Ciénaga de Zapata: National Park and Biosphere Reserve (Cuba)

Ciénaga de Zapata: National Park and Biosphere Reserve (Cuba)

Fri, 04/03/2020 - 15:21

Ciénaga de Zapata (Zapata Swamp) is located within the Zapata Peninsula on the southern coast of Cuba. Both a National Park and Biosphere Reserve, it is one of the largest and most important wetlands in the Caribbean region with a marine borderline.

Ciénaga de Zapata

Ciénaga de Zapata (Zapata Swamp) is located on the Zapata Peninsula in the southern Matanzas Province of Cuba, in the municipality of Ciénaga de Zapata. It is located less than 150 km (93 mi) southeast of Havana and has a total area of over 4,000 sq km (1,544 sq mi).

The Zapata Peninsula (Península de Zapata) is a large peninsula in Matanzas Province in southern Cuba. Ciénaga de Zapata National Park is located on the Peninsula.

It is located south of Ensenada de la Broa, east of the Gulf of Batabano and north of the Gulf of Cazones. The Bay of Pigs defines its eastern limit. To the north, it is bounded by the Carretera Central Highway.

Within the Zapata Swamp are numerous areas designated for environmental preservation, such as Zapata Swamp Natural Reserve and Las Salinas wildlife sanctuary, part of the larger Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve.

The Zapata Swamp was designated as a Ramsar site in 2001. This area is a cluster Biosphere Reserve with several core areas, highly valuable for conservation and is protected by the Ciénaga de Zapata National Park.

Flora and Fauna

Within the Zapata Swamp are over 900 plant species, 175 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles, and over 1000 species of invertebrates.

Some of the most notable are local endemics to Cuba; for birds, it includes the Zapata wren, the Zapata rail, and the Zapata sparrow. The area is also a habitat of the Bee hummingbird, the smallest bird species on the planet.

Sixty-five species of birds also visit the Zapata Swamp during their migration pattern from North America through the Caribbean to South America.

Zapata is also known for the local endemic Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer), which is restricted to the Zapata Swamp and is being reintroduced to the nearby Lanier Swamp on the Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud).

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Ciénaga de Zapata National Park

Ciénaga de Zapata National Park is the central core area of the Biosphere Reserve and the Ramsar site, which have the same name.

Ciénaga de Zapata National Park was submitted for nomination to the World Heritage List in 2003.

Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve

The Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve covers 628,171 ha (1,552,000 acres) and is situated on the southern coast of Cuba in Matanzas Province. It is one of the largest and most important wetlands in the Caribbean Region, with a southern marine borderline

This reserve shows a great diversity of ecosystems and land cover types.

  • Ciénaga grasslands are characterized by herbaceous species such as Cladium jamaicence, Eleocharis interstincta, E. cellulosa etc.
  • mangrove forest with the four mangrove species existing in Cuba: Rhizophora mangle, Avicennia germinans, Laguncularia racemosa and Conocarpus erecta
  • Ciénaga forest dominated by Bucida buceras, Tabebuia angustata, Calophyllum antillanun and Rauwolfia cubana
  • semi-deciduous forest dominated by Lysiloma latisiligua, Bursera simaruba, Ceiba pentandra etc.
  • evergreen coastal and sub-coastal forest
  • coastal and sub-coastal matorral
  • coral reefs with principal coral species such as Porites porites, P. asteroides, Manicina areolata, Siderastrea radians and Acropora cancellata
  • coastal lagoons

The area also supports the main populations of the Cuban crocodile (Cocodrilus rhombifer) and American crocodile (C. acutus) and birds such as the great flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber).


Some 9,000 (2001) people, mostly of Spanish origin, live permanently in this one of the largest biosphere reserves in Cuba. Economic activities include silviculture, fisheries, community agriculture, tourism, handicraft, and apiculture.

Tourism is vital and brings more than 800,000 people to the area each year to benefit the local communities. They are actively involved in decision-making processes through public hearings and people's councils organized by the administration of the local government.

As this Biosphere Reserve covers an entire watershed and protected area, it has been declared a special region for sustainable development. This reserve is twinned with the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve in Mexico.