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).
OTHER ONLINE EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES:
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.