June 1, 2017: Reforestation Volunteering at Laguna de Apoyo

A highlight of our studies in Nicaragua was our experience with reforestation volunteering at Laguna de Apoyo. Laguna de Apoyo is a wide crater filled with a vast lagoon, and an abundance of flora and fauna, making it a valuable natural resource for eco-tourism, agriculture, and development. The range of industries, interests, organizations, communities and activity around Laguna de Apoyo was relevant to several of our research areas.

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Scenic overlook of Laguna de Apoyo

The crater lagoon was formed 23, 000 years ago and today is considered to be a sleeping volcano, being the largest lagoon in Nicaragua. It is located in the middle of a long volcanic chain and close of the cities of Granada and Masaya and near several small villages. It is unique, in that to this day it provides livable land for local residents whose livelihood depends on agriculture, native plant production, tourism and family-harvested food. It also provides a home to a numerous tropical plants including pochote, mahogany, guacuco and a variety of orchids; and to wildlife including Howler Monkeys and Falcons which we saw in several instances, and Common Boas which we did not see.

In our experience of traveling around Laguna de Apoyo, we visited local residents at family-owned nurseries which provided tropical plants to be used for reforestation efforts. We explored the local community called Plan de Laguna, and witnessed colorful lively markets, a range of tourism destinations (including lodges, beachfront and hostels), vast overlooks, and local residents living in the slopes of the lagoon. Over 100,000 persons inhabit the community, with homes in Plan, settlements in the slopes, and mostly foreign-owned homes built on the shoreline.

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So why reforestation? Historically, the natural qualities of Laguna de Apoyo have been preserved due to low tourism, economic and social exploitation. Today, there are many issues impacting the area and causing abuse of the lagoon’s qualities. The impact of “human activity” as expressed by our guide, including tourism with minimal consideration on the environmental outcomes, building in cleared areas, and properties of agricultural cooperatives have resulted in erosion, lack of natural drainage areas, and greater reduction in water quality in the lagoon. It was declared a natural reserve, Reserva Natural Laguna de Apoyo, in 1991, and currently managed by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA). This is the organization we worked with to participate in the reforestation volunteering.

Picking up the tree saplings to be planted on the slopes of Laguna de Apoyo

With oversight by MARENA, several districts and investing corporations and donors, the preservation and infrastructure impacting Laguna de Apoyo is being guided by a developing management plan. Current partnerships between tourism vendors (hostels, hotels, university and faith-based organizations producing study/serve abroad participants) and invested businesses seem to have potential to be part of the solution for preserving the natural qualities of Laguna de Apoyo. In our travels to different communities around the lagoon, we saw use of strategic business and service partnerships in environmental preservation, human services, cultural education and other industries.

Harper faculty planting trees

Our service experience in the Laguna de Apoyo region included a series of steps to obtain plants from nearby nurseries, transfering them to the reforestation site, then working in teams on very steep inclines to transplant items to open areas. Local residents who were preparing for reforestation careers or doing community service, and foreigners who were staying in the Laguna area for long-term study or service or vacation, participated in the experience with our group. After two weeks of travels, tours, presentations, hikes, and educational immersion through cities, villages, historic sites and more, our group worked well together to make a small contribution to a valuable ecosystem in Central America. The experience also gave us an opportunity to work alongside local residents and engage in labor that is the foundation for much of Nicaragua’s riches.

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Team assembled after tree-planting

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