Category Archives: Mesoamerica

An Evening Not To Be Forgotten

A recent night in Tulum was an evening not soon to be forgotten. Friends, colleagues, partners, and new acquaintances arrived at Holistika in the late afternoon, sauntered through jungle paths, and were greeted with tasty drink and food – the only fish served being the invasive scrooge of the Caribbean Basin… Lionfish, Pterois volitans, in the form of ceviche prepared by the talented team at Ginger Tulum.

It has been a little less than two months since Art of Conservation moved our base of operations to Tulum and I have been busy reconnecting with the people we’ve met over the past year during our scouting trips to the Caribbean Basin who have in turn generously introduced me to many more people. So what better time to have a gathering to cement these new relationships and say thanks to the warm welcome? Right now and right here!

Lucy Spelman, Art of Conservation’s VP and One-Health Program Coordinator and Ize Berzins, our Consulting Scientist, arrived a few days prior to soak up our new settings – more on our field trips later – which filled our days from dawn to dusk with exploration and learning.

But before I go much further, I’d like to say thanks again to Holistika’s Denisse and Monica for making this event so easy and so much fun!

Denisse at Holistika July 2014 ©Art of ConservationThanks Denisse!

Monica at Holistika July 2014 ©Art of Conservation
Thanks Monica and Holistika’s head grounds staff member who looks handsome in his AoC t-shirt!

My next post will be full of photos from the evening… although I did not get as many pictures as I would have liked. I’m finding it more and more difficult to talk, walk, shoot photos, and really engage all at once.

More soon and thanks,

Please keep up-to-date on more Art of Conservation & Conservation Heritage – Turambe news with our e-newsletter. Simply send us your name and contact information to [email protected] Thank you!

A Positive Start To Tulum

It entailed a full year of concentrated effort from the Art of Conservation Board, our executive director Allison Hanes, and myself to arrive at the decision of setting up our new base of operations in the Caribbean Basin and more specifically in the town of Tulum which is in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. But we did it and we are off to a very positive start. Before I go any further I’d like to take a quick look back at the people we met along the way who inspired and welcomed us. Enjoy the pictures and thanks everyone for your encouragement.

Art of Conservation in Guyana ©Art of Conservation 2014

Art of Conservation in Panama ©Art of Conservation 2014

Art of Conservation in Honduras©Art of Conservation 2014

Art of Conservation in Mexico and Belize©Art of Conservation 2014

Please keep up-to-date on more Art of Conservation & Conservation Heritage – Turambe news with our e-newsletter. Simply send us your name and contact information to [email protected] Thank you!

Major Announcement: Art of Conservation Goes Global!

After months of intensive field visits and meetings with potential partners and community members, ART OF CONSERVATION is officially global! We are bringing our vital assistance programs to communities in ecologically sensitive areas throughout the Caribbean Basin, which includes Mexico, Central America, Venezuela, and Guyana.

After our inspiring and enduring success in Rwanda, we will now inspire children and their families to conserve biodiversity through creative learning and one-health awareness. Julie Ghrist, our Founder and Program Director, will be moving to our new base within the jungles of Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico, in just a few weeks.

Staying Healthy with AoC"s One-Healthy Habits©Art of Conservation

Your help can make a world of difference! Please consider making a donation to help fund this critical expansion.

Bringing our proven AoC model to new communities halfway across the world costs a lot, as you would imagine! We can’t do it without your support. We rely on contributions we get from supporters like you to help provide the necessary resources, such as:

$25 provides basic and vital supplies such as textbooks and art supplies for our classrooms

$50 provides toothbrushes and personal health items for children

$100 provides a full year of conservation education for a Mexican child

$250 provides all students the opportunity to attend a weekend family conservation and health workshop

$500 provides Art of Conservation the funding needed to employ local artists and staff to effectively reach our community-based conservation goals in Tulum, Mexico

To continue the important work of Art of Conservation, inspiring and educating children and families worldwide about conserving biodiversity and living healthy, we need you to donate today! During our transition your support is more critical than ever for us to continue our work.

Location, Location, Location!

When Julie Ghrist first arrived in Rwanda 8 years ago, our greatest possible outcome was for local leaders to continue and sustain our work. That vision is now a reality through the work of a newly created partner organization, Conservation Heritage – Turambe (CHT). Read here for more details about CHT and the enduring AoC legacy in Africa.

Now we can bring that proven track record to another vulnerable community – this time within the Caribbean Basin. This region is exceptionally diverse in so many ways – culturally, biologically, and geologically, all within a relatively small area.

AoC will now be working in marine environments, linking connections between marine and terrestrial ecosystems!

  • In northern Honduras, the edge of the Mesoamerican reef (the second largest coral reef on Earth) is less than an hour’s drive from a Garifuna fishing village in one direction, and a stunning mountain rainforest full of toucans in another.
  • In primordial southwestern Guyana where giant anteaters, jaguar, and giant otters are still plentiful, Macushi Amerindians live on expansive savannas and fish in rivers that overflow during the wet season.
  • And in coastal Mexico, The Maya people of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula live near a variety of habitats, including dry and wet tropical forests, mangrove swamps, lagoons, and cenotes—all rich with wildlife.

This is AoC’s vision of one-health conservation!

Our novel approach to conservation outreach has made a significant difference in Rwanda, and we look forward to sharing it with children and their families first in Quintana Roo in Mexico, and then throughout the Caribbean Basin.

Please consider making a donation to fund our work during this very exciting yet critical transition into the Caribbean Basin.

FOUR Things You Can Do Now to Help Ensure Success:

DONATE at Art of Conservation

PROMOTE! Share this with 5 of your friends and ask them to consider making a donation!

SHARE! Find AoC on your favorite social media platforms and share our work with your friends!

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Lastly, we have launched an updated website designed to keep everyone up to date on our exciting progress. We’re so excited to begin sharing updates on our progress, challenges, and the new friends we are making in the Caribbean Basin!

Thank you again for your support!

Julie Ghrist, Founder and Program Director
Allison Hanes, Executive Director

A Visit To A Garifuna School & Appreciating An Environmental Hero

From Julie

After our stay near Pico Bonito and Los Micos national parks outside of La Ceiba in Honduras, Allison, Lucy, and I traveled along the northern Caribbean coast to the town of Tela. Mark Pouchie, a guide with Garifuna Tours was stuck with us over the following three days because we would not let him go. He has lived in Tela for years and knows just about everything and everyone. A link to Garifuna Tours-request Mark Pouchie to be your guide!

The town of Tela in Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014A view of the Caribbean and the town of Tela from our lodging at Hotel Maya.

As with all local communities we have been visiting in the Mesoamerican region, one of our top priorities is to meet with teachers and schoolchildren. We met with a talented teacher, Carla, and her niece who is a translator, Cinthia. We had a wonderful dinner together discussing their one-health awareness needs. The next morning we met Carla and Cinthia at Carla’s school despite it being a weekend.

With Carla and Cinthia at Centro de Educacion Basica Esteban Guardiola, Tela, Honduras ©Art of Conservation 2014With Carla, Cinthia, and children at Centro de Educacion Basica Esteban Guardiola.

Mark drove us to a nearby Garifuna village at Triunfo de la Cruz to met Carla and Cinthia. The school has 614 students, 26 teachers, 1 computer lab, and as Carla repeated more than once…an empty room for Art of Conservation programming!

After a fantastic visit to the school and the Garifuna village, Mark took Lucy, Allison, and I to an art studio called El Aura. The studio itself is a beautiful wooden Caribbean small house with paintings – mostly acrylic – from floor to ceiling.

With artists at El Aura Galeria de Arte in Tela, Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014Honduran artists, Cruz and Lopez, share with Allison and Lucy at El Aura art studio in Tela.

I purchased three small canvas paintings of beach and mangrove scenes which warm my soul during the cold Iowa winter I am experiencing.

Our next stop was just outside the town to the Lancetilla Botanical Garden. The Visitors Center is inspiring. Walls of posters provide excellent information on the biodiversity of the region. The grounds display trees of many species and abundant birds species.

Lancetilla Botanical Gardens in Tela, Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014Informative posters exhibited at Lancetilla Botanical Garden visitors center.

Chills ran down my spin when Mark began telling us about a Honduran environmental activist named Jeanette Kawas. The fate of Ms. Kawas has the unfortunate resemblance of another famous woman who did her best to study and protect the Critically Endangered mountain gorillas, Dian Fossey. Jeanette Kawas was murdered in 1995 for her fight to stop illegal deforestation and to protect the Tela bay region. Two armed men shot her and to this day no one has been arrested for the crime.

Jeannette Kawas National Park. Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014Jeanette Kawas National Park

We arrived at Jeanette Kawas National Park by boat. After jumping onto the beach we hiked through the rainforest, spotted Howler Monkeys, discovered animal tracks, and contemplated the brave acts of a brave woman. If not for her vision, the area could possibly be denuded of its natural beauty and significance and populated with a long string of hotels and development.

Garifuna Tours Guide Mark at Jeannette Kawas NP. Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014Guide Mark explaining so much great information about this special place in the Mesoamerican Region.

Snorkling, strolling on the beach, and a fresh coconut before getting back on the boat to Tela made our day one of my favorites!

Please keep up-to-date on more Art of Conservation & Conservation Heritage – Turambe news with our e-newsletter. Simply send us your name and contact information to [email protected] Thank you!

Forests, Mangroves, Lagoons, and Ocean

From Julie

In our quest to gather as much information as possible during our recent trip to Honduras, Lucy, Allison, and I started our day with more eco-tour activities and visits to local communities. We jumped in the truck with Guide Rolando from Omega Tours and left Pico Bonito National Park for a drive to a place we could put in our sea kayaks.

Kayaking in Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014Arriving at Cacao Lagoon.

A bit more information on the effects of deforestation facing Honduras… In the last four years, it has lost more than 33% of its forests. Illegal logging is probably the easiest place to put the blame. So while mahogany is being smuggled out of the forests and country people living in poverty are also cutting the forests to make some meager means of living.

Offloading kayaks in Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014Rolando offloading kayaks.

Almost 70% of the population is living in poverty. Propane is expensive to purchase which in turn forces families to cut trees for firewood. Loss of forests bring mudslides, erosion, flash floods, and road washouts. Unhealthy practices near watersheds, such as sewage and toxic runoff, is poisoning the water supply. We are told that what is missing is enforcement.

Kayaking in Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014Paddling in the lagoon where it meets the Caribbean Ocean.

On the banks and in the canals of Cacao Lagoon we saw beautiful birds, bats, and monkeys.

Honduras.©Art of Conservation 2014A Boat-billed Heron. Their range is from Mexico to Peru and Brazil.

Howler in Honduras ©Art of Conservation 2014A Howler Monkey on the banks of Cacao Lagoon.

Young guide in Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014Enjoying a picnic on the beach of the Caribbean Ocean with the son of the local man in charge of the lagoon tour.

Lucy, Allison, and I were deeply impressed with our little guide-to-be, the son of the local man in charge of the kayaking tours that works with Rolando. He, his peers, and their communities are just the kind of people we love working with.

Caribbean Ocean in Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014Coming out of the lagoon on the other side we were faced with beautiful Caribbean beaches, ocean, and mountains. Truly spectacular.

Thanks for the wonderful eco-tours Omega Tours!

Please keep up-to-date on more Art of Conservation & Conservation Heritage – Turambe news with our e-newsletter. Simply send us your name and contact information to [email protected] Thank you!

Where Rolando Leads… Lucy, Allison, and I Will Follow

From Julie

You really can’t beat the beauty of Pico Bonito National Park in Honduras. Lucy, Allison, and I arrived by ferry to the city of La Ceiba on the north coast and Caribbean side of the country and quickly made our way to the Omega Tours Eco Jungle Lodge located near the eastern most boundary of the park next to the Cangrejal River.

Silvia and Udo run the lodge offering lovely hospitality and natural beauty everywhere you turn. Having just a day and a half in the area, we were immediately introduced to an equally lovely tour guide… Rolando. Silvia assured us that he was knowledgable about the forest and local communities – which proved positively true. We were joined by Rolando’s grandfather, Alejandro, who at eighty years of age is still strong as an ox.

While ascending foothills in the Nombre de Dios Mountain Range we came upon a huge tree – or at least remnants of a huge tree that is now victim to a strangler fig. Rolando began climbing and of course we followed.

vertical-templatetestWLDGuide Rolando and Lucy climbing a columnar tree.

Honduras ©Art of Conservation 2014Coming out of Nombre de Dios Park, we walk through local communities and ask Rolando many questions. Here we are with Alejandro at a primary school where one of Rolando’s children attends.

Omega Tours in Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014We meet Silvia, Udo, and dog Bullet along the road.

Our next activity was to climb into the low lying tropical rain forest of Pico Bonito toward its cloud forest – or at least as far as El Bejucco Waterfall. The forest is stunning. This is probably the most diverse area in Central America.

The Cangrejal River – Pico Bonito NP ©Art of Conservation 2014We cross the Cangrejal River to enter Pico Bonito National Park. Rolando is in the lead followed by Lucy and Allison.

Pico Bonito, declared a national park in 2006, is the second largest national park in Honduras. The total land area is 1,073 square kilometers with over 270,000 acres of unexplored rain forest.

Waterfall in Pico Bonito NP, Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014Rolando at El Bejucco waterfall.

We were tired, yes, but Rolando was impressed with the three of us and had to believe every word of our gorilla-volcano-hiking stories we shared with him.

The Cangrejal River in Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014Rolando crossing the Cangrejal River.

We were down the mountain and heading back to Omega Lodge with one last cross over of the Cangrejal, this time on a 400-foot-long hanging bridge.

Omega Tours in Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014Click here for more Omega Tours information.

Rolando took us to other wild places the following day. Coming up next!

Please keep up-to-date on more Art of Conservation & Conservation Heritage – Turambe news with our e-newsletter. Simply send us your name and contact information to [email protected] Thank you!

Meeting Mesoamerican Reef Region Partners

From Julie

Soon to call the Mesoamerican Region our new Art of Conservation home, I am busy as ever with stacks of books and multiple tabs open on my computer studying the varied ecosystems found in this place on Earth. Where is this eco-region? It extends from the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula southward toward Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Over the recent winter holidays I was joined by AoC’s Lucy and Allison in Honduras. Our main goal was to meet Jenny Myton of Coral Reef Alliance and her husband, Ian Drysdale, of Healthy Reefs for Healthy People on the island of Roatan, the place they call home. Crazy winter weather nearly usurped this opportunity! Finally Jenny and Ian arrived and all was great.

With Jenny at Roatan. Honduras 2014. ©Art of ConservationOn one of the three Bay Islands – Roatan – in Honduras with Jenny, her dog, and Allison.

Jenny and Ian, a superstar couple with years of dynamic environmental work and advocacy, opened doors for us on Roatan and the north coast mainland outside of the cities of La Ceiba and Tela.

Allison with Ian and dogs. Roatan, Honduras. ©Art of Conservation 2014Ian and Allison with happy dogs.

Lucy, Allison, and I wanted to learn more about the human cultures, indigenous peoples, and ecosystems under stress and to determine if Art of Conservation could be an additive effort in the region. We received such kind and honest openness from everyone we met. And believe me, we drilled anyone who crossed our path with a myriad questions.

Roatan, Honduras. ©Art of ConservationA whole new world appears under the surface of the Caribbean Sea.

Groups of dedicated individuals, organizations, and policy makers put out a report card indicating reef health. Healthy Reefs for Healthy People’s 2012 report is here.

With Christi at Roatan Marine Park. Honduras. ©Art of ConservationLucy with Christi Etches, Director of Community Development at Roatan Marine Park.

Reestablishing destroyed mangroves, initiating recycling programs, and fitting kids with a scuba tank and gear are just a few of the activities Christi Etches conducts in her role as a community leader on Roatan.

Local artist Noah at Rusty Fish on Roatan. ©Art of Conservation 2014Noah, a local artist employed at The Rusty Fish on Roatan shows us art made from recycled materials. has excellent coverage on Honduras.

I think you can see that we met terrific people doing incredible work. I have more to share about Honduras and Art of Conservation’s exciting new global efforts.

Please keep up-to-date on more Art of Conservation & Conservation Heritage – Turambe news with our e-newsletter. Simply send us your name and contact information to [email protected] Thank you!