Guadeloupe National Park, which encompasses a tropical forest and includes La Soufrière volcano — along with the Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin Nature Reserve, a marine protected area adjacent to the park — together comprise the Archipel de la Guadeloupe Biosphere Reserve.
Situated on Guadeloupe Island in the Caribbean Sea, the Archipel de la Guadeloupe Biosphere Reserve comprises two geographically separate sites: Guadeloupe National Park, which encompasses a tropical forest and includes La Soufrière volcano, along with the Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin Nature Reserve, a marine protected area adjacent to the park.
The transition areas of the biosphere reserve include numerous small towns and villages with many tourist facilities. Some 225,500 inhabitants live permanently in the biosphere reserve and there are about 20,000 visitors per year to the marine part of the area (2000). Threats to the biosphere reserve are hurricanes, tourism, anchorage on coral reefs, deforestation and water pollution.
Guadeloupe National Park on Basse-Terre, comprises a tropical forest which is located in the west of the island and watched over by the still active volcano of La Soufrière (1,467 m or 4,813 ft above sea level). The tropical forest, which is completely uninhabited, is home to over 300 species of trees and bushes.
The park's tropical rain forest varies in its character and species among several sub-ecosystems, depending heavily on elevation.
- The lower elevations (up to 500 m or 1,600 ft) of the park's buffer zone support a mesophilic forest, featuring trees such as white and red mahogany, rosewood, and jatobá. This ecologic area is also used for agriculture, including banana plantations and other food crops.
- A montane moist forest covers 80% of the core area of the park, at elevations between 300 m (980 ft) and 1,000 m (3,300 ft). This dense and luxuriant ecosystem harbors a great diversity of plant species: very large trees that grow above 30 m (98 ft) (tabonuco, acomat boucan, chestnut); mid-level trees between 6 m (20 ft) and 10 m (33 ft) (bois bandé, oleander); shrubs and herbaceous plants below 10 m (mountain palm, heliconia, ferns); and epiphytic species (giant philodendron, aile-à-mouche, orchids).
- The high-elevation forests above 1,000 m (3,300 ft) are much less dense than the park's other forests, due to the extremely wet conditions and constant cloud cover. These forests resemble savannas.
Grand-Cul-de-Sac Marin Nature Reserve encompasses a vast bay of 15,000 ha (37,000 acres) between Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre which includes coral reefs, mud flats, sea-grass bed and mangrove forests, freshwater swamps, forests and marshes. In the lagoon, sea-floor 'meadows' provide habitat to turtles and teem with fish. Giant sponges and soft corals, urchins and fish are abundant. The mangrove hosts many sedentary and migratory birds (pelicans, terns, moorhens, ducks, herons and kingfishers).
The Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin Nature Reserve includes coastal wetland forests that are flooded either permanently or intermittently by fresh or salt water, comprising nearly half of Guadeloupe's mangrove swamps. Vegetation in the coastal zone faces the challenges of salinity in the air and soil, intense heat from the sun and its drying effect, and the constant wind. Notable plant species in this environment include seagrape and pear.