Situated off the southeast coast of Mexico, the Isla Cozumel Biosphere Reserve incorporates two Ramsar sites: Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park and Manglares y Humedales del Norte de Isla Cozumel, encompassing richly diverse marine and terrestrial ecosystems.
Isla Cozumel Biosphere Reserve
The Isla Cozumel Biosphere Reserve is part of the second largest reef system in the world, the Mesoamerican Reef, which is home to 1,192 marine species. Cozumel Island is situated off the southeast coast of Mexico and encompasses diverse marine and terrestrial ecosystems rich in marine, amphibian and reptile species.
Marine ecosystems constitute a significant portion of the biosphere reserve. The total surface area (terrestrial and marine) is 134,623 ha (332,660 acres). The area incorporates two Ramsar sites: Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park and Manglares y Humedales del Norte de Isla Cozumel.
The main terrestrial ecosystems are medium semi-deciduous forests and mangroves. The medium semi-deciduous forest is rare in other parts of the state of Quintana Roo, and hosts a substantial proportion of species endemic to the island.
With its diverse marine and terrestrial ecosystems, the area is rich in amphibians and reptile species and is home to more than 1,000 marine species. These include the anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), the Atlantic Bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), the Caribbean sharp-nose puffer (Canthigaster rostrate) and the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).
It is also home to three endemic species, which the IUCN considers to be critically endangered: the Cozumel raccoon (Procyon pygmaeus), the Cozumel trasher (Toxostoma guttatum) and the Cozumel harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys spectabilis).
The permanent population of Cozumel Island amounts to 80,000 inhabitants. Human settlements are located mainly in the city of San Miguel, which accounts for most of the tourism and urban infrastructure. Tourism is the most important economic activity on the island with more than 4 million people visiting annually.
Mayan heritage is a quintessential feature of Cozumel. There are more than 36 Mayan archaeological sites on the island, including material remains such as ceremonial and commercial centers and pilgrimage routes.
Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park
Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park is off the coast of Cozumel Island (Isla Cozumel) in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. It is about 20 km (12 mi) off the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in the Caribbean Sea. The park is part of the Isla Cozumel Biosphere Reserve.
The Cozumel reef system is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest coral reef system in the world and runs along the coasts of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, stretching more than 1,000 km (600+ miles).
Even though almost the entire island of Cozumel is surrounded by coral reefs, the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park only encompasses the reefs on the south side of the island. It begins just south of the International Pier and continues down and around Punta Sur and up just a small portion of the east side of the island.
Punta Sur marks the southern point of Cozumel and is part of the Parque Punta Sur, a 247-acre (100 ha) ecological park that covers the reefs, beaches, lagoons, and low forest of the surrounding area.
Cozumel is home to the Cozumel Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus) which is listed as vulnerable by IUCN and is entirely endemic to the reefs surrounding the island. The park also has several species that are under some degree of protection, including sea turtles (Green turtle, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, and the Hawksbill turtle), the Queen Conch, and black coral.
The Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park is most known for scuba diving and snorkeling. Popular dive sites include Columbia Reef, Devil's Throat at Punta Sur, Maracaibo, Palancar Reef, Paradise Reef, Paso del Cedral, San Francisco, Yucab, and the shipwreck of the C-53 Felipe Xicoténcatl (intentionally sunk in June 2000 to form an artificial reef).