A little over a month ago I made a visit to Macizo of Peñas Blancas, which I discovered was only the very edge of Central America’s largest Biosphere Reserve called Bosawas.
Without knowing too much about it, I was immediately captivated by its beauty. With an interest in environmental sustainability I was curious to know more about this place and why there is a need to protect it. With a little research I dug deeper into the topic and found some astonishing facts:
-Macizco of Peñas Blancas is one of the six protected areas of Bosawas which was officially declared as a protected reserve in 1997. It is home to 270 species of plants, 200 species of animals and over 200,000 species of insects.
-Bosawas is also home to 38,760 indigenous people from two different tribes called the Miskitos and the Mayagnas
-The Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, also called “The Lung of Central America,” produces 264 million tons of oxygen a year and rightfully so is a large contributor to global climate control.
-Bosawas is also a major source of clean water in the country. Macizo of Peñas Blancas alone has numerous waterfalls and natural springs, 39 of which provide clean drinking water to around 35 different communities.
-The reserve used to be the size of El Salvador, but it is quickly shrinking. According to a study by the German Agency for Sustainable Development and the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers, the reserve is losing around 42,000 hectares (over 100,000 acres) of land every year. At this rate the Reserve will be nonexistent within the next 20 years.
According to this same study the main causes of the loss of forest is increasing land cultivation, livestock and logging, much of which is the culprit of invaders from other parts of Nicaragua who have come and taken over indigenous land. Despite the fact that there is a law guaranteeing the communal ownership of this land to the indigenous people (Law 445), the implementation of this law is lacking. The fact that there are only 6 forest rangers in charge of protecting 1,668 square kilometers of land is evidence of that.
According to the Mayagna president, there have been over 600 families that have invaded and settled in the area in the last three years. Even though these invasions have been reported to the police, the cases are hardly ever filed because of corruption within the judicial system. Many of the people who claim to own land (and sell it with hand-written documents with phony notaries) also have relatives in the local police force and political influence. This makes judges fearful to take on cases of land trafficking in the area.
These invaders have left behind a path of destruction. Not knowing how to sustainably manage land, these farmers look for maximum profit for the least amount of investment without taking any interest in how it is affecting the environment. Their main sources of income are logging, cultivating beans and corn and raising cattle. The cheapest way to get that income is cutting and burning off large areas of forest, extracting all of the crops and feeding all of the livestock possible in that land, then when the land no longer produces moving to a new area to start all over again. Not only does this method destroy the topsoil but also can dry up rivers and water springs that provide clean water to thousands of people and animals.
Luckily there is still hope. An organization called Mission Bosawas was founded in 2012 that is educating and energizing young people to become a part of the cause. Today they have around 80 volunteers that help spread awareness of what is happening in Bosawas through different workshops and events. Volunteers also have the opportunity to help organize trips to the Reserve to see the Biosphere in real life and meet and talk with local indigenous people and other organizations working to preserve Bosawas.
One organization called CREA has created a community center in Macizo of Peñas Blancas, which focuses on creating harmony between the local people and the natural environment through education and art. They offer classes in music, painting, English and capoeira (a Brazilian martial arts/dance class). What surprised me when we camped out on CREA’s sight was that they have no system for trash. Almost everything they consume comes from local farmers so nothing comes in plastic packaging and all their waste is compostable.
Even to someone who doesn’t come from the city, this was a fairly astonishing moment for me. After living in Managua for 8 months where everything, and I mean everything, you buy comes in a bag, it’s hard to imagine going back to an existence without plastic waste. I get used to mindlessly setting the trash on the curb three times a week, and not worrying about where it came from or where it is going. It’s so easy to become numb and apathetic living here in the city, but when you go out and get your feet in the dirt and swim in a waterfall you can drink from, it’s hard to stay apathetic.
When it comes to the environment we are all responsible. The slogan for Mission Bosawas is “Soy Mision Bosawas.” “I am Mission Bosawas” We each have a responsibility for what is happening in Bosawas, whether we live in Nicaragua or across the world. And when we all come together “Somos Bosawas” “We are Bosawas” We don’t stand alone. Together we can petition, we can fight, we can protect Bosawas and we can become aware of how our daily decisions are impacting the environment.