December 11, 2001
CEPF will promote working alliances among community groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), government, academic institutions and the private sector, combining unique capacities and eliminating duplication of efforts for a more comprehensive approach to conservation. CEPF is unique among funding mechanisms in that it focuses on biological areas rather than political boundaries and will examine conservation threats on a corridor-wide basis for maximum return on investment. It will also focus on transboundary cooperation when areas rich in biological value straddle national borders, or in areas where a regional approach will be more effective than a national approach. CEPF aims to disburse funds to civil society in a responsive and opportunistic manner, complementing funding currently available to government agencies.
The governments of the countries in the Mesoamerica hotspot have taken steps to protect the biodiversity of the region. All are signatories of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) and Agenda 21, as well as members of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, a regional initiative to maintain connections between protected areas. The southern region of Mesoamerica roughly encompasses Panama, Costa Rica and southern Nicaragua, and is the major focus of this ecosystem profile. Extending to the central part of Costa Rica and Panama and descending on both sides to sea level, the mountaine and cloud forest ecosystems have been declared World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves. The governments of both Costa Rica and Panama have included these regions in their National Biodiversity Conservation Strategies, designating them as areas of utmost importance.
The strategic directions of the CEPF program in Mesoamerica are strongly linked to a detailed priority-setting process and address several gaps in the larger conservation needs of the region. Building on the collaborative processes already underway will allow not only for cooperation with the many nongovernmental, scientific and other private-sector participants, but also for opportunities to build the capacities of these groups. CEPF's niche in the southern region of Mesoamerica is to support civil society efforts in conservation and provide linkages in otherwise fragmented approaches to conservation in the area. This will be achieved through bottom-up conservation in three targeted corridors to minimize extinction in a rich biodiverse flora and fauna, by empowering local stakeholders to embrace conservation.
In summary, CEPF offers an opportunity to promote the conservation of some of the most important ecosystems in the world - places of high biodiversity and great beauty. CEPF will promote the engagement of a wide range of public and private institutions to address conservation needs through coordinated regional efforts.
The Ecosystem Profile
The Corridor Approach to Conservation
The main function of the corridors is to connect biodiversity areas through a patchwork of sustainable land uses, increasing mobility and genetic exchange among individuals of fauna and flora even in the absence of large extensions of continuous natural habitat. Such corridors not only promote the immediate goals of regional-scale conservation based on individual protected areas, but also help maintain the ecosystem processes needed in order to sustain biodiversity into the future. In this context, small habitat fragments within corridors perform several related functions - connecting or reconnecting larger areas, maintaining heterogeneity in the habitat matrix, and providing refuge for species that require the unique environments present in these fragments.
Large-scale intervention through biodiversity corridors, ecoregional planning, and landscape conservation is therefore one of the highest conservation priorities at the regional level in many of the world's hotspots and wilderness areas. From an institutional perspective, the CEPF's adoption of the corridor approach aims to stimulate new levels of civil society empowerment and participation in practical and political processes as a way to underpin and to multiply the effect of government and corporate responses to conservation. The corridor approach relies on strategic partnerships with key stakeholders to build a support framework and to coordinate activities in the field. The active involvement of local stakeholders and the development of their planning and implementation skills are essential to the sustainability of the biodiversity corridor.
A large, albeit incomplete, body of biological information has been assembled about the Mesoamerica hotspot. Several priority-setting exercises have been conducted using different kinds of filters (regional vs. national boundaries, broad vs. fine scope, and habitat vs. species focus). In 1995, under the auspices of a consortium including the Biodiversity Support Program, CI, The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, the World Resources Institute and World Wide Fund for Nature (with financial support from USAID), A Regional Analysis of Geographic Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation in Latin American and the Caribbean was published, defining regional habitat units and assessing their biological value, conservation status, and conservation priority level. Mesoamerica encompasses several of these ecoregions, and priority areas include the Darién and Peten forests; the forests of the southern Sierra Madre, Central American cloud forests, the forests of the Talamanca/Panama region; the Nenton zone; Caribbean pine forests; and the Central American dry forests, including the Motagua Valley of Guatemala.
Because this region has already undergone many stakeholder consultation processes and prioritization exercises, the development of this ecosystem profile involved very unobtrusive and targeted processes intended to secure consensus without duplicating priority-setting efforts. In 2000, the leading international conservation organizations in the region - including the World Wide Fund for Nature, The Nature Conservancy and CI - joined forces with recognized scientific experts, local NGOs, and the Mesoamerica Biological Corridor Project to identify regional conservation gaps and priority actions. This process originated as an independent effort, before the CEPF targeted the Mesoamerica region for investment. CEPF made a very small investment in this prioritization process; however, building on the results of this process constitutes a major element of the recommended focus for CEPF investment in this region, and will serve as a guiding framework for that investment. By supporting these results, CEPF has a unique opportunity to enhance protection of biodiversity in the region in a way that maximizes return on a small investment.
A rapid assessment of existing planning processes, coupled with targeted stakeholder consultations, led to the conclusions reported in this ecosystem profile. This analysis revealed a need to integrate broad regional initiatives with additional conservation activities on the ground. This ecosystem profile emphasizes the need to ensure civil society participation to expand the successful "building blocks of conservation" developed through 10 years of investment in the MBC through efforts to:
In addition, a workshop was held in Managua, Nicaragua, in August 2001 to consult with experts working in most of the southeastern region of Nicaragua and border region with Costa Rica. More than 40 individuals participated, and their recommendations have been integrated into the ecosystem profile. During the development of the strategic themes outlined in the ecosystem profile, more than a dozen interviews were held with conservation leaders in Costa Rica and Panama to gauge priorities and seek advice. Despite efforts to analyze conservation successes and gaps in the region, CEPF has not attempted to assess in detail the impact or success of the entire MBC effort and the various initiatives supporting it over a decade of donor investment. Analysis of the GEF's $120 million investment in this region is required; however, it is not a logical undertaking for CEPF given the relative level of CEPF investment in the region.
Biological Importance of the Mesoamerica Hotspot
The hotspot covers all of Central America (except for the region east and south of the Panama Canal, which is included in the Chocó-Darién-Western Ecuador hotspot); the Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Colima, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Campeche, Yucatán, Quintana Roo; and parts of the Mexican states of Jalisco, Guerrero, Puebla, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Michoacán, Tlaxcala, Mexico, Morelos and Tamaulipas. In size, it ranks eighth among the 25 hotspots; yet in terms of biodiversity, it heads the global list along with the Tropical Andes and Sundaland.
The very high biodiversity of this region is in part attributable to its geographic position at the junction of two of the world's great biogeographic realms - the Nearctic of North America and the Neotropical of South and Central America and the Caribbean - and its role as a land bridge between the continents. It was only about 5 million years ago (very recently in geological time) that parts of Central America rose above sea level, creating a land bridge between North and South America. For the first time, South American monkeys and sloths met North American squirrels and raccoons in the forests of Central America. Aided by the diverse topography of the land bridge - including ancient crystalline uplands, younger metamorphic mountain ranges, and active volcanoes - the region developed its own unique species, resulting in high faunal and floral endemism in the transition zone itself.
Levels of Biological Diversity and Endemism
This region is ecologically complex and has been organized and subdivided according to many different scientific approaches. The World Life Zone System of Ecological Classification has been widely used in Mesoamerica; the entire region except for parts of Mexico and eastern Nicaragua has been mapped using this approach. In the Mesoamerica Hotspot, 30 of these life zones have been mapped - 25% of all life zones known to exist on the planet. Fifteen of these occur in the tropical latitudes, extending from Panama into a few spots in southern Honduras and El Salvador, and ranging from Tropical Basal Dry Forest, Tropical Basal Moist Forest, and Tropical Basal Wet Forest up to Tropical Subalpine Rain Páramo. The other 15 occur in the subtropical latitudes, extending from central Nicaragua north into Mexico and ranging from Subtropical Basal Dry Forest, Moist Forest and Wet Forest up to Subtropical Nival, found on some Mexican volcanoes with permanent snowfields.
The Caribbean lowlands harbor significant moist, wet forest and rainforest life zones in both the subtropical and tropical latitudes. Subtropical wet and rain forests exhibit very high species diversity and are well represented in this hotspot by La Selva Lacandona in southern Mexico, the Toledo District of Belize, the La Mosquita region of Honduras, Nicaragua's Costa de Miskitos, and the Sarapiquí and Tortuguero Plains of northeastern Costa Rica. Pine savannas occur on exceptionally poor sandy soils in northeastern Nicaragua in particular and are dominated by the Caribbean pine and oak.
Prioritization of Corridors within the Hotspot
Factors in selection of these target corridors for CEPF investment included:
The argument for focusing on the southern region of Mesoamerica and particularly for these three specific corridors was also driven by a scientific assessment showing that this region holds at least 37 Threatened terrestrial vertebrate species. Of these, 25 are endemic to the southern region, and 28 are endemic to Mesoamerica (half of Mesoamerica's threatened endemics). The 25 species are concentrated in three areas: the mountains of northern Costa Rica; the Pacific slope of southeast Costa Rica, including the Osa Peninsula; and the Atlantic slope of the mountains of eastern Costa Rica and western Panama, including Isla Escuda de Veraguon. In addition, these three areas hold 12 Threatened species with wider range. Only three of the region's Threatened species are not represented within the corridors.
These biological considerations, coupled with the need to maximize return on limited investment, resulted in the decision to focus CEPF investment on the southern region of the Mesoamerica hotspot, and specifically on three priority areas: the Rio San Juan-La Selva corridor between Nicaragua and Costa Rica; the southern Talamanca region connecting with the Osa Peninsula; and the northern Talamanca-Bocas del Toro corridor. Concentrating CEPF investment in these corridors is a logical first step for a phased approach to CEPF involvement in Mesoamerica. Therefore, the CEPF's approach in Mesoamerica will be implemented in distinct phases concentrating on Southern Mesoamerica first and Northern Mesoamerica within the next three years.
The northern region of Mesoamerica possesses critical conservation targets within the hotspot. Extending from the southern states of Mexico to the borders of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, ongoing prioritization processes have identified three key conservation areas: the Zoque Forest of Oaxaca, including the Chimalapas region; the Quetzal Corridor linking El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve with the western highlands of Guatemala; and the Selva Maya region of Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize. In Selva Maya, an alliance of NGOs called the Selva Maya Coalition is beginning to unite efforts and develop a joint strategy to protect this vast tropical forest region spanning three national borders.
The CEPF's focus on the south reflects the need to address the critical conservation requirements of both regions separately. The CEPF management team hopes to secure authority from the Donor Council to emphasize the northern region of Mesoamerica in a different cycle of preparation and future grantmaking. This Ecosystem Profile presents both an overview of the broader Mesoamerica perspective and data specific to the three priority corridors in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
Given that all three CEPF priorities in Southern Mesoamerica have received significant multilateral funding, CEPF will favor projects that demonstrate longer-term financial sustainability. Project proposals demonstrating a binational focus will be reviewed more favorably. The three distinct regions of South Mesoamerica will be eligible for the following distribution of resources:
Cerro Silva-Indio Maiz-La Selva Corridor
Talamanca-Bocas del Toro Corridor
Status of Protected Areas in Mesoamerica
Costa Rica leads the region in protected areas as a percentage of total land, with 132 protected areas covering 12,295 square kilometers (24% of the country's land). Guatemala is next, with 34 protected areas covering 24,564 square kilometers (23%); Nicaragua has 73 protected areas covering 21,888 square kilometers (17%); Panama has 12,957 square kilometers of protected areas within the hotspot (29% of the Mesoamerica Hotspot portion of Panama and 17% of the country as a whole); Belize has 14 protected areas covering 2,397 square kilometers (10%); Honduras has 8,636 square kilometers (8%); and El Salvador has so little habitat left that only 52 square kilometers are protected, representing less than 3% of the country.
It is important to note that two-thirds of these areas each protect less than 10,000 hectares; only 38 areas protect more than 50,000 hectares. About half of these protected areas have prepared management plans - generally with minimal funding for implementation - and it is estimated that about one-third of have no on-the-ground institutional presence within them. Costa Rica's protected areas are notable for the size and technical capacities of their personnel, but across the region few protected areas have adequate staff and most managers are insufficiently trained. More than 23 distinct ethnic groups live within the region's protected area system. Tourism brings approximately 1 million visitors per year to these protected areas, especially in Costa Rica.
While these numbers may seem low, it should be noted that in 1987, there were only 220 protected areas in the region, covering only 10.8% of the land. The progress made in the 1990s should be recognized; yet it is essential to reinforce the protection of those areas already declared. An overview of the protected areas in this ecosystem profile's area of focus is shown in Table 1.
|COUNTRY||DECLARED PAs||PROPOSED PAs||LAND COVERAGE||HECTARES(MILLIONS)|
|CONSERVATION REGION||HECTARES||PROTECTED AREA||HECTARES|
|La Amistad Biosphere Reserve||1,081,710|
|Costa Rica||676,859||Chirripo National Park||50,358|
|Cahuita National Park||1,106|
|La Amistad International Park||199,147|
|Barbilla National Park||11,944|
|Tapanti/Macizo Muerte National Park||58,246|
|Los Santos Forest Reserve||59,972|
|Hitoy Cerere Biological Reserve||9,950|
|Las Tablas Protected Area||19,926|
|La Marta Wildlife Refuge||1,290|
|R. Navarro/R.Sombrero Protected Area||6,463|
|R. Tuis Protected Area||4,113|
|Wilson Botanical Gardens||140|
|Ujarras Indigenous Reserve||19,040|
|Salitre Indigenous Reserve||11,700|
|Cabagra Indigenous Reserve||27,860|
|Chirripo Indigenous Reserve||96,796|
|Tayni Indigenous Reserve||16,216|
|Telire Indigenous Reserve||16,296|
|Talamanca Indigenous Reserve||66,296|
|Panama||404,851||La Amistad International Park||207,000|
|Baru Volcano National Park||14,000|
|Palo Seco Forest Reserve||125,000|
|San San Pond/Sak Wetland||16,125|
|Bastimentos Marine Park||13,226|
|Naso Indigenous Territory||10,000|
|Fortuna Forest Reserve||19,500|
|Bocas del Toro||100,000||Ngobe-Bugle Indigenous Territory|
|Costa Rica||Corcovado National Park||42,500|
|Piedras Blancas National Park||14,025|
|Corcovado/P. Blancas Corridor||10,000|
|Nicaragua||720,960||Indio Maiz Biological Reserve||263,980|
|Punta Gorda Nature Reserve||54,900|
|Cerro Silva Nature Reserve||339,400|
|Solentiname Nature Monument||18,930|
|Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge||43,750|
|Costa Rica||120,448||Tortuguero National Park||29,067|
|Barro Colorado Wildlife Refuge||81,210|
|Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge||10,171|
|Maquenque National Park (proposed)|
|COUNTRY||VALUE (US$)||PROJECTS||% OF REGIONAL FUNDING||RANK IN REGION|
|Costa Rica||$110.4 million||190||3.8||8|
|Threats||Stakeholders||Gaps||Potential CEPF Niche|
|STRATEGIC DIRECTIONS||INVESTMENT PRIORITIES|
|1. Strengthen key conservation alliances and networks within integral corridors||1.1 Support existing alliances such as the Talamanca/Osa/Bocas regional alliance, Osa alliance and Northern Costa Rica working alliance to further key common agendas in advocacy, communication and land tenure efforts through targeted civil society efforts|
|1.2 Create a coordinating group, led by the NGO community, that will guide conservation actions In the Cerro Silva-Indio Maiz-La Selva Corridor|
|1.3 Support a civil society effort to integrate and incorporate NGO concerns into CCAD and PPP efforts|
|2. Connect critical areas through economic alternatives||2.1 Support NGO efforts to evaluate modalities for establishing additional private conservation areas to integrate connectivity among key areas|
|2.2 Support civil society efforts and community efforts to establish best practices in coffee, cocoa, and tourism in areas of potential connectivity|
|3. Promote awareness and conservation of flagship species||3.1 Implement awareness programs focused on flagship species in order to improve public understanding of the value of biodiversity|
|3.2 In coordination with UNDP's Small Grants Program, establish an emergency fund to support projects that will help protect critically endangered species|
|4. Support improved management of key protected areas||4.1 Support civil society efforts to create participatory management plans in target areas and provide opportunities for civil society to participate in government led planning processes|
|4.2 Support civil society efforts to establish the Maquenque National Park in northern Costa Rica|
|4.3 Support civil society efforts to establish protected areas within the Ngobe-Bugle indigenous territory|
|4.4 Support efforts by the NGO and private sector community to provide financial incentives for private reserves and conservation set-asides|
|4.5 Support targeted civil society efforts to implement discreet elements of existing management plans|