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Wed May 5, 2021, 10:39 PM

Drugs and agriculture cause deforestation to skyrocket at Honduran UNESCO site

by Karen Paredes, Leonardo Guevara, Lesly Frazier on 30 April 2021

Tucked away on the Caribbean side of Honduras lies the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, an area some in size with abundant green forests, rivers, ponds, and a great variety of wildlife. Because of its natural richness, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared it a World Heritage Site in 1980.

The Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, which can only be reached by air, sea or river, and is divided into three areas: a buffer zone, a zone, and a cultural zone. The buffer and core zones cover a large part of the departments of Colón and Olancho, while the cultural zone is located in the Gracias a Dios department. Gracias a Dios includes six municipalities (Puerto Lempira, Brus Laguna, Ahuas, Juan Francisco Bulnes, Wampusirpi, and Villeda Morales) and is home to around 100,000 people.

Much of the reserve’s natural beauty is contradicted by three phenomena that have become more prevalent in the last two decades: the extreme poverty of its inhabitants, a strong presence of drug trafficking, and massive deforestation reportedly at the hands of logging and livestock companies and the illicit drug trade.

Satellite data from the University of Maryland (UMD) visualized on forest monitoring platform Global Forest Watch show deforestation escalated dramatically in Río Plátano in 2020, nearly doubling the amount of primary forest lost in 2019. Preliminary data from UMD’s Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) lab suggest 2021 may be giving 2020 a run for its money, with several “unusually high” spikes of tree cover loss in February, March and April. The data show that, overall, the biosphere reserve lost 13% of its primary forest cover between 2002 and 2020.


If you'd like, please take a moment to scan these thumbnail photos of the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve:


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