Honduras has an exceptionally high biodiversity, as its tropical location, ranging two oceans, and its topographical conditions create a wide variety of environments and habitats; ranging from rain forests, cloud forests (which can rise up to nearly 3,000 m above sea level), mangroves, savannas, mountain ranges with pine and oak trees, and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System.
Honduras encompasses eight different ecoregions and 60 terrestrial and coastal marine ecosystems, including several wetlands important for conservation, such as the Chamelecón-Ulua, Motagua and Aguan rivers, the Moskitia wetland system, the Gulf of Fonseca and several smaller systems and waterbodies, mainly on the Atlantic slope and the islands.
Honduras is home to almost 8,000 known species of plants (of which 630 are orchids), 276 reptiles, 153 amphibians, 771 birds, and 220 species of mammals.
Many zones and particular ecosystems of the country are exceptionally or uniquely biodiverse. The entire country is part of the Mesoamerica hotspot, one of the 36 biodiversity hotspots of the world. The Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF) has identified 31 Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) in Honduras, which cover about 11% of the country’s territory. KBAs are sites of global significance for biodiversity conservation and require priority protection due the vulnerability and uniqueness of the animal and plant populations that reside in them. In the northeastern region of La Mosquitia lies the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, a lowland rainforest which is home to a great diversity of life, and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1982.
Honduras' rich biodiversity is being threatened. Deforestation resulting from logging is rampant in Olancho Department. The clearing of land for agriculture is prevalent in the largely undeveloped La Mosquitia region, causing land degradation and soil erosion. Lake Yojoa, which is Honduras' largest source of fresh water, is polluted by heavy metals produced from mining activities. Some rivers and streams are also polluted by mining. The coverage of mangrove swamps has been continuously and rapidly reduced. Mangrove area decreased from 66,259.5 ha in 1996 to 59,187.8 ha in 2016.
Although data available are still insufficient to assess with certainty the extent of species loss, a total of 155 vertebrate and 126 vascular plant species have been identified as vulnerable or threatened with extinction, as of 2018.
According to the Regional Environmental Observatory of the Central American Commission for Environment and Development, Honduras had lost 52% of its biodiversity by 2008. If these trends continue, by 2030, this depletion will be close to 60%.
The National Strategy for Biodiversity identified five major drivers of biodiversity loss and degradation in Honduras: (i) habitat destruction and deterioration, (ii) ecosystem fragmentation, (iii) species overexploitation, (iv) exotic invasive species, and (v) pollution. Two of these are directly related to land use cover changes.
Agricultural expansion, monocultures such as palm oil, cattle ranching, urban expansion, and roads and human infrastructure are the main challenges for Honduras’s biodiversity. The impacts of land use cover change will be exacerbated by climate change augmenting the stress and fragmentation of ecosystems.
The National Wetland Inventory identified that 90% of the wetlands in the Caribbean have been lost due to cattle ranching, palm oil monoculture, and urbanization. Moreover, shrimp farms have impacted dramatically the Gulf of Fonseca, where 30% of wetlands have disappeared.
Besides land use cover changes, the expansion of invasive exotic species and dams have impacted mangroves in areas like Mosquitia. The Bay Islands have faced impacts of poorly planned tourism in which human settlements and roads pressure the remaining ecosystems.
Key policies and governance approach
Despite the limited knowledge available about the country's biodiversity and its management, multiple conservation efforts have been made, mainly through the creation of a policy and regulatory framework and, importantly, through the creation of protected areas.
The General Environmental Law states that the protection, conservation, restoration, and sustainable management of the environment and natural resources are of public use and social interest. The Secretary of Natural Resources and Environment (MiAmbiente) through the General Directorate of Biodiversity (DiBio) Honduras has updated the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (ENBPAH) for the period 2018-2022.
The main objectives of Honduras’ National Biodiversity Strategy are the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity at the genetic, specific, and ecosystem levels. It comprises three strategic axes: (i) improve management in favour of conservation; (ii) promote knowledge generation; and (iii) mainstream biodiversity into economic development processes. Goals include issues of food safety, improvement of human health, governance and governability, participation of indigenous and autochthonous peoples, job creation, tourism as a productive activity (family and community), peaceful coexistence, improved productive practices (agricultural, forestry, fishing and aquaculture), adaptation and mitigation of climate change, disaster risk management and reduction, resilience of ecosystems and communities, and clean energy generation.
The Law on Forestry, Protected Areas, and Wildlife, through the creation of funds, promotes or encourages conservation, reforestation, and restoration actions, and encourages the establishment of private nature reserves. A new Fisheries Law was formulated by the National Directorate of Fisheries and Aquaculture with support from several international organizations in which there is a new regulation for the fishing industry. The National Strategy for Community Forestry includes species of pines and sweetgums.
The main instrument for biodiversity conservation has been the creation of protected areas, which harbour an important percentage of Honduras’ biodiversity. The National System of Protected Areas (SINAPH) comprises 71 protected areas covering a total of 3,455,918.56 ha; another 20 areas (comprising a total of 1,619,291.95 ha) have been proposed for decree. These 91 areas cover a total of 5,075,210.51 ha (3,159,396.64 ha terrestrial, and 1,915,813.87 ha marine); the terrestrial portion represents 27.49% of Honduras’ continental area. Honduras also holds ten wetlands (covering a total of 270,254 ha) of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, as well as five UNESCO biosphere reserves (two of them shared with neighbour countries): Río Plátano, Trifinio Fraternidad, Cacique Lempira, Señor de las Montañas, and San Marcos de Colón.
Dedicated micro-watersheds make an additional instrument for conservation, Although the main purpose of dedicated micro-watersheds is to protect and improve water production, they hold forested areas that harbour important samples of biodiversity. There were a total of 848 dedicated micro-watersheds, covering a total of 348,586.65 ha, as of 2016. In addition, although still incipient, private areas voluntarily devoted to conservation currently cover 932 ha in six areas.
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
In compliance with the CBD, Honduras has submitted five National Reports, the latest one in 2015.
The Government, through a self-assessment study of national capacities, identified that communication, education, and public awareness are long-term investments and considered key to achieving progress in the conservation of biodiversity.
As part of the preparation of the Sixth National Report, an instrument of evaluation and measurement of the progress made towards achieving the Aichi targets was presented in a workshop carried out in June 2018. The document “Bases for the update of the National Biodiversity Strategy” showed that at least 14 of the 19 in situ conservation operations, presented in the National Biodiversity Strategy (ENB) 2001-2011, should have impact indicators. Likewise, 15 of these 19 operations need performance indicators. Impact indicators for 19 of the 29 operations described in the ENB 2001-2011 under the strategic guideline of ex situ conservation should be constructed. Performance indicators for 16 of these 29 operations should be developed.
The coverage of protected areas is still limited, leaving a number of biodiversity-important sites and vulnerable ecosystems out. Only nine of the 31 Key Biodiversity Areas of Honduras are fully covered by protected areas, 19 are partially covered, and the remaining three are entirely outside of the existent protected areas.
Initiatives and Development Plans
The creation of biological corridors is also part of the biodiversity conservation process. Only the La Unión Biological Corridor has been formally recognised to date; this corridor is located in the central part of the country and bridges areas of dry forest in the Oropoli valley with pine, pine-oak, and cloud forests of the Yuscaran Biological Reserve. With support from the Paisajes Productivos programme (MiAmbiente/GEF/UNDP), the declaration of the Biological Corridor Tolpán Yoro “Lluvia De Peces” is in its final stages. This corridor comprises sub-corridors and identifies several species and ecosystem elements such as water and forest as conservation targets.
Honduras has developed environmental plans that are linked to biodiversity. For example, the Water, Forest, and Soil Master Plan integrates topics like basin management, territorial planning, sustainable forestry, agriculture/livestock, and risk management. The National Production and Sustainable Consumption Plan seeks to mitigate the adverse impacts of production on ecosystems. The Management Plan for the Giant Snail (Strombus gigas) Fishery has a participatory character and is based on scientific studies of the populations of this species in non-fishing areas. This plan sets utilization and export quotas covered by the CITES Convention Office. In the fishing sector the Swiss Cooperation for Development (COSUDE) Project PRAWANKA, has just started a long-term project for the development of the Moskitia region, which includes the fishery value chain, as one of the main livelihoods of the coastal population.
- Implement strategies to reduce the impact of land use/cover change by means of alternative management schemes such as nature-based solutions in which ecosystem restoration and agricultural production can help to reduce biodiversity loss.