Geologically, Honduras is one of the most interesting places in Central America. Even within specific regions the types of landscapes can vary drastically. Tracts of forests and mountains separated by fertile valleys dominate much of the mainland of the country, while low-lying tropical forests and clean, sandy beaches feature prominently on both coasts and islands.
Running like a spine down the middle of the country, the Sierra de Agalta mountain range in Olancho splits the country almost in half. On one side is where nearly the entire population of the country lives, and is home to all major cities, such as the capital of Tegucigalpa, the commercial center of San Pedro Sula, and North Coast transport hubs of Puerto Cortés, Tela, and La Ceiba. Here is also where you will find the tallest mountains, farmland, and numerous tracts of cloud, temperate, and tropical forests.
On the other side of the range is quite the contrast. Roads and large cities are unheard of and are replaced by the long rivers, dense mangroves, immense rainforests, and lonely savannahs of La Mosquitia. Mountains are more like hills here and nearly all villages sit clustered together along the coast.
Coastlines are a mix of reef-studded bays, mangrove forests, and sandy beaches, which all make for fine diving, wildlife watching, and swimming. Along the 500-mile (805km) North Coast, one of the agricultural powerhouses of the country, jagged peaks and cloud forests of the Merendón Mountain Range battle it out with fruit farms and lush jungle at sea level, while the 100km (62-mile) Pacific coastline is a mishmash of canals and arid hills. On the Bay Islands and Cayos Cochinos, beaches and mangroves cling to the shorelines, while significant deposits of coral reef sit just offshore. Most of the islands in the country have some form of elevated land, though the rise is relatively minor when compared to the rest of the country.
Beginning with Parque Nacional La Tigra in 1982, Honduras has become one of the most protected nations in Latin America and has a proud tradition of environmentalism and conservation, though government officials and corporations with deep pockets have frequently hindered projects. Two biosphere reserves -- Tawahka Asangni and Río Plátano -- and 20 national parks stand out alongside more than 100 smaller reserves and protected areas that have helped preserve some of the largest and most diverse tracts of land in the region and the array of rare wildlife that inhabits them. Major highlights for visitors are the 36 protected tracts of cloud forests found in the country.
All is not ideal in the country, though. Enforcing the borders and boundaries of protected areas has become a serious issue in recent years. While conservation and environmental awareness are increasing in some parks, such as Celaque and Pico Bonito, others like La Muralla are unsupervised, and facilities are slowly falling into a state of disarray. Indigenous groups have not fared well, either. Many have seen their lands taken away and are pushed further and further into the fringes of the land as modern ways of life exert their steady hand. Poachers and drug smugglers often infiltrate remote regions of some of the lesser-visited parks, which tend to be home to some of the greatest biodiversity. The growth of tourism in every corner of the country is a positive sign, and communities in and around some of the protected areas are quickly learning just how valuable these new foreign visitors can be.
The range of flora and fauna found in Honduras is hard to fathom. More than 800 species of birds alone have been recorded here, many of which are endemic to the country. Mammals are numerous, as well, with more than 300 species represented, including manatees, jaguars, tapirs, monkeys, ocelots, and peccaries. Reptiles and amphibians? There is no shortage of those, either: caimans, iguanas, snakes, frogs, and toads. Insects and butterflies? Don't even get me started. I could go on for days.
Off the north shore, the coral reef that surrounds the Bay Islands is home to 96% of all aquatic species found in the Caribbean. Exploitation of marine life and over-fishing is of concern. There's a ban on fishing within 8km (5 miles) of any low-tide mark; however, commercial fishing boats ignore the rules and are rarely fined for it, which seriously hurts the small-scale fisherman, such as the Garífuna who fish according to traditional means, and throws off the balance of the extremely delicate ecosystems in a number of lagoons and reserves.
The forest cover in Honduras -- a significant portion of which is valuable pine and mahogany -- is the densest in Central America. However, deforestation has been occurring in recent years at a shocking rate, as almost 2% of total forest cover is being cut down (half of which is being done illegally) on an annual basis. The United States is the largest buyer of the wood, and a significant amount of the illegal wood makes its way tax-free into the American market, some of which reports have traced to stores such as Home Depot. Logging companies have frequently entered into national parks in Olancho, and COHDEFOR, the agency that is supposed to regulate the forests, has been subject to corruption investigations on numerous occasions. New forestry laws have been proposed in Congress for several years, but bribes and big businesses have hampered passing them. Environmental groups such as the Olancho Environmentalist Movement (MAO) and the Campamento Environmentalist Movement have been met with threats, and members have even been killed on several occasions.
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