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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Conservation Science Interns and Volunteers at Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua

There are 78 protected areas in the SINAP system, managed by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA) in Nicaragua. Among the most conflictive of these areas is Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, because of the beautiful views and warm, clear water. This protected area faces many challenges but none is as grave as that of real estate development.
FUNDECI/GAIA maintains a permanent presence in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, through the operation of the biological research station "Estacion Biologica". We conduct a number of environmental studies and conservation actions through our research station there, and we share our knowledge about Nicaragua, its language, culture and great natural heritage through courses and internships offered there.

FUNDECI/GAIA Conservation Science Intern Ruben Pelckmanns participates in bird population monitoring in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
Conservation science interns and volunteers are essential to our work in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. We are conducting studies of birds, monkeys, plants and fish during 2014 at this location, in coordination with some universities and MARENA. We are comparing animal and plant surveys to previous years to determine how the forests improve or degrade. Frankly, our initial results have suggested some important loss of habitat in some of the most important areas for biodiversity in this location.
conservation science internship
Conservation Science Interns at FUNDECI/GAIA can work on our wildlife monitoring project in the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Pablo Somarriba. 
We at FUNDECI/GAIA are committed to seeing Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve prosper as a natural area. Obviously, not everyone feels the same, and we have had to deal with some very negative forces in the area, especially coming from people who want to gain riches from investing in property inside the protected area for real estate development. Some of these people really do not like us, and we have recently won an important civil judgment against some of them. There is great opposition to protecting the forest and lake from their greatest enemies, the real estate offices!
internships in Nicaragua
These volunteers left us with a poignant and environmental message.  Photo Pablo Somarriba.
The GAIA Program in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve also promotes environmental conservation projects, particularly reforestation in some of the affected areas in the reserve. Our group was instrumental in the production of the first-ever official management plan for the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, with GAIA director Jeffrey McCrary as the coordinator of the project, which involved dozens of work meetings with the community and government officials, reviews of biodiversity, geography, land use, sociological factors, and lots of maps and other information for use in the plan.
conservation science
The finding of a freshly dead bird led to a skin preparation. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
Our interns can be involved in ongoing studies on the environment in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. We have been conducting studies of bird, bat and butterfly populations in the reserve for several years. We are looking for historical trends in populations which may demonstrate differences in land use in five different sites inside the reserve.
conservation science
FUNDECI/GAIA volunteers at Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve painted realistic images of some of the wildlife found in the area, along the wall of the entrance to Estacion Biologica. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
Interns may also take on conservation projects. One of our oldest environmental volunteering projects is reforestation. We harvest seeds, plant and grow native trees in our tree nursery, and plant them in deforested areas in the forest. But the most important aspect of our project means the difference between success and failure-it is the continued care of the planted trees for years after planting. Many reforestation projects exist in natural areas, but few of them succeed in recreating natural forest, because tree survival is typically zero for those projects. 

We also rescue wild animals. Interns can work on animal care with our animals, which include two macaws. They can also participate in fundraising for the care and re-introduction of rescued wild animals. 

FUNDECI/GAIA volunteers participate in discussions on the environment and social issues in Nicaragua with guests at Estacion Biologica. Photo Pablo Somarriba.

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