It might seem that only a small minority of people have an interest
in conserving wetlands and coastal zones, for purely environmental
or preservationist reasons. In reality, however, the importance
of maintaining these ecosystems is fundamentally economic.
of the major wetlands with recognized national and international
value in Central America are:
- In Guatemala: Laguna del Tigre, Machón-Guamuchal,
Bocas de Polochic Wildlife Refuge
- In Honduras: Barra de Cuero y Salado, Jeannette Kawas National
Park, Punta Izopo Wildlife Reserve
- In Nicaragua: Los Guatuzos
- In Costa Rica: Caño Negro, Gandoca-Manzanillo, Northeast
Caribbean Wetlands, Palo Verde, Tamarindo, and Térraba-Sierpe
- In Panama: Gulf of Montijo, Punta Patiño, and San
These freshwater wetlands provide countless important
goods and services for local populations and society as a whole.This
is, of course, why the different peoples of Central America originally
made their settlements along the banks of important rivers and
lakes. Water is a key factor for social and economic development
in any region, now as well as in the past, and wetlands play an
important role by providing fresh water. Even today, better quality
water means lower treatment costs, and that translates into savings
for society in general.
In addition, inland bodies of freshwater trap
nutrients, dilute pollutants or serve as vehicles for disposing
of liquid waste¾ once again, substituting costly water
treatment technology. Part of the nutrients captured by wetlands
can be managed and reused in the form of fish, aquatic plants,
wood products, and other goods for direct consumption. This productive
potential is perhaps one of the most well recognized values of
Benefits derived from wetlands include a large
number of goods and services that are used either for direct consumption
or in the form of hydrological services. This may possibly lie
at the root of their destruction, for the following reasons:
- Goods are normally utilized by local
communities and frequently ignored in national accounting
(i.e., GDP), and thus have very limited market value.
- Their hydrological services are recognized
and important, but little understood. This is especially true
in Central America, where the hydrological and hydrographic
network is very restricted and very few studies of this type
Nonetheless, the region is very dependent
on these resources. At least 50% of the population consumes water
from natural primary sources, in many cases mostly untreated.
Overall, the general public does not recognize the majority of
the services we receive from wetlands as such.
For their part, coastal zones also provide
innumerable goods and services essential to the regional economy:
- Fish products generate at least $250 billion annually.
- Fisheries provide direct employment for some 250,000 people
in the region.
- At least 250,000 indigenous people in Central America live
in coastal zones and depend directly on their management.
- The world's second largest coral reef barrier is located
in Central America.
- Tourism is one of the two primary sources of income for
three countries in the region.
- In all of the Central American countries, tourism is principally
developed around coastal marine resources or wetlands.
- This region possesses 8% of the world's mangroves, and they
represent 7% of Central America's natural forests.
these facts, a large part of the wetlands and coastal zones is
being destroyed. The cities of Belize and Panama are built over
mangroves. Guatemala has lost 60% of its original mangrove cover,
and in many of the region's countries tourism development has
been one of the major causes for the destruction of coastal ecosystems.
An estimated 40% of the shrimp farms in the
Gulf of Fonseca have been constructed on mangroves.
Large extensions of floodplain on the Caribbean
coasts of Costa Rica and Honduras have been destroyed when drained
for agricultural activities.
These conservation problems are reflected
in the increased frequency of floods, deteriorated water quality,
accelerated mortality of coral and the disappearance of tourist
loss of wetlands and coastal zones is clearly an economic as well
as an ecological problem. This is why we decided it was important
to find a way of communicating with the entire public in order
to help people understand why wetlands and coastal zones are so
An instrument is needed to help build public
awareness of both the value of these ecosystems for society, and
the personal responsibility of each individual in achieving this
We hope this bulletin from the IUCN/ORMA Program
for Wetlands and Coastal Zones Conservation, published with support
from the Norwegian Agency for Development (NORAD), will help achieve
this important objective.