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Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua

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Sustainable Development and Wild Nature Conservation in NICARAGUA

Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo

View of the Apoyo crater from Catarina. Photo Jessica López.

Laguna de Apoyo (Lake Apoyo) is Nicaragua's largest volcanic crater lake. It was formed 23,000 years ago after a huge volcanic explosion left a large crater which interrupted the underground water table. Today, the lake is 180 meters deep and four kilometers in diameter. Its clear water is always warm, never below 28 degrees Celsius (great for swimming!). In Nicaragua, the term "laguna" is given to the volcanic crater lakes which are found in some of the volcanoes along the Pacific region of the country.

Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo, in front of Estación Biológica. Photo Claire and Andy.

Laguna de Apoyo and the crater in which is it located were named the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve as an official protected area in 1991, by Decreto 42-91 in the National Assembly. However, until recently, this site has never enjoyed the full benefits of protection that would be afforded this designation. Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo worked closely with the another Nicaraguan organization, Liga de Cooperativas de Nicaragua (CLUSA), in the development of its first management plan., commissioned and approved by the Nicaraguan Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment. FUNDECI/GAIA directed biodiversity studies and coordinated consensus-building activities with the various interest groups involved as part of the management plan development, and developed a set of 35 maps demarcating the reserve boundaries, land use patterns, risk assessments, wildlife, and tourism potential.

Laguna de Apoyo

The crater interior around Lake Apoyo is filled with tall, tropical forest. Photo Mette Kolbe.

Lake Apoyo is a special place, not only for its amazing views from near and far. The water of Lake Apoyo is home for six endemic species of cichlid fishes. The research group of Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo discovered five of these species, and we are continuing research on the evolutionary history, ecology, and conservation aspects of these fishes. One fish species in Lake Apoyo, the arrow cichlid (Amphilophus zaliosus), is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and other species may soon follow.

Laguna de Apoyo

The water of Laguna de Apoyo can be mesmerizing. Photo Lu Davidson.

Other species of fishes found in Laguna de Apoyo are: Amphilophus astorquii, Amphilophus chancho, Amphilophus flaveolus, Amphilophus globosus, Amphilophus supercilius, Parachromis managuensis, Atherinella sardina, and Poecilia sphenops.

Laguna de Apoyo

The chancho cichlid (Amphilophus chancho), in Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua. Photo Ad Konings.

Laguna de Apoyo is facing severe threats to its continued existence as a beautiful, natural lake. Although Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is located between two of the most populous cities in Nicaragua (Masaya and Granada), the reserve continues to contain substantial quantities of natural forest and a huge lake in very good condition. Nonetheless, housing developments, trash, deforestation, and invasive species all threaten Lake Apoyo and its special inhabitants.

Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua. The water of the lake is enticing, year-round. Photo Cindy Skeie.

Prohibitions regarding activities inside Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve (Decreto 001-2010, Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, taken from La Gaceta No. 55, 19 March 2010)

1. Use the water from the Laguna for irrigation, human or animal consumption, or construction, given its physical-chemical characteristics.

2. Carry firearms, non-explosive weapons, slingshots, or explosives inside the protected area, excepting the National Police and the Nicaraguan Army, with the objective to protect the protected area and its visitors. Historic inhabitants are permitted to bear machetes for agricultural objectives only in areas utilized for agriculture, and within the control of the corresponding authorities.

3. Use and store combustibles, explosives, pesticides or other chemicals prohibited by law, inside the protected area.

4. Make open fires, provoke forest fires or make open fires to burn trash, leaves, or agricultural residues inside the protected area.

5. Possesion, sale or consumption of alcoholic bevarages in areas prohibited by MARENA or other corresponding authorities, or within 200 meters of a school or church.

6. The introduction of motorized boats, jetski, or any other motorized transport excepting with written authorization from MARENA.

7. Cutting or felling standing trees, whether alive or dead, removal of the ground cover, the transport or commercialization of forest resources, according to the currently valid legislation.

8. Hunt or capture animals, excepting for research purposes with authorization from MARENA.

9. The introduction of exotic plants or animals.

10. The extraction of genetic material, excepting for research purposes with authorization from MARENA.

11. Alteration of land use, substitution of natural forests with plantations, or increasing areas of cultivation or pasture.

12. The extraction of archeological materials. Any finding should be reported to MARENA for its required management in cooperation with other authorities.

13. The opening of new vehicular transport routes, excepting paths for environmental interpretation and ecotourism.

14. Construction nor any activity related to construction which impedes free access to the shore, including walls, structures, bars, ramps, or launches.

15. Subdivide or construct housing.

16. Extraction or removal or non-metalic minerals, such as sand, rock, pumice, or clay.

17. Constructions in areas with greater than 15% inclines.

18. Constructions in areas susceptible to flooding, landslides or seismic activity.

19. Installations of antennas or special communication equipment, excepting those with objectives for research and environmental protection with prior approval and coordination with MARENA.

20. Direct or indirect discharge of treated or untreated wastewater resulting from domestic, industrial or agricultural use, to the laguna.

21. Construction of landfills, recycling plants, or dumps; any existing sites should be closed and the materials relocated.

22. Burning of solid waste or household, commercial, or any other origin.

23. Installation or construction of gas stations, mechanic shops, industries of chemical, food, or any other type, any agricultural or aquaculture activity, non-metallic mining, nor any other activity that generates negative impacts to the land or water ecosystems.

24. Animal husbandry with commercial objectives.

Visit us at Estación Biológica in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Individuals and groups are invited for day visits or overnight stays. Would you like to join us? Please contact us by email, or by telephone 011-505-8882-3992.

Can you volunteer your time or make a small donation to help us continue to serve the environment in Nicaragua? Please help us make Nicaragua a better place for all people and nature.

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Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo

This baby squirrel was raised by the staff after she fell from a tree as an infant. Today she has her own family in the trees above Estación Biológica. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.


Nicaragua Spanish Schools

Field research is conducted on several animal and plant groups at Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.


Nicaragua Spanish Schools

Spanish classes for volunteers, interns and other visitos are vital components of our educational program in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.


Proyecto Ecológico

Bird populations are monitored in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve by the staff and volunteers of Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo. Photo Joe Taylor.



The forest inside the crater in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve contains dozens of terrestrial species, making the area an appropriate site for wildlife studies. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.


wildlife Nicaragua

Field identification of the reptiles of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Kolby Kirk.



Scientists at Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo study endangered fish species in the lake. Certified SCUBA divers can accompany us on research dives where endemic fish species can be readily seen. Photo Topi Lehtonen.



Scientists at Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo conduct surveys of wildlife, including resident and migratory birds. Photo Wendy van Kooten.


scuba dive

Animal rescue at Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo. Here, Gaia Director Jeffrey McCrary is accompanied by a rapidly healing variegated squirrel that was severely injured by illegal poachers. Photo Anne Sutton.