Suriname was ahead of the curve when it cordoned off what is now some of the world’s largest tracts of unspoiled tropical forest.
In 1998, as proof of its commitment to environmentally-friendly development, the government set aside 10 percent of land — about the size of New Jersey — and created the Central Suriname Nature Reserve. Two years later, UNESCO named the reserve a World Heritage Site. It has remained pristine because the only people who live there are the ones who manage it. In total, Suriname has 12 nature reserves, approximately 14 percent of the land area, and four Multiple Use Management Areas with the goal to preserve the biodiversity.
That’s not unlike the rest of Suriname, which is thickly forested but thinly populated. Much of the countryside is unexplored — a major boon to conservationists.
The “big game” of Amazonia — like the Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), Lowland Tapir (Tapirus terrestris), Giant Armadillo (Priodontes maximus) and the American Manatee (Trichechus manatus) — threatened elsewhere — are still abundant, because large parts of their habitat is still intact and undisturbed. The threatened Blue Poison Frog (Dendrobates azureus) can only be found in some of the forest islands in the Sipaliwini savanna in the south of Suriname and is one of the more than 100 IUCN threatened species that occur in Suriname.
Frogs (Atelopus spp.) with fluorescent purple spots were among dozens of startling discoveries made during our recent surveys of two plateaus south of the capital Paramaribo. Besides finding 24 potentially new species, our scientists were the first in more than 50 years to see an armored catfish (Harttiella crassicauda) that was believed extinct.
While the surveys only scratched the surface of what’s hidden, they exposed just how much there is to lose in these unprotected sites.
Small-scale mining is already affecting the two plateaus and threatens similar harm to other forests around Suriname. When undertaken without due care, mining can degrade water quality within a region’s extensive system of waterways and reservoirs. That, in turn, degrades fragile ecosystems.