Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve, on the southern coast of Cuba, is one of the largest and most important wetlands in the Caribbean region with a marine borderline. Ciénaga de Zapata National Park is the main core area of the Biosphere Reserve and the Ramsar site that have the same name.
Situated on the southern coast of Cuba at Matanzas province, the Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve covers 628,171 ha (1,552,000 acres). It is one of the largest and most important wetlands in the Caribbean region with a marine southern borderline.
Ciénaga de Zapata was designated as Ramsar site in 2001. This area is a cluster biosphere reserve with several core areas, highly valuable for conservation located in the Ciénaga de Zapata National Park.
This reserve shows a great diversity of ecosystems and land cover types as grasslands, mangrove forests, Ciénaga forest, and semi-deciduous forest, evergreen coastal and sub-coastal forest; coastal and sub-coastal matorral, and coral reefs with principal coral species and coastal lagoons.
The area also supports the main populations of the Cuban crocodile (Cocodrilus rhombifer) and American crocodile (C. acutus) and birds as the great flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber).
Some 9,000 (2001) people, mostly of Spanish origin, live permanently in one of the largest biosphere reserves in Cuba. Economic activities are mainly silviculture, fisheries, community agriculture, tourism, handicraft and apiculture.
Tourism is very important and brings more than 800,000 people to the area each year, for the benefit of the local communities. The region of the Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve has been declared a Special region for sustainable development. This reserve is twinned with the Rio Lagarto National Biosphere Reserve of Mexico.
A valuable natural reservoir that stands out nationally, regionally and worldwide, Ciénaga de Zapata National Park is the main core area of the Biosphere Reserve and the Ramsar site that have the same name. Natural and socio-economic characteristics of this territory make it be a priority area due to the ecological fragility of its ecosystems, its values for the conservation of biodiversity and other natural resources.
It is an extensive ecosystem made up of mangrove forests, keys, seagrass beds, coral reef barriers and deep reefs, including the Cazones Gulf, a deep underwater canyon that is the main recruitment site of important commercial species such as porgies and groupers. The conservation status of coral reefs in the area is most remarkable. It comprises an important system of gyre-like currents.
This territory is characterized by both the presence of considerable peat depth and the fact that it is a low, flat area from the viewpoint of relief. Top height above sea level is only about 10 m (33 ft), while top depth in below-sea-level coastal zones is as follows: 2 m (6.5 ft) in the salt-marsh area and from 1-600 m (3-1968 ft) in the sea coastal zone.
Climatic characteristics are very marked by local physical-geographical conditions. Annual average temperature is warmer inland, with a warm thermical regime almost all year long. In the warmest month, average temperature is 30°C (86°F) and in the coldest one is 20°C (68°F). The warmest season begins in May and ends in October, while the coldest one (winter) stretches from November-April.
Rainfall has a marked seasonal behavior, with values oscillating from 1,200-1,300 mm (47-51 in) during the rainy season and 250-300 mm (10-12 in) during the dry season. The humidity regime is due to the air relative humidity (85%) and the predominating wind is that from the East.
The overall relief is formed of marine surfaces conditioned by carbonated rocks and neotectonic evolution in the territory, with cumulative-biogenic coasts. Soils have an E-W spatial distribution in four strips: red and yellowish ferrous, peaty and loam soils - peaty, red and black rendsines, coastal swampy, and mangrove solonchak.
There is an extensive variety of ecosystems, mainly in zones where the saltwaterfreshwater inter-phase conditions predominate and in lowlands where salty lagoons, mangrove vegetation and elevated-karst zones with typical semideciduous vegetation forest combine.
As to flora, there are outstanding species valuable as a genetic stock and different insectivorous plant species belonging to the genus Utricularia and Oxipalis. Likewise, remarkable to this area are the so-called "petenes", which have been recognized as a new plant complex for Cuba: the Plant Complex of Swamp Spring.
There are diverse ecosystems, with plant formations such as: the semideciduous forest, the mangrove forest, the grama-grass savannah, grasslands and the swamp scrub, all of them being in an excellent conservation status.
Mangrove forests stand for one of the largest and best preserved stretches in Cuba. This is an only-one-forest-canopy perennial-foliate forest where we can find the four mangrove species existing in Cuba: Rhizophora mangle (Red mangrove), Avicenia germinans (Black mangrove), Laguncularia racemosa (White buttonwood) and Conocarpus erecta (Buttonwood).