Harboring more rainforest than all of Central America, it had escaped notice. Now Asian timber firms were outbidding each other to clear nearly 20 percent of the nation's terrain.
But CI made a counterproposal. Why not break the unfortunate global tradition of liquidating tropical forest
assets for the benefit of a handful of major international logging
companies? Why not instead follow a new path of conservation-based development by conserving these precious resources? CI's idea was to link the three largest existing protected areas in the country's interior, creating a much larger reserve covering an undisturbed area close to the size of the U.S. state of New Jersey.
In 1998, the government of Suriname
made a historic decision. It set aside nearly 10 percent of the country's territory as the Central Suriname Nature Reserve (CSNR) and committed to a future of environmentally sustainable development.
"Suriname has chosen a new development path more appropriate to the 21st century," sums up CI President Russ Mittermeier, "by demonstrating that a nation can benefit economically by protecting rain forests rather than destroying them. The country has recognized that these forests have much more value for biodiversity and the incredibly important ecosystem services they provide than for minimal short-term gain."
Instead of providing a one-time timber boom, the area is being managed as a wilderness reserve – with plans to make it the cornerstone of a thriving ecotourism
sector for Suriname. CI is working with communities
skirting the reserve, and throughout the country, to create a variety of conservation-based livelihoods yielding economic benefits for the long term.
With one of the lowest population densities on Earth, Suriname is one of the least disturbed-and least explored-countries on the planet. No one lives in the CSNR except for research, tourism and management staff. The only significant signs of humanity are three small, grass airstrips and the nearby facilities.
The value of the CSNR comes not only from tens of thousands of species
protected. Just as significant is the fact that the park is so large and so unsullied by human influence that ecological systems – the water cycle, nutrient cycles and evolution itself – continue here as they have for eons. Such a large wilderness area
presents a rare opportunity to study natural processes as they occur without human influence.
On announcing the reserve's creation, the former president of Suriname, Jules Wijdenbosch, stated, "We are happy to invest in nature because by protecting tropical forest, we are protecting this planet."
Since the park's establishment, CI has been working with the government, partners, communities and the public and private sectors to develop a management plan for the reserve. The plan details a shared vision for the reserve as a model for resource stewardship while creating social and economic value.
In 2000, CI, the GEF, the United Nations Foundation and UNDP founded the Suriname Conservation Foundation (SCF) with an initial endowment of $8 million. With an additional commitment of $3.4 million from GEF if the SCF raises matching funds by 2004, the SCF is expected to grow to $15 million. This sum complements the $3.33 million that CI helped secure from the GEF in 1999 to support protected area management planning and capacity building. Led by a board of directors representing a range of Suriname and international organizations, the SCF provides long-term financial support for the CSNR and other protected areas in Suriname.
In 2002, CI hosted a conservation priority-setting workshop, bringing over 200 regional and international experts to Suriname. Together they worked to identify areas most critical for biodiversity conservation across the entire Guayana Shield, the northernmost portion of the Amazonia
high-biodiversity wilderness area.
In recognition of its global importance, the CSNR was named a World Heritage Site in 2000.
Central Suriname Nature Reserve
4 million acres (1.6 million hectares)
High-biodiversity wilderness area:
Global Environment Facility (GEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Foundation, Richard & Rhoda Goldman Fund, CI's Global Conservation Fund, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Other major partners:
Government of Suriname