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CEP Technical Report No. 36 1996: Status of Protected Area Systems in the Wider Caribbean Region
Country Profiles


Area 139,000 sq. km.

Summary Table

No. of
Protected Areas (PAs)
PAs with Marine or Coastal Zones Extension
Category I 2 2 345,000
Category II 3 0 25,327
Category III 1 0 18,930
Category IV 62 11 1,032,661
Category V 0 0 0
Categories VI-VIII 5 2 1,237,500
Biosphere Reserves 0 0 0
World Heritage Sites 0 0 0
Ramsar Sites 0 0 0
Total (1) 73 15 2,659,418

(1) Totals have been adjusted to avoid double counting areas that are classified in 2 or more categories.

Policy and Legislation

Prior to 1979, Nicaragua had no national conservation objectives or policies, nor any institutional framework to implement or support environmental protection (Anon. 1989, Hartshorn and Green 1985). During the Sandinista administration (1980-90) the institutional framework for protected areas was greatly strengthened, management was initiated, and a national system plan was being worked on. During the last years of the decade, implementation of area management and the system plan was drastically reduced due to major institutional changes (compactación) and budget cuts. Since 1990, management and planning efforts have resumed (Nietschmann 1990).

Until recently, natural resource legislation was oriented towards exploitation, with little or no provision made for conservation. For example, the Law of Conservation, Protection and Development of the Nation's Forest Resources (Ley de Conservación, Protección y Desarrollo de las Riquezas Forestales del País), Decree No. 1381, 1967 deals almost exclusively with timber extraction and the granting of concessions. The first protected area, a wildlife refuge, was established by decree in 1958, and the first national park was legally established in 1971. However, without a national policy to support their protection, these areas were largely ineffectual (Anon. 1989).

Following the 1979 revolution, a new policy of natural resource management was implemented with the Law of Creation of the Nicaraguan Institute of Natural Resources and the Environment (Ley de Creación del Instituto Nicaragüense de Recursos Naturales y del Ambiente, IRENA) of 24 August 1979. This law provided for the creation of the first institute specifically responsible for managing natural resources, and vested it with the responsibility of formulating a national environmental policy to ensure their protection and rational use. Natural resources were declared part of the national heritage, available to all Nicaraguans, to allow the development of the country and to improve the quality of life (Anon. 1989). IRENA became the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Ministerio del Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, MARENA) in 1993.

Also in 1979, the Law for the Establishment of the National Parks Service (Ley de Creación del Servicio de Parques Nacionales), Decree No. 340 of 25 October provided for the creation of the National Parks Service (Servicio de Parques Nacionales), now known as Wildlands and Wildlife Service within IRENA. The Wildlands and Wildlife Service is specifically responsible for the establishment and management of protected areas.

These principles of natural resource protection were incorporated into the new political constitution (constitución política) approved in June 1987. The first constitution in the history of the country to include provisions for the rational use and protection of the environment. The state, through the relevant institutions, is responsible for the execution of national conservation objectives (Anon. 1989).

In 1983, a number of legislative acts provided for the creation of a total of 16 protected areas in the Pacific region: Decree No. 1194 of 3 February provided for the establishment of Zapatera National Park ; Decree No. 1294 of 12 August provided for Chacocente Wildlife Refuge; and Decree No. 1320 of 19 September 1983 declared a further 14 areas protected under the transitional category of nature reserves (reservas naturales) (Anon. 1989).

Decree No. 527 of 23 April 1990 formalized the creation of a network of protected areas in the south-eastern region on the border with Costa Rica. These comprise the Nicaraguan component of the International System of Protected Areas for Peace (Sistema Internacional de Areas Protegidas para la Paz) known as SI-A-PAZ, first proposed in 1974 (Castiglione 1990).

Three decrees passed in 1991 provided for the protection of further areas of natural habitat. Decree No. 42-91 declared protected remnant montane ecosystems in the central part of the country, pine forests of the Caribbean coast and volcanic craters of the Pacific slope mountains, including the Pacific estuaries declared as natural reserves under the 1983 Decree (Cedeño et al 1992).

IRENA was empowered to define the limits and assign a management category for each area, and to provide detailed regulations for natural resource protection once the area is established. Decree No. 43-91 provided for the creation of Cayos Miskitos Biological Reserve in the north-east along the Honduran border to protect islands, reefs, sea turtles, coastal wetlands and the indigenous Miskito community, traditional inhabitants of the region.

Decree No. 44-91 declared a substantial area in the north of the country protected as Bosawas National Natural Resource Reserve (reserva nacional de recursos naturales), along the Coco River which separates Nicaragua and Honduras. This is the second largest reserve in Nicaragua and includes a wide range of habitats varying from lowland rain forest to cloud forest (Cedeño et al 1992). IRENA is responsible for managing the reserve, and establishing regulations for natural resource use. Prohibited activities include commercial exploitation of forest resources; destruction of flora and fauna; and disorganized colonization that threatens indigenous communities.

There is no single, unifying law that gives definitions of the management categories of protected areas used in Nicaragua. Regulations and prohibitions pertaining to each area are given in the individual legislation providing for the creation of the area. During preparations for the creation of protected areas in the Caribbean region, it was noted that the existing management categories needed modification to suit specific conditions (Anon. 1989). Only three categories were available for use, two permanent (national park and wildlife refuge) and one transitional (natural reserve).

Since 1990, initially IRENA and currently MARENA, has produced a national plan for strengthening and consolidating Nicaragua's protected area system (Nietschmann 1990). Most protected areas have been established in "holding categories", such as resource reserve (reserva de recursos) and natural reserve (reserva natural) (Cedeño et al 1992). Planning exercises for each of these areas, such as the one already under way for Miskito Cays Wildlife Refuge, will eventually define core conservation areas, multiple use zones, and anthropological reserves (Cedeño et al 1992).

International Participation

Conventions & Treaties

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD, 1992)

Central American Biodiversity Convention (CABD, 1992)

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, 1973)

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS, 1982)

Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere (Western Hemisphere Convention, 1940)

Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage, 1972)

Programmes & Associations

Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza (CATIE, 1972)

Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP, 1981) and its Specially Protected Areas & Wildlife Programme (SPAW, 1990)

Latin American Network for Technical Cooperation in National Parks, Protected Areas & Wildlife (LAN-NPPAW)

UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB, 1972)

FAO Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP, 1985)


Prior to 1979, the Central Bank (Banco Central) was assigned responsibility for the two national parks and one natural reserve created during the Somoza regime (Anon. 1989, Hartshorn and Green 1985). The Nicaraguan Institute of Natural Resources and the Environment (IRENA), established in 1979, was the first institute specifically responsible for managing natural resources. IRENA was created to formulate and implement a national conservation policy, to ensure the protection and sustainable exploitation of national natural resources (Anon. 1989).

In practice, IRENA has broad responsibilities for natural resource management, including administration of protected natural areas (Cedeño et al 1992). By the end of the 1980's, IRENA had suffered an 85% cut in staff, and was demoted to a sub-unit under the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (Ministerio de Agricultura y Reforma Agraria); few of its conservation programmes remained. Even after the war, despite good management, progress has been slow due to lack of foreign government support (Nietschmann 1990). IRENA was changed to the Ministerio del Ambiente y Resursors Naturales (MARENA) in 1993.

Within IRENA, the National Parks Service (Servicio de Parques Nacionales, SPN) was created by decree in 1979 as the technical division of the national park system (Cedeño et al 1992). The SPN was responsible for conducting studies to select areas requiring protection, and for the implementation of IRENA's policies with respect to the development and administration of protected areas for scientific, educational, recreational and tourist purposes (Anon. 1989, Comisión IRENA-CROP, n.d.).

Following the regionalization policy initiated after 1979, protected area administration at the local level was the responsibility of regional delegations of IRENA and currently MARENA. MARENA's management policy is to include the participation of local populations to achieve conservation objectives (Anon. 1989). For example, Miskito Cays Biological Reserve will be managed cooperatively by MARENA, the regional autonomous government for north-west Nicaragua and the Miskito indigenous communities. An inter-institutional commission was established recently to coordinate its planning and management. An indigenous, non-governmental environmental organization, Mikupia, has been set up by the Miskitos to take direct responsibility for and benefit from reserve management (Cedeño et al 1992). Management involves the participation of 15,000 Miskito people in 23 coastal communities (Nietschmann 1991).

The NGO conservation movement is arguably still the weakest in Central America. With the exception of Mikupia, NGOs are not involved directly in protected area management (Cedeño et al 1992). The Nicaraguan Association of Biologists and Ecologists (Asociación de Biólogos y Ecólogos Nicaragüense, ABEN) is dedicated to promoting the protection of natural resources and the environment and has gained political influence. ABEN monitors national environmental activities and represents the nation's concerns internationally (Karliner and Faber 1986). The Environmental Network for Nicaragua (ENN), established in 1988, is an NGO working from outside the country to gain support for the government's activities in environmental protection.

The problems facing protected area management include not only the lack of public awareness and political support and the over exploitation of natural resources, but specific problems arose as a result of the long guerrilla war. Certain regions of the country were inaccessible until recently, and the entire nation was isolated in the international sphere, preventing potential financial and technical support for environmental issues (Anon. 1989).


Nicaragua is the largest Central American country, and, after Belize, the nation with the lowest population density (Cedeño et al 1992). The longest river, the two largest freshwater lakes and the richest volcanic soils in Central America are found here. The lowland tropical rain forests in the south-eastern corner of the country, and similar forests across the border in north-eastern Costa Rica, comprise the largest and wettest lowland rain forest remaining around the entire Caribbean rim, and the largest area of tropical rain forest north of Amazonia (Nietschmann 1990). Likewise, the coastal lagoons, pine savannas, and wetlands of the north-east, together with similar areas across the border in Honduras, are the largest and best preserved examples of such ecosystems in the region (Cedeño et al 1992, Karliner 1987). Nicaragua has the widest continental shelf and stretch of coral reefs in the Caribbean, and the most extensive seagrass pastures in the Western Hemisphere (Nietschmann 1990).

The country comprises three distinct biogeographic regions: Pacific, Central and Caribbean (Anon. 1989). The Pacific region is the most densely populated area of the country, and the major economic and productive activities take place here, including intensive agriculture and cattle ranching. It has the most severely degraded ecosystems and presents the most environmental problems (Anon. 1989). The remaining natural areas, for the most part small remnant dry forests on the higher slopes of volcanoes, and coastal mangroves, are fragmented, and degraded. Only the mangrove estuaries of Estero Real in the Gulf of Fonseca are largely intact (Cedeño et al 1992).

The Central region is mountainous but does not exhibit great altitudinal range. The largest tract of undisturbed tropical humid forest in Central America is located in the Caribbean region, the eastern third of the country (Anon. 1989, Cedeño et al 1992). This sparsely populated area is the traditional homeland of the Miskito indigenous people.

In spite of its distinction of being the largest Central American nation, Nicaragua has somewhat lower total biological diversity than neighboring countries in the region. This is due primarily to its lower altitudinal diversity and absence of isolated high mountain ranges. For the same reasons, endemism rates are also lower (Cedeño et al 1992). However, this may also be due to the relative paucity of scientific research in Nicaragua (Nietschmann, pers. comm., 1992).


MARENA's operational capacity continues to be very limited. Although Nicaragua has established 73 protected areas which cover more than 2.6 million ha (22% of the national territory), only three of these have a permanent staff provided by the Ministry. In 1993 the Wildlands and Wildlife Service had a total of 11 guards. Only one protected area, Volcan Masaya National Park, is public property, and very few of the areas are delimited in the field (Mack 1994, Espinoza, pers. comm., 1994).

IRENA began the development of a network of protected areas across the country called the National System of Protected Wildlands (Sistema Nacional de Areas Silvestres Protegidas, SINASIP). This included a nationwide study to identify priority areas; define a system of management categories including those of transitory nature; and collect information to allow for new protected area legislation to be formulated.

By 1983, the preliminary identification study was completed and 35 areas had been selected for protection covering 13% of total land area. The proposed national system was divided into three sub-systems, according to the three distinct biogeographic regions in the country, and the Pacific region was identified as being of the highest priority (Anon. 1989).

In 1983, the Pacific sub-system of SINASIP was initiated by the declaration of 17 protected areas, covering 1% of national territory and including a previously established national park. In 1987, of the 17 areas described, three were designated permanent management categories and were actively managed, and 14 were protected under the transitory category of natural reserve (reserva natural) and awaiting management plans (Anon. 1989).

In 1991 two major new reserves were created: a biological reserve (reserva biológica) to protect islands, reefs, sea turtles and coastal wetlands and the Miskito Indian culture in the north-east along the Honduran border; a resource reserve (reserva de recursos), the second largest single reserve in Nicaragua along the Coco River, which separates Nicaragua and Honduras, to protect a wide range of habitats ranging from lowland rain forest to cloud forest. Also in the same year, a decree provided initial protection as resource reserves to remnant montane ecosystems of the central part of the country, pine forests of the Pacific coast, and volcanic craters of the Pacific slope (Cedeño et al 1992).

MARENA maintains a limited institutional presence in seven areas of the protected area system. Protection efforts are concentrated in these areas, and personnel numbers range from one to 20, with basic equipment and infrastructure in a few of the areas. On-site administration staff and facilities are only in place at two areas (Cedeño et al 1992).

Major threats to the protected area system include lack of on-site protection and management in most areas; the growing colonization threat, particularly to wildlands in the eastern half of the country, by former Sandinista soldiers and Contra guerrillas who are now living in large numbers in forested lands; fires and overuse of mangrove forests along the dry and highly deforested Pacific slope; and uncontrolled logging and poaching in eastern parks and reserves (Cedeño et al 1992).


Ministerio del Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (MARENA, Minister-Director), Apartado 5123, MANAGUA (Tel: 505-2 631-271/631-274; FAX: 505-2 631-273/315-96)

Servicio de Areas Silvestres y Fauna (SASYF), Apartado 5123, MANAGUA (Tel: 505-2 31278; FAX 505-2 631273/31596)

Mikupia (Director), Apartado 5123, MANAGUA (Tel: 505 2 31273/31848; FAX: 505 2 31274/ 670998)

Fundación Nicaragüense para la Conservación y el Desarrollo (Executive Director), Aptdo 1009, MANAGUA (Tel/FAX: 505 2 74563)

Environmental Network for Nicaragua, NSC, 23 Bevenden Street, LONDON N1 6BH



Alpizar, P. (1990) Un sí a la paz y al proyecto SI-A-PAZ. Recursos suplemento especial: SI-A-PAZ. IUCN. 16 pp.

Anon. (1984) Plan de desarrollo forestal de la Republica de Nicaragua. Anexo II: Recursos forestales existentes y su desarrollo potencial para la producción de madera. IRENA/Corporación Forestal del Pueblo (CORFOP)-Interforestas-Swedforest Consultind AB, Stockholm. 110 pp.

Anon. (1989) El sistema de áreas silvestres protegidas de Nicaragua artículo basado en el documento resultante del Taller Nacional sobre Conservación del Patrimonio Natural y Cultural realizado en Managua, en octubre de 1987. Oficina Regional de la FAO para América Latina y el Caribe, Santiago, Chile. Flora, Fauna y Areas Silvestres 9:14-17.

Castiglione, J. (1990) SI-A-PAZ en 1990, Recursos suplemento especial: SI-A-PAZ. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. 16 pp.

Cedeño, V., Cedeño, J., Barborak, J. (1992) Draft country report on Nicaragua. 4 pp.

Comisión IRENA-CORFOP. (n.d.) Patrimonio forestal: análisis crítico de la situación actual y recomendaciones. Comisión Instituto Nicaragüense de Recursos Naturales y del Ambiente-Corporacíon Forestal del Pueblo sobre bases para una politica y legislación forestal.

FAO (n.d.) La red latinoamericana de cooperación técnica en parques nacionales, otras áreas protegidas, flora y fauna silvestres. Oficina regional de la FAO para América Latina y el Caribe, Santiago, Chile. 8 pp.

Hartshorn, G.S. and Green, G.C. (1985) Wildlands conservation in northern Central America: Nicaragua. Tropical Science Center, San José/ CATIE, Turrialba, Costa Rica. 5 pp.

Karliner, J.N. (1987) Make parks, not war. Amicus Fall: 8-13.

Karliner, J. N. and Faber, D. (1986) Nicaragua: an environmental perspective. Green paper #1. The environmental project on Central America (EPOCA), San Francisco, USA. 8 pp.

Nietschmann, B. (1990) Conservation by Conflict in Nicaragua. Natural History 11/90:42-49.

Nietschmann, B. (1991) Miskito Coast Protected Area. National Geographic Research and Exploration. 7(2):232-237.

Saravia, D. (1990) Recursos suplemento especial: SI-A-PAZ. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. 16 pp.


Not available


Name of area IUCN & National Mgmt. Categories Presence of Marine or Coastal Zones Area
Year Established
Río Indio Maíz I BR YES 295,000 1990
Cayos Miskitos I BR YES 50,000 1991
Subtotal 2   2 345,000  
Archipiélago Zapatera II NP   5,227 1983
Saslaya II NP   15,000 1971
Volcán Masaya II NP   5,100 1978
Subtotal 3   0 25,327  
Archipiélago de Solentiname III NNR   18,930 1990
Subtotal 1   0 18,930  
Alamikamba IV NNR   2,100 1991
Apante IV NNR   1,230 1991
Cabo Viejo IV NNR YES 5,800 1991
Castillo de la Inmaculada IV NNR   1,500 1990
Cayos Miskitos IV BR YES 502,654 1991
Cerro Bana Cruz IV NNR   19,700 1991
Cerro Cola Blanca IV NNR   22,200 1991
Cerro Cumaica - Cerro Alegre IV NNR   5,000 1991
Cerro Datanil - El Diablo IV NNR   2,216 1991
Cerro El Arenal IV NNR   575 1991
Cerro Kilambe IV NNR   10,128 1991
Cerro Kushkawas IV NNR   4,760 1991
Cerro Mobachito - La Vieja IV NNR   940 1991
Cerro Musun IV NNR   4,142 1991
Cerro Pancasan IV NNR   330 1991
Cerro Quiabuc (Las Brisas) IV NNR   3,630 1991
Cerro Tisey - Estanzuela IV NNR   6,400 1991
Cerro Tomabu IV NNR   850 1991
Cerros Bana Cruz IV NNR   10,130 1991
Cordillera de Yolaina IV NNR   40,000 1991
Cordillera Dipplito y Jalapa IV NNR   41,200 1991
Delta del Estero Real IV NNR YES 55,000 1983
El Chocoyero - El Brujo IV NNR   184 1993
Estero Padre Ramos IV NNR YES 8,800 1990
Fila Cerro Frio - La Cumplida IV NNR   1,761 1991
Fila Masigüe IV NNR   4,500 1991
Guabule IV NNR   1,100 1991
Isla Juan Venado IV NNR YES 4,800 1983
Kilgna IV NNR   1,000 1991
Laguna Bismuna - Raya IV NNR YES 11,800 1991
Laguna de Apoyo IV NNR   2,100 1991
Laguna de Asosca IV NR   140 1991
Laguna de Mecatepe IV NR   1,200 1983
Laguna de Nejapa IV NR   220 1991
Laguna de Pahara IV NNR YES 10,200 1991
Laguna de Tiscapa IV NR   40 1991
Laguna de Tisma IV NNR   7,000 1983
Laguna Kukalaya IV NNR YES 3,500 1991
Laguna Layasica IV NNR YES 1,800 1991
Laguna Tala - Sulamas IV NNR   31,400 1991
Laguna Yulu Karate IV NNR   25,300 1991
Lianos de Karawats IV NNR   2,000 1991
Limbalka IV NNR   1,800 1991
Los Guatuzos IV WR   43,750 1990
Los Maribios (Complejo San Cristobal, Telica, Rota, Pilas, El Hoyo IV NR   34,400 1983
Macizos de las Peñas Blancas IV NNR   11,308 1991
Makantaka IV NNR   2,000 1991
Mesas de Monopotente IV NNR   7,500 1991
Península Chiltepe IV NNR   1,800 1983
Río Escalante Chococente IV WR YES 4,800 1983
Rio Manaree IV NR   1,100 1983
Volcán Mombacho IV NNR   2,847 1983
Salto Rio Yasica IV NNR   445 1991
Sierra Amerique IV NNR   12,073 1991
Sierra Kiragua IV NNR   8,067 1991
Tepesomoto-Pataste IV NNR   8,700 1991
Volcán Concepción IV NR   2,200 1983
Volcán Cosiguina IV NNR YES 12,420 1976
Volcán Maderas IV NNR   4,100 1983
Volcán Yall IV NNR   3,500 1991
Yucul IV NNR   4,826 1990
Yulu IV NNR   1,000 1991
Subtotal 62   11 1,027,966  
La Flor VI WR YES 1,500 1983
Bosawas VI NRR   730,000 1991
Cerro Wawashan VI FR   231,500 1991
Cerro Sitva VI FR YES 266,000 1991
Volcan Momotombe y Momotombito VI NNR   8,500 1983
Subtotal 5   2 1,237,500  

NP = National Parks

BR = Biological Reserves

WR = Wildlife Refuge

WA = Wildland Areas

NNRR = National Natural Resource Reserve

NNR = National Natural Reserve

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Preface | 1. Introduction | 2. Relevant Issues... | 3. Status of Protected Areas Systems | 4. Conclusions... | 5. References | Country Profiles

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