Country Profiles

Nicaragua - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Nicaragua is a tropical country located between 11°-15° north latitude. It contains an important heritage of biodiversity, as well as the largest and best preserved tracts of tropical rainforests and lowland ecosystems in Central America. Its coastline consists of 463 km in the Caribbean and 372 km in the Pacific, corresponding to 13% of the coasts of Central America. Nicaragua also has an extensive continental shelf, especially in the Caribbean, which gives the country a great marine richness.

The Atlantic slope has an exceptional biodiversity and habitats recognized both nationally and globally. The Nicaraguan Caribbean is home to the largest area of relatively pristine forest, where populations of endangered species (e.g. tapir, harpy eagle, jaguar) are still found and whose survival depends on large areas of undisturbed forests. Similarly, the area also serves as a vital link in the chain of humid forests stretching from Mexico to Colombia, known as the Atlantic Biological Corridor.

Nicaragua’s Atlantic slope has fragile soils and therefore little agricultural potential. Its economy has traditionally relied on the limited exploitation of natural resources through small-scale forestry, artisanal mining, fisheries and limited shifting agriculture.

The Pacific slope presents a mosaic of terrestrial and marine and coastal ecosystems. It is crossed by an impressive volcanic chain composed of 25 volcanoes, some of which are still active. Its original vegetation was dry forest, which was replaced by agricultural landscapes. The soils are of volcanic origin with great potential for agriculture. The Pacific slope harbors the largest part of the national population.

Nicaragua has a high variety of both terrestrial and marine ecosystems, with 68 ecosystems representing 60% of the Central American region's ecosystemic richness1. Among marine ecosystems are: estuarine complexes, bays, coastal lagoons, coral reefs, mangroves, muddy beds, rocky areas, beaches, cliffs, and the seagrass meadows of Thalassia and Halimeda.

The country’s geography has allowed for the existence of a variety of wetlands in the Pacific and Atlantic coastal zones. Although no official inventory exists, 50 wetlands have been identified, of which 13 are distributed in the Pacific zone, 8 in the lake area and 29 in the Caribbean coastal zone (16 in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region and 13 in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region). Nine of these wetlands have been recognized by the Ramsar Convention.

Among the major terrestrial ecosystems, different variations of evergreen forests, pine forests, riparian forests and dry forests are found. In total, the country has 68 types of ecosystems, with agricultural ecosystems being the most represented, followed by moderately drained alluvial seasonal evergreen forests.

At the species level, recent studies reveal that Nicaraguan diversity comprises 20,301 species of flora and fauna, distributed as follows:

• 6,014 plant species, including a vast number of vascular species with ethno-botanical value. This figure includes ferns, gymnosperms and angiosperms.

• 1,999 vertebrate species (with fish standing out as the major group) and 12,230 invertebrate species (which does not include insects).

Taxonomic Group Species in the world Species in Nicaragua % national total
Plants 240.0 6,014 2.50
Vertebrates   1,999  
Fish 22.0 765 3.17
Birds 10 754 7.54
Mammals 5.4 215 5.23
Reptiles 7.9 179 2.12
Amphibians 6.0 86 1.3
Invertebrates   12,230  
Arthropods 1,200 8,514 2.2
Mollusks N.D. 3,716 2  
Corals N.D. 58  
Fungi 1,500    
TOTAL   20,301  

National System of Protected Areas (SINAP)

Nicaragua has a National System of Protected Areas (SINAP)3, which consists of 74 protected areas (66 terrestrial and 8 coastal marine) with an area of 2,333,382 ha and 62 wildlife private reserves covering an area of 9,879.23 ha which in total add up to 2,343,261.23 ha (equivalent to 18% of the national territory).

There are four (4) Biosphere Reserves recognized by UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) that are part of SINAP:

• Biosphere Reserve BOSAWAS located in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) and the Department of Jinotega.

• Biosphere Reserve Río San Juan of Nicaragua located in southeast Nicaragua.

• Biosphere Reserve Isla de Ometepe recently (in 2010) declared a biosphere reserve and located in the Department of Rivas.

• Sea Flower (Right granted to Nicaragua by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in regard to the restitution of marine territory).

Although legally not part of SINAP, Nicaragua also has other sites for in situ protection called Municipal Ecological Parks (PEM) which are areas protected by municipal governments which meet the technical requirements of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA). Presently, there are 224 Municipal Ecological Parks (PEM) covering an area of 8,621.63 ha.

[1] Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA) 2010. Study of Nicaragua’s Ecosystems and Biodiversity and its representation in the National System of Protected Areas (SINAP) (“Estudio de Ecosistemas y Biodiversidad de Nicaragua y su representatividad en el SINAP”), 1st edition. Managua, Nicaragua.

[2] Compilation of biodiversity information, R. Rueda.

[3] MARENA (2010) Master Plan for Protected Areas.

[4] MARENA (2011) Master Plan for the National Protected Areas System.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The main threats to Nicaraguan biodiversity can be classified into two broad categories: anthropogenic threats and threats from natural phenomena. Among them are the following:

• Ecosystem transformation

• Irrational exploitation of resources

• Pollution

• Construction of horizontal infrastructure

• Climate change

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

Nicaragua elaborated the National Biodiversity Strategy in 2001, which is based on 6 objectives and strategic lines, namely:

• Improve biodiversity conservation, with consideration given to its integral role in the country’s development.

• Promote the economic viability of biodiversity, taking into account its richness and economic value, as well as the costs of its degradation for the country.

• Improve the country’s capacity in the fields of scientific research, monitoring and technical assistance for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

• Develop mechanisms and institutional tools to improve the country’s coordinated response capacity to address biodiversity degradation.

• Develop and implement legal tools to improve the country’s response capacity to address biodiversity degradation and loss.

• Improve the country's capacity to give attention to issues of education and citizen participation in actions that directly or indirectly promote respect for environmental conservation in Nicaraguan society, and that encourage changes in the attitudes of men and women regarding the sustainable management of the country’s biodiversity.

The defined strategic lines are:

• Biodiversity Conservation

• Economic viability of sustainable use of biodiversity

• Strengthening of an information and monitoring system for biodiversity

• Institutional management and inter-institutional coordination

• Harmonization of regulatory policies and legal framework

• Education and citizen participation

Nicaragua is currently in the process of updating the Biodiversity Strategy and will mainstream the mandates specified in the National Human Development Plan (NHDP 2012 -2016) in the updated version.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

As stated in the previous section, Nicaragua is in the process of revising the National Biodiversity Strategy, a part of which is to mainstream the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. The guidelines of the National Human Development Plan (NHDP), which is the framework driving the country’s development, are contributing to implementing the global targets. The NHDP establishes the policies for the protection of Mother Earth, climate change adaptation and integrated disaster risk management, with the following areas of action, which are closely related to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets:

• Environmental Education for Life

• Defense and Environmental Protection of Natural Resources

• Forestry Development

• Conservation, Recovery, Collection and Water Harvesting

• Climate Change Mitigation, Adaptation and Risk Management

• Sustainable Land Management

• Regulate and control environmental pollution for the conservation of ecosystems and human health

• Prevent environmental impact of economic activities taking place in the country

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The Government of Reconciliation and National Unity has established participatory public management and direct democracy as a practice promoting the participation of citizens, allowing for a wider involvement of organized citizenry and resulting in greater decision-making power, assumption of shared and harmonized responsibilities in local human development management among the different levels of government.

The Government promotes the establishment of strategic alliances for prosperity among the national government, local governments and organized citizens for municipal strengthening; promoting local development; direct democracy and decentralization to develop spatial planning that generates beneficial policies for families, with social audit.

These participatory mechanisms are strengthened by the operations of Sectoral Cabinets at the community, municipal, departmental and national levels, as well as by the Family, Health and Life Councils; Care of Water Sources Council and Disaster Prevention Councils. Other local organizational schemes are the Committees for the Protection, Care, Conservation and Collaboration of Protected Areas, the Committees for the Shared Management of Protected Areas, Committees for Potable Water and Sanitation, Basin Committees, the Environmental Youth Movement, among other organized groups.

Parallel to these organizational processes, the development and adoption of legal instruments, such as laws, mandatory regulations, ministerial resolutions and municipal ordinances, have been promoted, encouraging the protection and sustainable use of biodiversity. Among the more noteworthy are:

Law No. 738 on the declaration of the Wildlife Refuge System of Cayos Perlas (21 October 2010) published in the Official Journal La Gaceta (No. 229 – 30 November 2010).

Law No. 765 on the promotion of agro-ecological or organic production as a technological mechanism of the Strategy for Sovereignty and Food Security to ensure the sustainability of agriculture, protection and restoration of ecosystem integrity, biological diversity and natural processes that sustain life and achieve the common good of Mother Earth and humanity (April 2011).

Law No. 807 on the Use and Conservation of Biodiversity which aims to regulate conservation and sustainable use of existing biological diversity in the country, ensuring fair and equitable participation and sharing of benefits arising from its use, with particular attention to indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, and respect for and recognition of intellectual property rights, traditional and customary ways of local communities (2012).

Law No. 833 on the Creation of the Isla de Ometepe Biosphere Reserve and the Istian Inculta Peña Wildlife and Wetland Refuge; this law also modified the categorization of the Madera Volcano from natural reserve to national park (19 February 2013).

Also worth mentioning is the progress achieved in research and monitoring of species, as well as the implementation of projects aimed at supporting the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The National Environmental Information System (SINIA) is an established system for integrating the national environmental information network, constituted by public and private institutions, environmental organizations, universities, research centres, municipal and regional governments. These entities generate, exchange and make use of technical and scientific information on the state of the environment and natural resources, while also providing information for improving environmental management and increasing public awareness and education.

SINIA collects, systematizes and facilitates access to information and indicators at the national, regional and international levels. Through SINIA, national biodiversity indicators are monitored every two years and published in the magazine “Medio Ambiente en Cifras” (environment in figures).