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Virtual Tour - Image No. 1: Cuero y Salado

Before doing the virtual tour review the materials in Step No. 1 (Pedagogical Background). Then start by clicking on points No. 1-10 to learn more about each training site; visit all or any of the points in any order to learn more. This will give you background for doing a supervised classification exercise as explained in the LAB GUIDE. Compare what you see here with what you did in the PRETEST back in Step No. 1 (Pedagogical Background).

QUIZ Image No. 1 - Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge  (western image)  showing ten "training sites" for exploring via the virtual tour.

Hi-resolution images (without numbers): Image No. 1 - Cuero y Salado
See also Landsat-Infrared and Topographic map #1 and Topo #2**

Stop #1

Dirt road that goes straight north from the main Tela/La Ceiba highway through Dole pineapple fields to intersect with a larger road at the small settlement of El Gancho. Intensively farmed Dole pineapple fields with Pico Bonito National Park on mountains in the background.

Truck and ranger working for REHDES--one of NGOs managing the protected areas along the north coast. Intensively farmed Dole pineapple fields and tractor and trailer with field workers. Dole Pineapple container for shipping agricultural products abroad.


Note the dirt road that goes straight north from the main Tela/La Ceiba highway through intensively farmed Dole pineapple fields to intersect with a larger road at the small settlement of El Gancho. This road comes in from the east from the coastal village of El Porvenir. Before the paved Tela/La Ceiba highway was built back in the 1970s this was the main road between La Ceiba and San Francisco, La Masica and Tela.

Turning west along this road one goes through the hamlet of Caceres and scattered roadside homesteads to reach the larger settlement of La Union. This is the terminus of the railroad spur that takes one to the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge and its visitor center at Barra Salado (see Topo Map #1) and Stop #3. Note on the topo map (which dates to the 1980s) it still shows the tracks of the main Standard Fruit Company railroad line. But in fact, the railroad has largely disappeared; most of it was abandoned or destroyed (except for the spur line to Cuero y Salado) due to the effects of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 (see San Francisco on Topo Map #1). See also Stop #6 and see again the Introduction to this case study and the discussion about the former 'Frisco School' which is now the JFK School of Agriculture.

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Stop #2

Small "mule" train engine laving La Union - terminus of narrow gauge RR that takes passengers to Cuero y Salado Refuge.Closeup of visitor center at Cuero y Salado and "mule" train engine. Local people use poles to push small raicars on the RR train to Cuero y Salado.

Terminus of spur RR-line to Cuero y Salado. Sign on station at La Union - train station leading to Cuero y Salado. Local home in Barra Salado - small community at terminus of train line.  Many homes still have thatch roofs like this one.


The narrow gauge railroad which is still the only way to travel from the station at La Union to the community of Barra Salado. The train has been restored for tourism purposes and serves as the principal mode of transport for both locals and tourists to the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge and its new visitor center inaugurated in 2005 (see Topo Map #1 and Stop #3 below). Local entrepreneurs use hand-pushed mules rather than the few motorized mules (mini-railroad cars) that Standard Fruit Company still runs (along with the government) to extract produce from lands they still manage as well as transport ecotourists. Coconut production has been greatly reduced since the late 1980s due to a Caribbean-wide virus that killed off most of the coconut palm trees in the region (see more about this at Stop #4 below).

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Stop #3

  Stephen Dunbar (marine biologist) and Cuero y Salado rangers in speed boat on the Salado river and estuary. Former Standard Fruit Company guest house at Barra Salado which is in the process of being restored.

Daniel Gonzalez--LLU student studying manatees--beside a large crocodile found dead in the reserve.
Aerial view of the small community of Barra Salado where the Cuero y Salado visitor center and other facilities are located.Aerial view looking north down to the mouth of the Salado river showing the narrow spit and sandbar as well as the end of the RR line.


The main settlement of Barra Salado is the jump-off point for the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge which can be seen above. This is also the terminus of the narrow-gauge railroad which had its origin at La Union. From here one can take guided trips by boat into the wildlife refuge, or one can hike a few ot the new self-guided nature trails being developed by park planners as we speak. Birding is very important here--see Birding in Honduras.

The building with the green roof seen in the aerial image right next to the water's edge is the new visitor's center which was completed in 2005 with World Bank funds. Some of the other buildings visible behind (the white structures) include the school, clinic, labs, and guest quarters for the park managers, visiting scientists and there are a few homes and businesses. There are a few remaining Standard Fruit Company structures that are now abandoned (see photo above). One was the guest house and fishing camp headquarters for visiting executives who flew in to the airstrip or who came by boat.

Scattered among the trees on both sides of the Salado River are a few local homesteads. Most people who live here make their living from fishing and mixed subsistence farming. But with the arrival of the wildlife preserve, ecotourism and related land management activities have grown in importance. The wildlife refuge is a multi-use preserve which means that land managers must both protect wildlife and habitat as well as manage some continued subsistence farming, forest gathering, fishing and other livelihood pursuits.

Most current and potential conflicts or policy differences in reserve management arise over competing needs for both multiple use livelihood extraction activities by local residents and some external poachers and the biodiversity and ecosystem protection goals legally setup with the establishment of the preserve in 1987. Complete accommodation is yet to be achieved between both economic goals and resource sustainability. Nevertheless, park management entity--FUCSA (Fundación Cuero y Salado) is working diligently on achieveing this goal with its government, academic, and NGOs partners such as REHDES and others (including the LLU-ESSE21 Mesoamerica Project team).

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Stop #4

Closeup of backdune vegetation reestablishing itself on the former airstrip built by the fruit company decades ago. Forebeach area near Barra Salado showing surf and considerable debris on the beach left by Hurricane Gama in November 2005.

Aerial view showing ball/soccer field on what was formerly the airstrip at Barra Salado.Closer view of former airstrip and reestabkishing native vegetation.  Much of this land behind the dunes was formerly coconut plantation (in the 1920-60s).


Notice the community soccer field (right-hand photo) behind the small settlement of Barra Salado (see Stop #3). The field is on what was formerly a small grass airstrip used by fruit company executives who would come to rest, fish, and relax at the Standard Fruit Company guest house located here.

Note that the current vegetation cover is quite sparse. There are a few scattered coconut trees but they are still young. See the archival photo in the Introduction of early 20th century tourists at Barra Salado which shows the extensive early 1900's coconut groves that once existed. Even the current Topo Map #1 still shows where the coconut groves were at one time. The fruit company and C&SR are trying to replant coconuts back away from the beachfront areas using new virus-resistant varieties. But most of these new trees are small and locals say they are not as tasty as the earlier varieties.

The linear barrier beach dunes visible here are covered with sparse native grass vegetation and some scrub behind the immediate beach front (see photos above). Right behind the beach are examples of vegetation that is typical of barrier dunes and beaches, e.g. Caribbean seagrape, beach vines, etc. The natural vegetation cover is beginning to come back though much of this landscape has been severaly altered by both Hurricane Mitch of 1998 and the abandonement of the coastal coconut groves after the virus attacked in the 1980s. The reserve is starting reseeding in some areas and allowing much of it to regrow into natural cover. The large amount of debris seen on the beach in the top right photo is from Hurricane Gama of November-December 2005.

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Stop #5

Primary lowland, broadleaf tropical rainforest seen from the air (helicopter low-lwvwl view) along the main canal joining Barra Cuerro and Barra Salado. Higher oblique aerial view of the canal and the estuary at Barra Cuerro.


On Topo Map #1 as well as in the aerial photos and satellite imagery you can see quite distinctly that this part of the reserve has the most extensive, lush, primary, lowland broadleaf rainforest remaining. Note the density of tree-cover and diversity of species observable along the small canal (photo above) which is the water link between Barra Salado (the visitor center area) and the Barra de Cuero.

The estuary at Barra Cuero is the deepest and most isolated area remaining in the park and this is where the manatee are most likely to be seen--see LLU Manatee Project. At Stop #8 below you can see images from the ground and air of the mouth of the Cuero river and the ranger shack located there. Note also some of the local homesteads and some recent bush-burning that occurred just across the estuary from the ranger station.

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Stop #6:

Close-up on the ground of the African oil palm plantation of CAESESA showing some of the large clusters of seed pods. Aerial view of the African oil palm plantation of CAESESA.Aerial view of the African oil palm plantation of CAESESA with the processing plant in the background.


One of the most visible forest-cover types can be seen in the satellite image of this area. Once you recognize the spectral signature you will find it elsewhere as well as in this Case Study. Note that this is not a natural forest type but is an agricultural forest cover (permaculture)--specifically an African Oil Palm plantation.

In the center of the large plantation you can see the processing factory as well--CAECESA. Note also the layout of the roads and other features that indicate this is designed for industrial agriculture. The palm trees, after planting, take about four years before they start producing (see the large pods of seeds in the photo above) and see the aerial image showing a part of the plantation which has been replanted. After some years of production they must be replanted because of lower productivity. This is very much a permanent/semi-permanent cropping system, and not typical field cropping like the pineapple plantations seen at Stop #1.

Question: So how would you classify this type of land cover even though it is an agricultural land use? What else about this spectral signature tells you that this is a human landscape and not a natural forest cover?

What differences do you anticipate in terms of biodiversity, erosion and other floristic or faunal characteristics in this type of forest that will be quite different from the primary forest at Stop #5?


Stop #7

Estero Garcia--dense primary riparian mangrove forest cover.Estero Garcia from a low-level helicopter.


A tiger Heron along the banks in Estero Garcia. View of small boat and tourists next to large well-structured mangrove forest. Another aerial view of Estero Garcia where the Salado river enters. Note also the low scrub vegetation behind the riverbank/riparian gallery, mangrove forest.


The Estero de Garcia area of the Cuero y Salado Reserve (see Topo Map #1) is located upriver a short few minutes by guided tour from the Visitor Center (see Stop #3). This is an area of pristine magrove forests (see left photo above) where Caiman, birds of all types (note the Tiger Heron above--left bottom) and many other bidoviersity treasures can be observed. See more about birds here at Birding in Honduras.

Note also the aerial view of Estero Garcia (right top photo) where the Salado river enters; the low scrub vegetation behind the riverbank/riparian gallery mangrove forest is typical of area once farmed that are now gradually regrowing in secondary vegetation; in drier, higher relief zones like this scrub dominates rather than forest. Along this part of the Salado river one also can get beautiful views of the Pico Bonito mountain chain in the background (see also site).

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Stop #8

Guard shack at Cuero Barra. Aerial (low oblique) of the mouth of the Cuero River and sand bar/spit.

Another aerial (low oblique) of the mouth of the Cuero River and sand bar/spit. a close-up aerial (low oblique) of the mouth of the Cuero River and sand bar/spit and the guard shack More distant aerial (low oblique) of the mouth of the Cuero River and sand bar/spit.


The estuary at Barra Cuero is the deepest and most isolated remaining in the park and where the manatee--the primary reason for establishing this reserve--are most likely to be seen.

Note the images from the ground and air of the mouth of the Cuero river and the ranger shack located there as well as some of the local farmer homesteads located directly across the estuary from the east side of the river mouth to the west side (one the point). Note some recent bush-burning that occurred here by one of the local subsistence farmers.

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Stop #9

FHIA-CEDEC which specializes in cacao/cocoa research. Aerial view of part of the FHIA-CEDEC which specializes in cacao/cocoa research as well as ahimal husbandry breeding.  View of radial pasture lands.


This is the Fundacion Hondurena para la Investigacion Agricola (FHIA). It is a very important agricultural research institution that specializes on bananas as well as other lowland, humid tropical crops and animal breeding. One of its most important field stations is located near La Masica along the Tela/La Ceiba highway and is known as FHIA-CEDEC where it specializes in cacao/cocoa research. The satellite, ground, and aerial photos above show some of the experimental fields of FHIA-CEDEC and its grounds.

Question: Can you pick out its unique signature and landscape pattern on the satellite image?

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Stop #10

African oil palm plantation along the main Tela/La Ceiba highway west of La Masica.Close-up of cattle in pasture area near Tripoli, La Masica region.  Note "living fences".

Part of a Quickbird image of the Rio Cuero, Salado and Boca Serrada spewing out heavy sediment plumes after winter rains--December 2003. Recently plowed pasture which adds sediment to rivers during rainy season.
The Rio Masica from Bridge looking upstream to hillside farming on steep slopes.  Note also post Mitch river bank reinforcements. Deforestation on hillsides upstream from La Masica which adds to heavy siltation and erosion.


These images introduce the predominant agricultural landscape type of the region--cattle ranching and associated managed tropical pasture lands. This is particularly true within the San Juan River watershed (see Topo Map). In this image above you can also see an African Oil palm plantation--a forested land cover class. But most of the surrounding landscape is a grassland land cover class except for a few small subsistence and mixed farming areas associated with small rural communities many at key road junctions.

One of the common features of this landscape are the living fences. The posts are living because they are cut from trees that take root vegetatively after being put in the ground. They only provide shade for the cattle but can be pollarded or cut-back frequently for firewood, fodder, and construction material.

On a rotating basis many of these pastures are bare from plowing (see photos above). Degraded/bare spots also occur because of intensive devegation by herds of cattle at corrals and milk barns. Periodic replowing also occurs to replant the tropical commercial grasses utilized in the region; often this is done after burning in the early dry season.

Therefore, though the land use is agricultural the land cover is grassland--not forest. In the satellite image this often produces the brown-blotchy spectral signature areas you can observe in some areas as well as the generally lighter hues of green and blueish. These spots rotate seasonally and from year-to-year as ranchers replant grasses, cut living fences, allow cattle grazing, etc.

This landscape also exhibits a visible change from wet to dry season. With access to time-series imagery covering different seasons you can see considerable variation in land cover. Note also on the Topo Map that much of the lower San Juan river watershed--downstream from La Masica--is classified as wetlands/swamp while other areas are classified as Tierra firme or non-wetland (dry during seasonal floods).

The upper San Juan watershed extends well behind the Nombre de Dios cordillera where extensive subsistence farming on steep slopes occurs, particularly in areas outside the Texiguat reserve and Pico Bonito National Park have caused severe hillside degradation. In some cases this is occuring on the very edge or even inside the national parks. The heavy sediment load in the San Juan river contributes to the sediment plume one can frequently see at the mouth of this river (see Quickbird image from December 2003 above). Note the silt load spilling over from the San Juan river into Boca Cerrado estuary and into the ocean via the Bara Cuero outlet (see Topo Map). During very wet years--particularly after events such as Hurricane Mitch of 1998 or Huricane Gama of 2005--these lowland pastures are flooded for weeks and are a major risk of living in this zone.

Managing the accelerated erosion upstream and mitigating its impacts on the coastal zone is a critical problem for the region. In fact, the siltation has become so severe that the estuary at the mouth of the San Juan river--Boca Cerrado (see the Topo Map)--has become quite shallow over the last few years. This has affected directly the western part of Cuero y Salado reserve and reduced habitat quality for manatees as well as affected water quality for fishing and human consumption.


Some Publications the Loma Linda University ESSE21 Project 2004-2008

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 INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCES.

The Manatee Project in Honduras with ESSE 21.

ESSE21 and Geobrain Projects: LLU's Problem Based Learning Experience in Honduras.

What ESSE 21 Has Meant to Me. A Design Guide for Undergraduate Earth System Science Education.

Landuse/Land Cover Change Online Module: Cases of Coastal Zone Change in Mesoamerica.

Land Cover and Land Use for the Future of Honduras (PDF) - By Dr. Tim Foresman.


Revised: Robert E. Ford, October 24, 2012