The Maya Forest: From the Underworld to the Sky

“Tiny” cavern in Belize's Chiquibul Forest Reserve, at the heart of the Maya Mountains. Photo ©WCS.

By Jeremy Radachowsky

[This is the first blog in a series documenting the 5,000-mile “megaflyover” by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to survey Central America's extraordinary forests via airplane.]

We are here to fly. Today we begin our 5,000-mile “megaflyover” through Central America to document the state of the region’s great forests, starting in the vast Maya Forest of Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico.

However, the day starts underground. “This is a small cave” says Rafael Manzanero of the Belizean organization Friends for Conservation and Development.

This is small? The gurgle of a stream echoes off the cave ceiling 60 feet above, and the walls spread far enough apart from each other to play a game of tennis. I feel very tiny in this “small” cave.

“Tiny” cavern in Belize’s Chiquibul Forest Reserve, at the heart of the Maya Mountains. Photo ©WCS.

Chiquibul National Park, in the heart of Belize’s Maya Mountains, hosts the largest caverns in the western hemisphere. The caves hold the mystique of history, harboring offerings that the ancient Maya left 1,200 years ago, as well as mammal bones from the early Holocene 12,000 years ago.

Fittingly, accompanying me is Ani Cuevas (“Cuevas” means “Caves” in Spanish) of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). We are flying together on the inaugural leg of the Central American flyover and collaborating to support the conservation of Central America’s five largest forest landscapes.

Megaflyover team outfitting their plane with camera equipment prior to departure. Photo ©WCS.

“How do you explain the importance of this incredible forest to the people of Belize?” asks Ani.

“In one word, water,” says Rafael. The headwaters of Belize’s largest rivers start in the Maya Mountains, run through underground caverns, and provide the water for most of the country.

The forests also help balance the —> Read More