A trip to Paraguay in 2008 changed the life of Karina Atkinson, a young woman from Glasgow, Scotland, with big ambitions. She fell in love with the country and set up Para La Tierra, an NGO dedicated to the conservation of Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca, the site of a natural lake that lies at the meeting point of three major eco-regions.
In 2012 she won a Rolex Young Laureate award. With support from the Rolex Awards for Enterprise she hopes to realize her plan that within five years, Para La Tierra will become a conservation model than can be repeated elsewhere in Paraguay.
Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca lies at the convergence of three major eco-regions: the Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado - both globally endangered habitats - and the Bosque Central of Paraguay. The research station in the reserve is the only one in Paraguay that operates all year and Karina and her team are discovering species that no one knew were present in Paraguay, highlighting the need for more scientific research into the region’s biodiversity.
A boom in industrial farming has boosted Paraguay’s economy but the resulting intensive cattle ranching and soya and eucalyptus farming are threatening the natural environment with no guarantees that local communities will benefit from these changes. For the time being, the creation of the Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca will protect the area from development but when it was first established there was criticism from local people who are no longer allowed to hunt or collect firewood on the reserve.
Community outreach is an important part of the work done by Para La Tierra as they are able to demonstrate to local people that conservation can benefit them. As well as providing employment opportunities, education and community projects get the local community involved in work done on the reserve. The local school has also linked up with a school in Glasgow so students can learn about each other’s countries.
With money from the Rolex Award, three poultry houses stocked with chickens have been built in three communities close to the reserve. They provide a source of meat for families to eat or sell, while incubators are used to hatch more chickens. . In the future, it is also hoped that ecotourism to the site will bring financial benefits to the local area.
Scientific work at the reserve is carried out by three full time staff and two part time staff with support from volunteers who arrive regularly to help carry out research. Life science graduates also undertake their own scientific projects contributing to our understanding of the area. Para La Tierra also provides resources and support for visiting scientists carrying out their own research in the area, while the museum is used in the education of tourists and other visitors to the reserve.
If, like Karina, you are a young person between the ages of 18 and 30 with ambitions to make the world a better place, apply now to become a Rolex Award for Enterprise Young Laureate.