SOS… the Jeanette Kawas National Park in Honduras deserves and needs our love and attention. Urgently.

Not only because it is one of Central America’s most remarkable rainforest and wetland eco-systems, sustaining a wide range of species, but because its very existence is so delicately in the balance.

Established in November 1995, and originally known as the Punta Sal National Park, the park was soon renamed in honour of the environmentalist Jeanette Kawas, who was murdered for her dedication in stopping industrial palm production developments through the region.

From that moment on, this precious ecological wetland (781 sq kms), located on the northern Caribbean coast of Tela, Honduras, has struggled to survive.

Thanks to Jeanette’s efforts, and those of PROLANSATE (the foundation organisation that created and manages the National Park – ‘Protection of Lancetilla, Punta Sal and Taexiguet’) the region is not only still a protected area, but also on the Ramsar Convention List of Wetlands of International Importance.

Although this is an achievement in its own right, the park remains almost unheard of in comparison to the more regularly visited nature reserves in Latin America. Which is perhaps not unsurprising given the unfair reputation of Honduras as a possibly dangerous ‘no-go holiday zone’.

The peace and tranquillity of this diverse terrestrial and marine environment is utterly charming. I was dumbstruck from the moment I first arrived. I was drawn in by the raw beauty of the setting, right on the Caribbean Sea, with its sweeping beaches and surf almost up to the forest’s edge. The seafront rainforest cleverly hides the inland freshwater wetlands with a thick high canopy and maze of mangroves.

Guided into the National Park by road, and then through it by boat, it soon became obvious to me that, in comparison with so many other equally dramatic environment reserves, the tourism infrastructure remained woefully under-resourced. The reserve suffers from poor guiding, a lack of information and has no apparent park authority on location.  If ever an eco-environment was undervalued, this is it.

The beach, like so many others around the world, is spoilt by debris from shipping waste, highlighting the fact that for an area of natural beauty to be protected it takes many hard years of labour, organisation and political muscle.

‘Tourism to the rescue’? Let’s hope so.

It is not surprising, given that visitor numbers are down to a trickle, that local stakeholders struggle to benefit from National Park tourism. Without the ability to make a living from the natural reserve it is impossible for the community to engage with protecting it, struggling as they are already to eke out an existence.

Although we at Nomadic Thoughts continue to shout loud about the virtues of this exquisite region, the truth is it needs further recognition from a much larger audience if the likes of the palm oil industry are to be prevented from taking over.

Jeanette Kawas National Park’s inland waterways meeting the Caribbean Sea.

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