Decades ago, a radical idea was born to protect the Mayan Forest in Belize. What if NGOs, government, community leaders and businesses could form a coalition to conserve one of the last remaining virgin rainforests in the world?
Now that dream is a reality, with more than a dozen organizations coming together to protect 236,000 acres of land that represents an irreplaceable lynchpin in the conservation of the largest remaining tropical forests in the Americas, outside of the Amazon.
This new protected area is contiguous and nearly double the size of the adjacent Río Bravo Conservation Management Area previously protected through efforts led by The Nature Conservancy. Combined, it represents 9% of Belize’s land mass and ensures a vital wildlife corridor in the shrinking forests of Central America.
Together, these new protections will fill a critical gap in a vast forest network called Selva Maya: 38 million acres of forest that includes 11 million acres of parks and protected areas throughout Central America.
A new sunrise
Since 2011, the Mayan Forest Corridor connecting the Belizean Mayan Massif to the Belizean Mayan Forest has faced deforestation rates nearly four times the national average, driven primarily by land clearing for industrial-scale agriculture. That was the fate that also seemed highly likely for this stretch of land.
Ensuring the protection of this critical ecosystem for climate and nature means preserving the habitat of some of the world’s most iconic wildlife species, such as jaguars and ocelots, as well as preserving an important reserve of living carbon that represents a natural solution to climate change.
This project is an excellent example of this type of solution, preserving significant amounts of sequestered carbon, which would otherwise be lost due to deforestation, while offering valuable co-benefits, especially for biodiversity.
“In a warmer and more crowded world, the last best places to protect nature for biodiversity and climate solutions are mission critical,” said Dr. Jeffrey Parrish, Global Managing Director for Nature Protection at The Nature Conservancy. “Innovative and collaborative protection of nature is essential not only for the survival of species like jaguars, but also for sustainable livelihoods, clean air, water security and to address the climate crisis.”
Natural climate solutions are conservation, restoration, and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage or avoid greenhouse gas emissions in landscapes and wetlands around the world. Combined with clean energy innovations and other efforts to decarbonize the world’s economies, natural climate solutions offer some of our best options in responding to climate change.
The Maya Forest of Belize is a hotspot of tropical biodiversity, home to 200 species of trees in a mosaic of forests, savannas and wetlands, as well as more than 400 species of birds, more than 100 of them migratory.
The charismatic megafauna that depends on this precious ecosystem includes the tapir, howler monkeys, and spider monkeys, along with some of Central America’s largest surviving populations of jaguars, pumas, margay, and other native cats.
According to a statement, the partners who made the Belize Maya Forest Conservation projects possible through years of effort include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the International Tropical Conservation Fund, the Global Wildlife Conservation, Mass Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, Rainforest Trust, and many others.
“This vast expanse of forest is a hub for large-scale conservation of the Mayan Forest, but its future was at stake for decades,” said John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. “The permanent protection of this huge parcel provides connectivity and scale of utmost importance to preserve the largest tropical forest ecosystem in Central America.” This victory for the Belizean rainforest is truly hopeful, and is especially welcome during Earth Month.
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