The Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve is 5,250 km² of preserved land in the La Mosquitia region on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Most of the land runs along the Río Plátano. The reserve has a number of endangered species and some of Honduras largest sections of forest. It has been a World Heritage site and biosphere reserve since 1982. The reserve encompasses both mountainous and lowland tropical rainforest, full of diverse wildlife and plant life, and has more than 2000 inhabitants. The reserve is part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor that stretches from Mexico southwards trough Central America.
Although the reserve covers a large portion of Honduras, very little is recorded about the biological diversity within it. While previous management plans have proven successful, a continued investigation into ongoing management plans and future conservation issues will be necessary to keep this valuable reserve safe. Currently there are threats to the conservation of the reserve which include illegal hunting, logging and clearing of land to graze cattle. Recent rafting expeditions from the Rio Platano headwaters through all three zones of the reserve (cultural, buffer and core)have documented cattle grazing in the core zone,commercial fishing and hunting camps along the river and clear cutting of forest near Las Marias.
In 1969, the land was set aside as an archaeological national park. A management and development was designed in 1980 and implemented in 1987 by the Department of Natural Renewable Resources. In 1997, an additional 3250 km² was designated as a buffer zone for the reserve. In 1997 the German Development Bank began a plan that would significantly expand the reserve to the Patuca River and the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua. Currently, the German plan has been delayed.
The reserve still has over 200 archeological sites, including the point where Christopher Columbus first arrived in mainland America. The reserve also contains Mayan ruins, including stone from buildings and roads, rock carvings, and other remains. Ciudad Blanca was a Mayan city that once stood where the reserve currently protects. The archeological site is still being excavated. Ciudad Blanca is a mythological site such as Atlantis or El Dorado. As to conjectures on who built the city no one knows. Everyone from extraterrestrial aliens to Aztecs have been attributed to the building of this site. However no one can say that any of the ruins discovered/found there currently are conclusively and without a doubt the famed Ciudad Blanca.
In 1996 the reserve received the World Heritage in Danger designation, but was removed from the list in 2007 recognizing a significant improvement in conservation efforts. This removal recognizes the substantial improvement in the conservation efforts in the reservation. However,from recent investigations in 2010 and 2011 it appears that what ever gains were initially recognized, that is not the case currently. UNESCO recently (2011) did a mission to the Rio Platano and found illegal activity within the core zone. Clearing of land for cattle grazing and illegal fishing and hunting along the river is currently happening.
The annual precipitation is between 2,850 and 4,000 mm (112 and 157 in), and the local inhabitants have noticed a trend towards dryer seasons. The climate in the region is key to preserving the valuable wet forests and important for the agriculture upon which the indigenous people depend. The reserve also receives an average of four severe tropical storms every ten years. The tropical storms echo through the rest of the reserve through the numerous waterways. Development plans and agriculture depend upon the river’s natural levees to drain water from low-lying areas. The after-effects of the Hurricane Mitch in 1998 disrupted the development of the Patuca II hydroelectric facility.
The land stretches from La Moskitia coast through lagoons and along the Río Plátano up into the mountains. The buffer area also includes the Paulaya and Sico valley, and will eventually extend to the Patuca River. The reserve is mostly mountainous, including Pico Dama, a giant granite formation, and Punta Piedra, the highest peak at 1,326 m (4,350 ft). The reserve includes nearly the entire watershed of the Río Plátano, and many other smaller waterways. Much the region is covered with mountainous terrain. The rivers wind through both the lower and mountainous regions. The forms many oxbows as it crosses the long stretch of flat lowland that separates the foothills from the lagoons. The river has created oxbow lakes, marshes, and natural levees.
The high density of wildlife along La Mosquitia coast makes it a popular destination for ecotourists. Although private organizations are launching ecotourism enterprises throughout the region, the government does not have a comprehensive plan to control or benefit from ecotourists. Ecotourism can offer relief for poverty stricken local populations, increased awareness of biological value, and can generate income that can be used to fund projects for the reserve. Currently there are guided 10-12 day rafting trips being offered down the entire length of the Rio Platano.
Although a properly implemented tourist industry could benefit the reserve, the currently unregulated industry has created a large amount of traffic and damaged archeological sites. The tourism industry has an impact across the entire reserve, but the unprotected archeological sites are especially hurt. Without developing infrastructure, it is difficult to have a profitable and sustainable ecotourism industry, especially in a reserve with difficult conservation issues.