many Spanish teachers in other schools use our materials as their instruction guides.
Nicaragua Spanish School
Spanish classes are adapted to the level of the student, from the most basic beginner to advanced students needing academic or business Spanish skills. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
Students at Apoyo Spanish School receive exposure to the local culture during their stay, including Nicaragua foods and cooking, popular culture, history and politics. Nicaragua is a poor country in many ways, but its culture and history are rich beyond comparison.
Apoyo Spanish School
How do they make that sopa de queso? Spanish lessons may extend into the kitchen. Photo Pablo Somarriba. 
Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is a great place to see wildlife. Every week, bird experts on our staff take Spanish students, visitors, and volunteers on nature walks. Howler monkeys, oropendolas, trogons and motmots abound in our vicinity, easily seen during the day. Evening walks may uncover owls, snakes, and tarantulas! 
Nicaragua Spanish School
International topics are common among the many nationalities who visit us at Estacion Biologica. The patio is a great spot to relax and share with others. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
There are also some spectacular views in the volcanic landscapes in and around Laguna de Apoyo. The views, for instance, from Coyotepe are expansive, both across Masaya and the Volcano Masaya with its laguna hidden in the caldera, and toward Tisma and Lake Nicaragua. The horrific history of Coyotepe, with invasions of the gringos, and later, imprisonment and torture of the opponents to the dictatorship, can be heard in the echoes throughout the cavernous structure of the fort. 
Nicaragua Spanish Schools
Lake Masaya and the city of Masaya are below Coyotepe, one of the sites visited by students of Apoyo Spanish School. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
By walking the paths of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, one can retrace the steps of Cacique Diriangen and view the landscapes which motivated his people to resistance against the Spanish invasion. His spirit lives on in the resistance of the people of Masaya and Los Pueblos. 
Everything done with a smile! Photo Pablo Somarriba.
Most students of Apoyo Spanish School enjoy the multinational company at Estacion Biologica, but one can make an entirely Nicaraguan experience en espanol easily. Our staff conduct all activities in Spanish. 

Nicaragua Spanish School
Afternoon activities are designed to expose the students of Apoyo Spanish School to the language in new settings. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
Apoyo Spanish School is in a rustic but clean and safe setting, with toucans, monkeys and forests overhead. The lake is best enjoyed by a daily swim or SCUBA dive, but the spectacular views from along the edge of the Apoyo crater are to be appreciated, too.
Apoyo Spanish School
Granada and Lake Nicaragua are seen in the distance from the Catarina mirador. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
The people who live around Laguna de Apoyo are artisans from centuries past. Leather working, wood carving, weaving natural fibers, and fired ceramics are among the products made in the region. The lifestyle of the Nicaraguan is one of farming, artisanry, and rural values, even when people move to the big cities. Every Nicaraguan has artisan crafts on display at home. 
How to embellish a ceramic object before its firing is the lesson of the day, in San Juan de Oriente, the pottery capital of Nicaragua. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
The teachers of Apoyo Spanish School come from the area, and know the reality of the rural people of our area. In their families vegetables, fruits, and grains are grown, artisan crafts are made, and vendors hawk all kinds of dry goods in the municipal market. Educations have come to the younger generation, thanks to the advances of the Nicaraguan Revolution, but the lifestyles still value the country style life.
Nicaragua Spanish School
Throwing a pot on a wheel is not as easy as it looks, especially when the motor for the wheel is your foot! Photo Pablo Somarriba.
Nicaragua Spanish School
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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Laguna de Apoyo in Mongabay

Here is the text from an article by our volunteer and student of Apoyo Spanish School, Elizabeth Loudon, which appeared in Mongabay.

Laguna de Apoyo Nicaragua
Foto L. Eisenberg.
Laguna de Apoyo, a volcanic crater lake between two of Nicaragua’s most populated cities, is known as a tourist destination for locals and backpackers. This section of  tropical dry forest is part of a corridor that is vital for many long and short distance migrations. Unbeknownst to many visitors, this site is also rich in pre-Columbian history and biodiversity. Ancient Chorotega petroglyphs remain intact and often unvisited, wrapped in the roots of chilamate trees. The vibrant Turquoise Browed Motmot, the national bird of Nicaragua, can be sighted eating Jacote fruits when they are in season.
Jeffrey McCrary

Since the creation of the reserve in 1991, Estacion Biologica Proyecto Ecologico has produced research and partnered with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources  to protect the threatened ecosystem. Currently funded by the Nicaraguan Organization FUNDECI, it is the only research facility in the reserve. This protected area is home to a variety of flora and fauna, some of which evolved inside the 24,000 year old crater. Many unique species of fish have been discovered within the freshwater laguna, but there are still plants and animals that are yet unstudied.

Unfortunately, Estacion Biologica struggles against development and environmental degradation within the reserve as scientists and volunteers from around the world attempt to learn about this seldom studied ecosystem. Funding can be scarce for research and outreach programs, and there are many paradigms to battle. Promoting awareness and providing environmental education for the community is a massive effort. Considering the problems with waste disposal nationwide, the Nicaraguan Government has recently adopted slogans in an attempt to encourage people not to litter. While this represents a step in the right direction, there is much progress left to make before Nicaragua adopts an anti-littering culture.
Estacion Biologica is allied with the local high school, which has recently begun to collect plastic bottles for recycling. The teachers and students benefit from the money that the recycling earns, as well as from the value of the program for teaching the benefits of environmental sustainability. The students within the local schools often participate in service activities like lake clean ups and reforestation projects. This type of community engagement allows them to gain experience caring for the Laguna.
Photo L. Eisenberg.

The shores of the Laguna de Apoyo, although cleaner than other Nicaraguan lakes, are still littered with plastic debris left by visitors. The government has provided trash cans within the reserve, but many people don’t use them. According to Dr. Jeffrey McCrary, the Director of Estacion Biologica, “The situation in Nicaragua parallels the situation in the United States 50 years ago…It’s a tough problem. It’s sort of seen as a victimless crime by a lot of people.”
Teaching Earth Rights and helping Nicaraguan youth to see the interconnectedness of actions and environmental impacts is no small task. While we are all victims of the tragedy of the commons, it is especially challenging to address environmental issues in developing countries.  Problems such as deforestation and waterway pollution, common to many developing countries, weigh heavily on Nicaragua. While the government is responding to some of these problems, it faces many economic challenges that often inhibit preservation efforts. The Laguna de Apoyo Reserve is just one at risk area, among the 78 protected areas in the contry.  Nicaragua is the poorest country in the the Western Hemisphere behind Haiti, but it contains many biodiversity sites that require protection.
In spite of the many challenges, many small organizations like Estacion Biologica continue to make a small but meaningful impact.The increasing popularity of Nicaragua for tourism could represent a threat to the environment, but perhaps it is possible to nurture a symbiotic relationship between tourism and nature. Laguna de Apoyo is a hidden gem that retains a rare exotic charm. Tourists are attracted by the opportunity to watch howler monkeys feasting on mangoes in the trees above their heads. The fireflies come out in abundance at night, especially before the rain. Hopefully, with the efforts of local nonprofits like FUNDECI, these environmental treasures can be preserved for future generations.