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Motagua-Polochic System

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Motagua-Polochic System/Sierra de las MinasPIP 2000

Steep slopes of the Sierra de las Minas Mountains rise from the ecologically diverse Motagua Valley to create the Motagua-Polochic System. The Motagua Valley harbors both the lush lagoons of Bocas del Polochic, which receive more than 177 inches of rain a year, and the Motagua Valley thorn scrub ecoregion ,where formal protection has yet to be established. The forest area protects more than 63 rivers, which serve various communities in the region who rely on these water sources for irrigation, agro-industry, hydro-electricity, and household uses.

did you know?

Motagua-Polochic's flora and fauna represent close to 80 percent of all species reported for Guatemala and Belize.

Motagua Mountains

Sierra de las Minas © Peg Kohring/TNC


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total area protected:
440,000 acres

Central American moist & pine-oak forests, Motagua Valley Thornscrub

partner organization:
Fundación Defensores de la Naturaleza

Ecological Importance

The diversity of ecosystems in Motagua-Polochic allows for an abundance of biodiversity. The area is home to 400 bird species, including threatened species such as the resplendant quetzal, harpy eagle, horned guan, and peregrine falcon. Mammals such as puma, jaguar, margay, ocelot, spider monkey, brocket deer, and two species of peccaries also are found in Motagua-Polochic. Aquatic species such as the manatee and the cuyamel fish are found within the river systems and are considered important conservation targets.


Unsustainable farming practices such as slash and burn agriculture continue to degrade the natural resources of the area. In the north, a growing demand for land by cattle ranchers and farmers continues to put pressure on wilderness areas. The construction of hydroelectric plants, growth of large-scale irrigation, and public infrastructure development have also placed stresses on the region’s resources.

A Strategy of Success

Since 1995, Parks in Peril (PiP) and Fundación Defensores de la Naturaleza have been working in the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve. Now, with funds from PiP 2000, the territory for site consolidation has been expanded to include the entire Motagua-Polochic System. Before PiP, the conservation importance of Motagua Valley thorn scrub was undervalued. However, there is increasing interest on the part of local stakeholders, private landowners, communities, and municipalities to establish permanent protection. A foundation has been created by entrepreneurs in the water-scare area of the Motagua Valley to establish a Water Fund as a means to provide funds for basic operations and income generation.

Efforts are being made to reforest the area between Sierra de las Minas and Bocas de Polochic to create a biological corridor. By 2004, 46 hectares, or 25 percent of the area, had been reforested, primarily by a major company and landowner in the area, INDESA. INDESA has also given land to Defensores and has expressed interest in exploring a joint venture in ecotourism. Defensores is also using a forestry incentive program to reforest private and municipal-owned lands to act as a critical funding mechanism through 2013. By 2004, the program had restored almost 13,000 hectares and generated $889,000 (US).

With fifteen years of experience in the area, Defensores acknowledges the need to monitor the impact of the growing population and the increased demand the population places on natural resources. Through Conservation Area Planning (CAP), systems have been implemented to monitor threats and biodiversity. These systems have shown that the threats of logging, hunting, and forest fires that once endangered the area are now being controlled with constant patrolling, legal intervention, and fire control. Defensores is now working to build a sustainable conservation system in Motagua-Polochic by generating income through environmental services and expanding the use of environmentally sustainable agricultural products.

Read more about Motagua-Polochic System/Sierra de las Minas...

Fundación Defensores de la Naturaleza
The Nature Conservancy in Motagua-Polochic System and Sierra de las Minas/Bocas del Polochic

Read more about projects in Guatemala...

Atitlán Volcanoes

Guatemala Partner Organizations

The Nature Conservancy in Guatemala