Updated August 2015
Program: Conservation of the Laguna Grande Reserve and Río Sarstún, Guatemala
Project Partners | Purpose | Background | Slideshow | Map | Actions and Results |

  In Brief  

Location: Rio Sarstun, Guatemala
Timeframe: Began involvement in 2012, for protection in perpetuity.
Goal: Creation of a reserve to protect an area of lagoons, mangroves, lowland and inundated forests, and karstic mountain forests in Caribbean Guatemala.
Threats &
Lowland and inundated tropical rainforests of the Caribbean Region of Guatemala have almost disappeared. Recently, the expansion of palm oil plantations and cattle ranching operations has further endangered lowland forests there. In 2009, a property came on the market that represented a not-to-be-missed conservation opportunity.
Actions & Results: FUNDAECO purchased this property on an urgent basis in 2009, with support from ICFC and World Land Trust . ICFC will work with FUNDAECO to optimize the monitoring, management and protection of the reserve long-term.
Cost: ICFC portion $230,000 (53%)   Total: US$432,702 (purchase price)
Reserve guard, 2014: $4560
Size of area
675 hectares
(1668 acres)
Compare with:
— two-thirds larger than Vancouver's Stanley Park (405 ha)
— almost twice the size of New York's Central Park (341 ha)


Entry point to Laguna Grande Reserve (photo © FUNDAECO)

In more depth...

Program Partners and Personnel

Our partners in this acquisition are: Fundación para el Ecodesarrollo y la Conservación (FUNDAECO), the Guatemalan NGO that manages and protects the reserve; and UK-based World Land Trust (WLT). (FUNDAECO is also ICFC's partner for the Sierra Caral Reserve.) WLT played the crucial role of providing a loan for the property's acquisition; it is also supporting protection and management activities for the reserve.


This project involves:
  • paying most outstanding costs of the land acquisition for the Laguna Grande Reserve;
  • ensuring its permanent protection through additional legal safeguards;
  • carrying out additional needed protection and management activities in 2013.


Description of the property being conserved

The 675-ha Laguna Grande Reserve is located in the lower portion of the Río Sarstún/Sarstoon River Watershed, on the border between Guatemala's Izabel province and southern Belize. It encompasses a unique system of lagoons, mangroves, inundated forests, lowland forests, and karstic mountain forests between sea level and 385m. The property is located within the Río Sarstún Multiple Use Reserve (see map below), which is a vital link in the Caribbean Rainforest Corridor of Guatemala. To the north, in Belize, is the Sarstoon-Temash National Park; to the east is the Zapodilla Keys Marine Reserve; to the south are the Chocón-Machacas Biotope and the Río Dulce National Park; and to the west is Sierra Santa Cruz-Chocón-Machacas Special Protection Area. The land was purchased in 2009 for $641/hectare ($259/acre) for a total of US$432,702, including taxes.


Project location

Ecological value

Because of its unique wetlands, Río Sarstún was designated a RAMSAR Site. Its flora includes important wetland and rainforest trees such as Callophyllum brasiliense, Vochysia hondurensis, Andi rainermis, Platymiscium dimorphandrum (Hormigo), Bombax ellipticum, Dalbergia tucurensis, Virola koschnii, Pouteria amygdalina, Sweetia panamensis, Chrysobalanus icaco, Hirtella paniculata, and Terminalia Amazonia. Four mangrove species are found in the area: Avicennia germinans, Laguncularia racemosa, Rhizophora mangle and Conocarpus erectus, the last two of which are on the Red List of endangered species of CONAP (National Council of Protected Areas). One of the most important plant communities is the "dwarf mangroves", which are unique in the country and are restricted to areas with a combination of karstic soils and high salt concentrations.

Sea grasses like Thalassia testudinun and Syringodium filiforme provide food to a variety of fish species and the endangered Manatee, which is protected in CITIES Appendix 1 (Table 1) and in the CONAP Red List. Fish species include Cichlasoma aureum, Astyanax fasciatus and Megalopus atlanticus, each of which has commercial value and is listed as endangered by CONAP.

At least 52 species of mammals live in the Sarstun Protected Area, including three on the IUCN Red List (Table 1). The Río Sarstún region is particularly important for its bat diversity: more than 30 species were collected in one site to the south of the Laguna Grande property, one of the highest counts in Latin America (compare with 45 species in Pantanal, Brazil).

Table 1: Threatened species found in the Rio Sarstun Protected Area, with IUCN Red List designation.
Endangered species:
Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii)  Endangered
howler monkey (Alouatta pigra)  Endangered

Near Threatened or Vulnerable species:
jaguar (Panthera onca)  Near Threatened
American manatee (Trichechus manatus)  Vulnerable
Pouteria amygdalina (tree species)  Vulnerable

The area is also a vital habitat for Neotropical migratory birds, some of which are undergoing population declines, in part due to habitat loss and degradation in their winter range.

Finally, this property is a unique platform for bi-national conservation efforts. The Sarstún/Sarstoon River is one of the most important basins draining into the Gulf of Honduras, and its protection and adequate management has been an ongoing priority both for Guatemala and Belize. A National Park has been established in Belize, between the Temash and Sarstoon Rivers. That park — designated as a RAMSAR site — is co-managed by the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM). In Guatemala, Río Sarstún was designated as "The Río Sarstún Multiple Use Reserve" in 2005 and as a RAMSAR Site in 2007, thus linking to create a cross-border RAMSAR site. FUNDAECO has signed a Letter of Understanding with SATIIM, which will provide the foundation for future bi-national cooperation.

Threats and opportunity

The inundated and lowland tropical rainforests contained within the Laguna Grande property are the single most threatened habitat in Caribbean Guatemala. Less than 20% of their original extent remains; the rest has been replaced by cattle ranches and agricultural crops. These forests, however, have a unique ecological role and importance for biodiversity: they are the true biophysical connectors of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, linking altitudinal gradients and ecological niches across the region. Without them there would only be vulnerable "biological islands" in the protected mountain tops of the region where most of the region's protected areas have been declared.

This conservation effort entails the preservation and sustainable management of an important part of the single largest remnant of lowland and inundated tropical rainforest in Caribbean Guatemala. As the property sits within a contiguous patch of lowland forest, it is strategically located in order to expand full conservation zones within the Río Sarstún Protected Area.

Actions and Results

Funds from ICFC have been used to pay off the bank loan for the property and to pay $15,000 of the amount owing for the loan from WLT. In addition, $16,000 has been applied to strengthen protection and management as described below.

Legal Safeguards for conserving the acquired property

  1. All contracts for the acquisition of the property stipulate that the land has been acquired exclusively for conservation purposes. All contracts are registered with the national land registry.
  2. The property is registered as a "Private Natural Reserve"; as such, the land will be a legally declared protected area and part of the Guatemalan System of Protected Areas.
  3. FUNDAECO registered a Conservation Easement (Anotación Registral), which is a legally binding covenant stating that the property is dedicated exclusively to conservation purposes.
  4. One hectare of the property is registered in the name of the International Conservation Fund of Canada; simultaneously, mutually binding conservation easements are registered on the one-ha property and the remainder of the property. This will confer on ICFC the legal right to defend its conservation easement over the property in Guatemalan courts.
  5. Negotiating a conservation agreement with local fisherman in order to establish a "fisheries recovery area" in which the waters within Laguna Grande are closed to all types of fishing.

Protection and management of the acquired property

  1. FUNDAECO's office in the nearby city of Livingston is well equipped (vehicle, motorcycle, computers, etc.) and staffed. Its personnel (a Coordinator, Accountant, educator, two social promotors, and one park guard) manage the Reserve.
  2. A full-time forest ranger, trained in guiding and natural resource protection, is present on the Laguna Grande reserve on a daily basis.
  3. Signs, a boardwalk and pier have been constructed within the reserve to facilitate low-impact tourism and land access from the water. Additional signage for an interpretive trail is planned for 2014.
  4. FUNDAECO has an alliance with the local Q’eqchi community association, Aj Rahonel Re li cho’ch’. Thus, all management, protection and visitor related activities will be closely coordinated with local communities and their representatives. Additionally, FUNDAECO will seek to create alternative incomes for local communities, mainly through ecotourism. This in turn will reduce the long term possibilities of illegal resource extraction.

Further info

We will be happy to supply further information on request. .

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