The Central Suriname Nature Reserve (CSNR) protects some of the most remote, ancient, and pristine wilderness on Earth. Within its boundaries, an area the size of New Jersey, are countless varieties of flora and fauna, many of them endemic. This Amazonian reserve was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. It is located near the center of the world's largest remaining tract of tropical rain forest
wilderness, one of the most important conservation regions
on Earth. As soon as mid-2006, the CSNR may also become one of the most important vehicles for economic growth in Suriname
Rather than sell the country's forests to the highest-bidding timber companies, the Surinamese government made a commitment in 1998 to protect the forests and explore the long-term economic benefits of sustainable development and ecotourism
. Conservation International (CI) joined Suriname to help design, fund, and promote this effort to carefully blend biodiversity conservation and economic opportunity.
Seven years later, the uniquely constructed tourist facilities on Foengoe Island, tucked neatly within the CSNRare poised to become a premier destination for ecotourism in the Guayana Shield, the massive, two billion-year-old geological formation that underlies five countries in northeastern South America
The centerpiece of Foengoe Island is a three-story, 150-foot-long visitor's center. It is the largest building ever constructed in the interior of Suriname. The open-style pavilion exemplifies the international, environmental, and conservation standards to which ecotourism projects are held. Overlooking dramatic rapids in the Coppename River, it features solar-powered generators and state-of-the-art potable water and septic systems.
To minimize the environmental impacts of building a large facility in such an ecologically sensitive location, the visitor's center is being constructed entirely from local materials using traditional techniques. Visitors will enjoy high-quality accommodations without sacrificing the beauty of the reserves natural surroundings.
Its being built like historic buildings were, framed with large pieces of timber held together with wooden pins, explains Chuck Hutchinson, senior director for conservation and tourism planning at CI. All of the timber pieces were prepared and cut ahead of time, moved 100 miles upstream in dugout canoes, and assembled on the island.
In November 2005, a team of CI Suriname and local workerswith the help of professional timber framers, will lift the assembled timber frames to complete construction of the pavilion, like a traditional barn-raising. "There's a history of this kind of construction in Suriname," says Hutchinson, "but nothing like it has been built here for more than 100 years."
Preserving Natural and Cultural Resources
A former Dutch colony, Suriname gained its independence in 1975. It is home to less than 500,000 people, most of whom live along the northern coastline, and a vibrant mix of ethnicities and cultures. Approximately 37 percent of the population descends from Indian immigrants from the late 19th century. Other prominent ethnic groups include Amerindian, Chinese, Creole, Javanese, and Maroondescendants of African slaves who escaped captivity in the 17th and 18th centuries. The construction and design of the tourist facilities on Foengoe Island not only preserve and showcase Suriname's natural heritage, but also this historic cultural heritage.
Along with the visitors center, Foengoe Island also features private forest bungalows and clustered rooms with riverfront decks, as well as hostel-style lodges. All were constructed from native Surinamese materials and were designed and built with the help of local and indigenous populations.
"Throughout the Foengoe Island facilities, we've used styles from various parts of the country and expertise from various cultures," says Hutchinson. "Some of the woven wall mats are Javanese, for example, made by Javanese craftspeople in the capital city, Paramaribo."
For the roofs of the bungalows, CI consulted a team of Tirio indigenous people from southern Suriname who are skilled in making thatched roofs for circular and semi-circular buildings.
Sustainable Development in the Wild
The CSNR is one of the most remote protected areas in the world. "The nearest population to its northern boundary are two Maroon communities, and they're more than 15 miles downstream," Hutchinson explains. One of those communities has less than 20 residents, and in the other, about 100.
The densely forested reserve teems with wildlife, including the brilliant orange Guianian Cock of the Rock (Rupicola rupicola
), giant river otter (Pteronura brasiliensis
), giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla
), giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus
), harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja
), and jaguar (Panthera onca
Tourism is the worlds largest industry, accounting for some 10 percent of the global economy. CI is working with the people of Suriname to conserve and cultivate the country's unspoiled wilderness as a viable economic alternative to logging
. When paired with thoughtful and successful conservation strategies, tourism can help spur a countrys economy while protecting biodiversity.
"Our long-term goal is to see Suriname base its economic development not on resource extraction, but on ecotourism. We believe this country could support much larger conservation areas, but for that to happen, there must be tangible benefits for the country and its people," explains CI President Russell A. Mittermeier.
Wim Udenhout, executive director of CI Surname, adds, "There is real potential to establish ecotourism as a leading economic driver in Suriname, much like in Costa Rica. The more the Surinamese people benefit from the investment we have made in Foengoe Island, the more incentive there will be to protect the CSNR and the rest of Surinames incredible natural heritage."