Sunday, July 12, 2009

Polochic River Delta

Izabal relief map

We entered Guatemala from Belize at Livingston. I'm not sure why the waters of Bahia de Amatique are colored greenish here, but it's really the end of the Caribbean and should be more gray or blue. We came up the Canyon, ( I called it the Gorge), then through the Golfete. We're presently tied up in a marina a little to seaward of the 'Rio Dulce' line in this view, which looks basically toward the southwest. We can see Cerra San Gil from the marina; if we can't, it means rain, say 'they'.

But today I mean to write about my trip to the Polochic Valley and the Rio Polochic up at the far end of Lago Izabal. I went with a friend in a small trawler, a vessel much better suited to the area than a deep-keeled sailboat. How much better we didn't know until we steamed into an area of thick mats of hydrilla nearly all the way to the surface, which would have snared Galivant and unnerved its crew. PhotobucketYou probably know hydrilla as an aquarium plant. It's not native here, but nobody's sure where it came from either ('an American boat' one man told us). What we saw was all at the farthest end. It's a problem though, that could spread to the entire lake.

Lago Izabal is also the largest fresh-water fish supplier in the country, I've read. Most fishing activity looks like it's on the feed-the-family scale, but lots of people fish. We did see empty cayugas attending solitary tankless divers fishing for ?tarpon? among the fronds.

Sure was nice to be perched up on the flybridge with a 360-degree view, going a steady six knots, swilling iced flor de jamaica (sorrel) and tamarind, and lemonade, and water, on a sweltering day.
We spend a night in the bay in front of the 'abandoned' nickel mine just beyond El Estor at the end of the north side of the lake. This place has a story too - beginning with greed, featuring political heavy-handedness and ending in violence - but I'll save it for another time. Photobucket




We couldn't get the trawler's 3'6" over any of the several river bars, although the intrepid skipper was willing to try. So we zoomed in his speedy lancha up the clearish Rio Zarquito until it ended in a cluster of water hyacinths, then turned off into the muddy Rio Oscuro which ran for a good ten or twelve miles.
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Mid-day maybe wasn't the best time for scouting for wildlife. That didn't stop me from taking a way too many pictures of the tail end of fleeing birds, some of which I recognized at least by class as herons, kingfishers and ducks, all of which had to be deleted for lack of visual interest. The river twisted and narrowed and its banks became grassy. The cloud-clad mountains wove in and out of view. Finally we ran up on a log in a skinny stream and thought it prudent to turn around.

Here at the new edge of the rainy season (end of May), it's a good seven feet to the high tide mark on these trees.Photobucket. We wouldn't have trouble getting up the river later in the year, but just think what would be rushing downstream towards us!

According to Shelagh McNally's Guatemala
There is great bio-diversity here – over 250 species of mammals, 350 birds, 53 sp of fish and 24 sp of aquatic plants have been identified so far. Because it forms a biological corridor between the Sierra de la Minas and the Sierra de Santa Cruz, the Polochic Delta is home to many endangered species. The corridor is part of the larger Mesoamerican Biological Corridor beginning in Yucatan Peminsula and stretching down to the Panama Canal. It includes over 962 sq mi of humid tropical forest bordered to the north and and west by the Sierras de la Minas, on the south by Paxtanto Ruins and on the north by El Estor.


Photobucket You can also see the mountains, and the scars of the various land clearings which are an ever-present and growing feature of the area.

National parks - all forests - are under siege throughout Guatemala, it seems, as the pressures for agricultural land increase. Other factors include poaching and logging, and even less savory actitities involving narco-traffic. It's tough to control - people need to eat, and the pressures to develop, which often come from international conglomerates, are substantial. One tactic is swapping conservation for debt, as described here. http://www.nature.org/wherewework/centralamerica/guatemala/work/art19052.html

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