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The Nature Conservancy in Guatemala


$24 Million in Debt Now Slated for Conservation. The Nature Conservancy facilitated one of the largest debt-for-nature swaps in history.


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In 2006 The Nature Conservancy facilitated one of the largest debt-for-nature swaps in history — and scored a significant victory for tropical forest conservation in Guatemala in the process.

Under the agreement, the U.S. government is forgiving $24 million in debt owed to it by Guatemala. This $24 million instead is being used to finance forest conservation in Guatemala over 15 years — efforts that will protect crucial habitat for some of the most abundant biodiversity on the planet.

Magnificent Forests in Peril

Guatemala has a rich cultural heritage and unique biodiversity. Jaguars, ocelots, scarlet macaws, and howler monkeys make their home in the country’s amazing tropical forests, which are also a refuge for rare and endangered species. In addition to the country’s natural beauty, Guatemala is also home to breathtaking ancient Mayan ruins.

The main threats to Guatemala’s tropical forests are improper agricultural practices, natural disasters and large-scale development projects. The $24 million is being distributed from a Conservation Trust Fund and used to conserve Guatemala’s magnificent forests in these areas:

  • The Maya Biosphere Reserve is the Guatemalan portion of the Maya Forest (or Selva Maya), a critical habitat for countless species. The reserve comprises 10% of Guatemala’s total land area.

    Both Sierra del Lacandon National Park and Tikal National Park lie within the reserve, which is a haven for several endangered species such as the jaguar and the scarlet macaw. The forest is threatened by improper agricultural practices and extensive natural resource extraction.
  • The Motagua/Polochic System is one of the most biologically important regions in Guatemala, with many species found nowhere else in the world. The Sierra de Las Minas Biosphere Reserve in this system is home to 80 percent of Guatemala’s biodiversity. Deforestation, illegal hunting and improper agricultural practices are the main threats to this area.
  • The Sierra Madre Volcanic Chain also known as “islands of biodiversity” is a critical migratory bird route as well as home to many endemic plant and animal species. In addition, Lake Atitlan — located in the chain — is a refuge for several species and an important tourist destination. The lake is threatened by development, deforestation and forest fires.
How the Deal Works

Debt-for-nature swaps are an innovative mechanism to sustain long-term conservation efforts in countries with rich tropical forests. Under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1988, eligible countries agree to use their debt payments to finance tropical forest conservation in their countries.

The Guatemala deal is the fifth swap facilitated by the Conservancy, allowing us to magnify our conservation efforts here.

The Conservancy raised $1 million in the United States toward the deal — $500,000 of which was donated by American Electric Power and $200,000 by the Conservancy’s Maine program. The U.S. government is providing $15 million towards the agreement.