The Bocas del Polochic Wildlife Refuge is a wetland formed where the Polochic River flows into Lake Izabal, Guatemala’s largest lake. Abundant wildlife thrives in the delta, attracting more than 250 bird species and important populations of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. The Refuge boasts the highest number of manatees (Trichechus manatus) in the country, as well as a large population of howler monkeys (Alouata pigra) and river otters (Lutra longicaudis). In total, the Refuge is home to 39 species of mammals (including all five feline species present in Guatemala), 138 reptile and over 53 fish species. Including land and aquatic ecosystems, the Wildlife Refuge covers an area of 51,300 acres (207.6 km2). It has been under FDN’s management since 1996. The Refuge is recognized as an important wetland in the international RAMSAR convention.
The wetland works as a filter that traps nutrients, sediments, contamination, and pathogens coming from the Cahabón and Polochic Rivers. As a result, the pollution caused by the river valley industries and the inhabitants (nearly a million people) is significantly reduced before the water empties into Lake Izabál, which flows into Rio Dulce, toward its destination in the Caribbean Ocean.
Approximately 5,500 people, mainly ethnic group, live in the eight communities surrounding the Wildlife Refuge. They benefit directly from the ecological advantages the wetland creates, such as clean water, fertile land, firewood, raw materials, and fishing. We engage the local population in the protection of the Refuge through conservation education programs and by teaching them more efficient farming and merchandising methods.
For management purposes, the Refuge is divided into four zones with different protection levels, according to the ecological sensitivity. All activities in the Wildlife Refuge are governed by the Management Plan approved by the National Council for Protected Areas – CONAP.
We manage the Refuge from our office in El Estor, Izabál. In addition, we run the Scientific Station Selempim, where tourists and researchers are welcome to stay. Bocas del Polochic has great potential as an ecotourism destination. Bird watchers and amateurs alike will enjoy the impressing diversity of birds, and visitors can spot mammals and aquatic species on a guided boat or canoe tour. For this purpose, we have trained the local people to provide tourism services, such as guiding, hospitality, and to sell handicrafts. Currently, two places offer ecotourism services: the Selempim Station (managed by FDN) and the Chapín Abajo Hostel (managed by the community of the same name). Both places offer comfortable accommodation and a unique experience of our natural world.
The Bocas del Polochic Wildlife Refuge was recognized as an internationally significant wetland in the RAMSAR convention.
We have protected the entire forest in the Refuge’s primitive zone.
We are running a successful conservation education program in the communities surrounding the Refuge.
We built the Scientific Station in Selempim to provide accommodation for researchers and visitors interested in exploring the area.
We helped the Chapín Abajo village to build a hostel and a community restaurant. The proceeds benefit the local community directly.
We have trained local fishermen in sustainable fishing techniques.
Thanks to our support five areas were declared Private Natural Reserves, creating a biological corridor between the Bocas del Polochic Wildlife Refuge and the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve.
© Roberto Quesada