Environmental Law

Guatemala Partner Sites

– Bocas del Polochic Wildlife Refuge and Ramsar Site; Sierra del Lacandón National Park and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve; Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve –
Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala

Conservation value and special characteristics

Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve, Sierra del Lacandón National Park and Bocas del Polochic Wildlife Refuge provide key ecosystem services such as clean water, agricultural land and local climate regulation to communities in the eastern part of Guatemala.  They host large populations of endemic species including manatees, howler monkeys, and hundreds of species of birds, reptiles and fish.  They are internationally recognized: Bocas del Polochic as a Ramsar Site, Sierra de las Minas and Sierra del Lacandón as UNESCO Biosphere Reserves.

Bocas del Polochic Wildlife Refuge is a wetland formed by the Polochic River delta in Lake Izabal, the largest lake in Guatemala. It has the largest population of manatees in Central America. As a wetland, it acts as a filter for the pollution produced upstream by industries and the inhabitants of the valley. Many indigenous people live in communities surrounding the wildlife refuge.  With 63 rivers, Sierra de la las Minas Biosphere Reserve provide water to more than 500,000 people. It is also a hotspot for biodiversity.

Sierra de Lacandon National Park is the second largest national park in Guatemala, adjacent to corresponding protected areas across the Mexican border. The park hosts many endangered species, such as jaguars, pumas and the scarlet macaw, and contains ancient Mayan archaeological sites.


The three sites face similar challenges.  Wildfires are a significant problem, particularly in Sierra de las Minas and Sierra de Lacandon, where fires are often started by local communities to clear land for agriculture.  Illegal hunting and fishing, including hunting of manatees in Bocas del Polochic, creates conflicts and threatens biodiversity.  Mining, deforestation and unsustainable agriculture are growing problems.  All three parks struggle with weak government institutions and the presence of destabilizing groups such as narco-traffickers.


Fundación Defensores de la Naturaleza, the NGO managing the three areas, has been working to promote forestry incentives, establish nurseries, implement biodiversity-friendly agroforestry systems, and protect and restore water recharge areas.  These activities provide a potential revenue stream as well as conservation benefits. 

Arrangements for payment for ecosystem services, biodiversity offsets for mining, habitat banks, ecotourism and community based agriculture could be potential sources of revenue for the site and its surrounding communities.  There is strong potential for tourism in the sites, particularly relating to archaeological sites in Sierra de Lacandon, and the lake, with its population of manatees, in Bocas del Polochic.  The sites provide significant water resources, creating possible opportunities for payments for ecosystem services or partnerships with private sector water users.   The size and richness of the forest ecosystems offer opportunities for forest incentives and the sale of carbon credits.  Local communities could be strong partners in development of sustainable products or agroforestry projects.


Defensores and INC have begun to explore the feasibility of different options for the three sites in the context of the legal landscape and market conditions. The current financial situation of the three partner sites will be further assessed to identify the economic gaps and economic opportunities. Based on that, a general action plan and strategies to implement the identified financial mechanisms will be defined.

Photo credit: landscape: Sergio Izquierdo Peña del Angel

Photo credit bird: Sierra de las Minas Management Authority

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