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ESSE21 Project Design Guide


Location and Background

View of main visitor center of the  Cuero y Salado Wildlife RefugeThe Cuero y Salado wildlife refuge (C&SR map) is located 33 km. (17 miles) west of the city of La Ceiba (map) on the Caribbean coast of northern Honduras (satellite image). It has an area of approximately 13,225 hectares. In July 2001Jerry Wylie of the USDA Forest Service carried out a consultancy and estimated 58% of the refuge was humid forests, 38% lagoons or estuaries, and the remaining 4% rivers and canals. The photo at left shows the new visitor center of C&SR in 2005.

Pico Bonito National Park (FUPNAPIB) is a stunningly beautiful mountain reserve upstream from Cuero y Salado and is one of the most signifcant rain and cloud forest reserves remaining in the region (see photo at left of the highest mountain peak in the park). Learn more about cloud forests in general HERE.

That both reserves are so close to growing urban areas such as La Ceiba--(see also HERE)--now the third largest city in Honduras--makes them both very attractive for tourism as well as potentially threatened by human-environmental degradation. Together, the two reserves present great cases for an analysis that exemplifies perfectly a concept that has become central to recent coastal zone management (CZM) practice in the Caribbean. This is often refered to as integrated river basin management or Ridge-to-Reef (see the Jamaica Ridge to Reef Watershed Project). See some of the World Bank documents which explain the methods and practice today. In simple terms, of course, it means holistic analysis and management from the highest ridge line downstream to the coastal plains, wetlands and lagoons, and on out to the off-shore reef zone.

Recently WRI (World Resources Institute) carried out a major study for the Mesoamerican Reef Alliance known as the ICRAN MAR partnership entitled: Watershed Analysis for the Mesoamerican Reef - see maps, charts and images HERE. It presents excellent research data and other documents and trends on this critical global coastal zone.


LLU student and professor unearthing a manatee  at Cuero y Salado refugeEndangered fauna in C&SR include crocodile, caiman and a small population of manatee. Some Loma Linda University students and faculty--Stephen Dunbar, Daniel Gonzalez, Robert Ford, and Marie-Lys Bacchus carried out studies of the Manatee in Honduras and Belize.

The photo at the left shows Marie-Lys and Stephen Dunbar unearthing for curation and mounting in the new visitor center, the skeleton of an adult manatee buried for over five years at the Cuero y Salado preserve - March 2005.

C&SR also has a great variety of migratory and residential birds, with some 196 species reported. Other fauna include Howler Monkeys, White Faced Monkeys, Jaguars, Ocelots, Anteaters, Iguanas, River and Sea Turtles, and a great diversity of fish.

Selected Publications Released:

Daniel Gonzalez-Socoloske, Leon D. Olivera-Gomez, Robert E. Ford. Detection of free-ranging West Indian manatees Trichechus manatus using side-scan sonar. ENDANGERED SPECIES RESEARCH. Vol. 8: 249–257, 2009.

DISTRIBUTION, HABITAT USAGE AND RELATIVE ABUNDANCE OF ANTILLEAN MANATEE (TRICHECHUS MANATUS MANATUS) ON THE NORTH COAST OF HONDURAS. This publication was produced for review by the United States Agency for International Development. It was prepared by the technical team Daniel Gonzalez-Socoloske, Saul R. Flores Rivera, Cynthia Taylor, and Robert E. Ford for International Resources Group (IRG).


ESSE Design Guide - Results and lessons learned from 15 years work by 57 universities on Earth System Science Education NASA Project including work by myself and my students, e.g. see for instance under



Early C&SR and PBNP History

The area comprised within today's Cuero y Salado Reserve and much of the surrounding region including PBNP, by 1899 was part of the Standard Fruit Company's concessionary land domain in Honduras--a true banana republic--see photos below. Note the high stand of coconut trees in the background--this was a primary product from this "company" tract of land until recent times after a Caribbean-wide infection killed most trees in the region. Those seen today are a new "resistant" variety but most have not yet achieved the stature or productivity of the past.

That the PBNP remains today largely "pristine" forest reserve is due primarily to the fact that the land was too steep for banana, coconut, or other industrial agriculture plantations, and it was early recognized as the prime "water source" for downstream irrigation needs as well as urban demands. In a sense, early land concessions by the Honduras government to Standard Fruit Company protected the core land areas that are now under protection within the parks and wildlife refuge, though the "political" issues of essentially giving extraterritorial sovereignty to a foreign corporation fed much of the 19-20th century "anti-Yankee" feelings that still exist in much of Central and South America. See for instance the history of the Panama Canal or attemtps to build one in Nicaragua which to this day raises heated political debate in the region.

Standard Fruit Company archival photo from the 1920s showing barge at Cuero y Salado with visitors/early tourists.

Read more about the "company's" tumultous history in:

Kymberley Snarr, a research scientist and Ph.D candidate from the University of Toronto who has been studying howler monkeys in CySR and helped locate early archival photos above that show early "tourists" visiting the area. Even today there are buildings remaining from the days the "company" had a guest house and private airstrip at Salado Barra--we will explore some of that later in a virtual tour. See also the Banana Republic's history--the United Fruit Company--from Wikipedia.

The 'Frisco' Vocational School

Outside of Cuero y Salado in the buffer areas to the refuge are several small communities and institutions of importance to agricultural development and research the region. Some have interesting links to the Standard Fruit Company and rural development in the region. These include:

Fundacion Hondurena para la Investigacion Agricola (FHIA) - their CEDEC (cocoa research station).

Fundacion Hondurena para la Investigacion Agricola (FHIA) is an institution that specializes in humid tropical agricultural production research--particularly on bananas. One of its most important field stations is located near La Masica along the Tela/La Ceiba highway--FHIA-CEDEC. It specializes in cacao/cocoa production. The satellite image online quiz--see Point #9--shows some of its experimental fields.




Main entry area for the Escuela Agropecuaria John F. Kennedy (Escuela Nacional Experimental Agropecuaria de la Region Tropical Húmeda)  showing statue of John F. Kennedy.The Escuela Agropecuaria John F. Kennedy (Escuela Nacional Experimental Agropecuaria de la Region Tropical Húmeda) is also very important to the region and works closely with Cuero y Salado on natural resource management and rural development extension.

This institution started out as a private agricultural school in 1948 and due to economic competition and other encounters with the Standard Fruit Company was sold to the government about 1953. It then became a Normal School--a center for teacher training--until about 1965 when it became the tropical agricultural technical school which it is today. It's current history dates back to the Alliance for Progressunder President John F. Kennedy, from which the school gets its name. See article about agricultural extension training for women in Central America tested and promulgated at this school.

If you look on the satellite images in the online quiz (Image #1 and Point No. #6) you will see the small community of San Francisco, Atlantida to the southeast of the large industrial African Oil Palm plantation (CAICESA)--see also the TOPO MAP. Note the Campo de Balonpie (soccer field) on the campus seen on the map.


The author of the module (Robert Ford) at age 3-4 at the  Frisco Vocacional School - years before it became the  Escuela Agropecuaria John F. Kennedy .Robert Ford and his mother (Venessa Standish Ford) circa 1950 at the Frisco Vocacional School. Robert Ford along the old Standard Fruit Company line in 1988 by the entrance to the  Escuela Agropecuaria John F. Kennedy (Escuela Nacional Experimental Agropecuaria de la Region Tropical Húmeda).

Early mule cart transportation to and from La Ceiba from the  Frisco Vocacional School .Early group of male students (circa 1950) at the Frisco Vocacional School.Main administrative building of the  Frisco Vocacional School circa 1948.






Robert E. Ford the principal author of this module spent part of his early childhood at the Frisco Vocacional & Normal School as it was known then--see photos above. Robert Ford is three years old in the early photos above and the later one (right) shows him in 1994 when he visited it for the first time since childhood. Can you find the community and school on the satellite image?

Note that the school was once right on the main Standard Fruit Company railroad line. That line was ripped out after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 when most of the bridges washed out. Nevertheless, its location and focus--humid tropical agricultural research and extension --continues today.

The early school (built around 1948) was constructed of wood with a tin roof following the architectural style of many early "fruit company" buildings before air-conditioning. The early structure lasted until the early 1960s when new cement buildings replaced the old. The original structure was sited about 100 yards from the statue to JFK in the main entry.

Robert Elden Ford (Sr.) - father of this module author standing by some of the papaya plants produced at the Frisco Vocacional School.Robert Elden Ford (Sr.) and his son Robert Ford (Jr.) father of this module author standing by some of the pineapple plants produced at the Frisco Vocacional School.Modern pineapple fields and agricultural workers and machinery in fields owned and operated by Dole Pinneaple (2004).









Agricultural production on the early school farm and even today is very good! Note the large size of the pre-hybrid pineapples grown in the region as well as the papayas--the gentleman next to the papaya plants is Dr. Ford's father around 1950. This era of agriculture was done largely by hand and with a horse and oxen for plowing. This was long before the modern Dole Pineapple operations with its machine harvesting and planting. Old timers still feel these early pineapple and papaya varieties (and many others) tasted better though they were more perishable. The traditional varieties seen in the early photos are very hard to find today.

Modern Status of the C&SR

Old "mule"--small RR engine once used by Standard Fruit Company to haul agricultural products from former fields in Cuero y Salado.  Background is closeup of the new visitor center at the refuge.The modern refuge was established in 1987 for the purpose of protecting manatees and their coastal wetland and forest habitats. Under the administration of the Ministry of Natural Resources, responsibility for technical management was allocated to the Cuero y Salado wildlife refuge (C&SR map)in 1989, with technical and financial assistance from the United Nations Program for Development, the Honduras Institute for Tourism, U.S. Agency for International Development, and numerous international conservation organizations. FUCSA is one of seven protected areas along the north coast of honduras that belong to a larger network known as REHDES (Red Ecologista Hondureña para el Desarrollo Sostenible).

FUCSA’s programs at the Refuge include wardening, environmental education, research, and ecotourism. Currently, FUCSA has an on-site staff of ? park guards and? interpretive guides and it has a new Visitor's Center just completed this year (2005) which is soon to be inaugurated (photo at left). Note the historic old railcar (narrow gauge) that is still the primary transport to the C&SR "jump-off point at Salado Barra. You will learn a lot more about Cuero y Salado and its landscape when you take the Virtual Tour.

Modern Status of the PBNP

Closeup view from a helicopter of Pico Bonito one of the most striking peaks in the National Park by that same name.The area enclosed within the Pico Bonito National Park (FUPNAPIB) was once also part of the territorial concession given to the Standard Fruit Company. In 1974 several professors at CURLA (Centro Universitario Regional del Litoral Atlántico)--the regional campus of UNAH, the National Autonomous University of Honduras--first proposed it become a reserve. But it was not legally protected until 1977 by the Dirección de Recursos Naturales Renovables (RENARE). The park is located in the Nombre de Dios cordillera or mountain chain which rises like a wall behind the narrow coastal plain in this part of Atlántida and Yoro--the departments or states on this part of the North Coast. See Topo Map of the La Ceiba region showing the dramatic landscape.

This protected area is one of the largest in the country--107,300 hectares--and within the park are found several distinct altitudinal life zones that rise from near sea-level to almost 2500 meters within a few miles. In fact the local relief seen on this part of the Atlantic coast is one of the most dramatic seen anywhere in Mesoamerica. And as one would expect, the biodiversity of flora and fauna in the park is world class (see photo at left above). In its forest one can still find the elusive jaguar, colorful toucans, and rainforest plant species of all types (see more at Pico Bonito National Park (FUPNAPIB)). Learn more about cloud forests in general HERE.



Land Use/Land Cover Change

Following are on-the-ground and aerial photo tours of both reserves as well as surrounding human-impacted landscapes. The purpose of the tour is to give you a virtual view of the different types of land classes that you will encounter in your interpretation of satellite imagery. This will be essential as you move from an unsupervised to a supervised classification. It will also give you a tourist's or specialist view of ecology, agriculture, forestry, human-impacts, and other land uses or land covers that are visible today.






More on the ESSE21 Projects (Undergraduate Earth System Science Education for the 21st Century) - A Design Guide for Undergraduate Earth System Science Education:

iconExtract & Summary from: ESSE21 "Vignette"--LLU's Problem Based Learning Experience in Honduras:

QUOTE: Loma Linda University is currently working with several field partners in Honduras and Belize—local, regional, and global NGOs, government, and university entities— to do field-level analysis and mitigation of hazards, assessment of biodiversity resources, and other analyses of "sustainability" and Earth system science (ESS) problems that affect the coastal and insular zone of northern Mesoamerica, particularly on the North Coast of Honduras, including the Bay Islands, Mosquitia and Eastern Honduras, the La Ceiba/North Coast region, and the Pacific Coast (Golfo de Fonseca/Southern Honduras). Problem-based learning is at the core of our approach.

We emphasize providing opportunities for joint student/faculty and local-level partnering on real-world science, policy, and place-based
problems related to human impacts on natural systems such as reefs, estuaries, deltas, savannas, mangrove swamps, rivers, beaches, and forests in protected areas managed by the forestry agency of Honduras. Our students and faculty work with Honduran partners both in collecting and analyzing field data in and around the C&SR.



Photo at left--an example of learning-on-the-job on one of our trips to Honduras in July/August 2006; other fieldtrips were done in 2007-2008..

Background: After a joint GPS Workshop to teach integration of GPS with Remote Sensing and GIS our partners were able for the first time to combine field GPS data and satellite imagery to document incursions into the protected area that resulted in deforestation of 61 hectares of land. You can see some of participants using GPS in the field in the photo at the left. Our local partner, FUCSA, with ESSE21 graduate students and the chief ranger, created simple maps by superimposing waypoints on a Landsat image. The background image for the map was used in our earlier workshop in April to introduce NGO workers to Remote Sensing.

Here is a map from another summer survey (2007)--Properties of Interest Map for Inclusion in the Protected Area. It was used in proposals FUCSA produced to submit to The Nature Conservancy and other donors to search for funds expand "protection" of lands within the reserve fromf existing legal and illeagal farming and forest cutting.

See other photos and publications from the ESSE21 field projects in Honduras and Belize--PROJECTS NO 1 and 2 below:

Project No. 1: The Golfo de Fonseca Herpetofauna Biodiversity Survey with USAID/MIRA--The Pacific Dry Forest Zone:


Selected ESSE21 Field Project Photos:

Lovich Herp Team Herp collaborators Garrobo
GPS Finding snakes Snake
Norman Specimens Ladies

Select ESSE21 Field Publications Released:

Lovich, R.E., T.S. Akre, M. J. Ryan, N.J. Scott, and R.E. Ford. 2006. Herpetofaunal survey of Cerro Guanacaure, Montaña La Botija and Isla Del Tigre protected areas in southern Honduras. Report prepared for the United States Agency for International Development. 33pp.

ROBERT E. LOVICH, THOMAS AKRE, MASON RYAN, SOFIA NUÑEZ, GUSTAVO CRUZ, GERARDO BORJAS, NORMAN J. SCOTT, SAUL FLORES, WILBIRTH DEL CID, ADAN FLORES, CESAR RODRIGUEZ, ILEANA R. LUQUE-MONTES, ROBERT FORD. New Herpetofaunal Records from Southern Honduras. Herpetological Review, 2010, 41(1), 112–115. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.



Project No. 2: The ESSE21 Manatee Field Projects in Belize and Honduras with USAID/MIRA, the Sirenian Society & USGS--More on the ESSE21 Grant HERE.


Select ESSE21 Field Project Photos:

Field Data in Cuero Manatee Belize  
Daniel and croc Manatee survey Belize  
Cuero boat Manatee Skeleton Manatee Aerial survey

Project. directed by Daniel Gonzalez-Socoloske and Robert Ford. MAPS and SATELLITE IMAGERY (CURRENTLY OFF-LINE). See select reports and presentations below.

Select ESSE21 Publications Released:

Daniel Gonzalez-Socoloske, Leon D. Olivera-Gomez, Robert E. Ford. Detection of free-ranging West Indian manatees Trichechus manatus using side-scan sonar. ENDANGERED SPECIES RESEARCH. Vol. 8: 249–257, 2009. The following supplement accompanies the article above - FIGURES.

DISTRIBUTION, HABITAT USAGE AND RELATIVE ABUNDANCE OF ANTILLEAN MANATEE (TRICHECHUS MANATUS MANATUS) ON THE NORTH COAST OF HONDURAS. This publication was produced for review by the United States Agency for International Development. It was prepared by the technical team Daniel Gonzalez-Socoloske, Saul R. Flores Rivera, Cynthia Taylor, and Robert E. Ford for International Resources Group (IRG).

ESSE Design Guide - Results and lessons learned from 15 years work by 57 universities on Earth System Science Education NASA Project including work by myself and my students, e.g. see for instance under INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCES:





Assessment and Photography of Arthropods of Honduras:



Water Resources and Coastal Zone Management Activities

Maps and satellite Imagery (CURRENTLY OFF-LINE)


Work done by Serene Ong of the University of Redlands and staff of the UNAH-OACS** (National University of Honduras, Astronomical Observatyory) and its Remote Sensing and GIS program led by Rafael Corrales, as well as the new Disaster Mitigation Masters program at UNAH led by Nabil Kawas and staff with support from USGS (Eric van Praag) , UNEP-WCMP (Lera Miles), and WRI (World Resources Institute) Lauretta Burke and Zachary Zugg). See WRI study on Watershed Analysis for the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.

**UNAH (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras), Department of Biological Sciences with the GIS/RS program based at the National Astronomical Observatory at the university (UNAH) Observatorio Astronomico Centroamericano de Suyapa.


Fishing Zones Mapping in support of fishermen in Salado Barra and Boca Cerrada (Cuero y Salado Reserve):



ICONMapping, GIS/RS Training, and Analysis



Landuse / Landcover Analysis (LULC) analysis and training, e.g. workshops, remote sensing, etc. Created ESSE21 LULC (Landuse/Landcover Learning Module (2005-2007)

handArcGIS SERVER - Interactive Map (NO LONGER ONLINE)

  • Webmapping of Trails and Ecotourism Services (Design of prototype websites) with a University of Redlands Student Chisa Nishii.

  • GPS and field-work by Robert Ford and David Nguyen, University of California, Irvine) and students and staff of CURLA (La Ceiba) under guidance of Leonardo Mejia (professor).
  • Ecotourism Services (ESRI-ArcGIS Server) Interactive map of Pico Bonito Park and Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge and the La Ceiba, Honduras area by Chisa Nishii.

  • Terrestrial and Aquatic Trails of Pico Bonito Park and Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge done by Robert Ford and other students and collaborators (see below).



handEcotourism Maps by Robert Ford and Tim Wolff (Loma Linda University):


handSupport to proposal-writing by FUCSA:

Helped the Cuero y Salado Foundation seek funding from TNC (The Nature Conservancy) to purchase private lands and easements to increase protection of critical habitats within the reserve.



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Revised: Robert E. Ford, November 9, 2012







































































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