In the language of the Mayan peoples who once inhabited this region, Sian Ka'an means 'Origin of the Sky'. Located on the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, this biosphere reserve contains tropical forests, mangroves and marshes, as well as a large marine section intersected by a barrier reef.
In the language of the Mayan peoples who once inhabited this region, Sian Ka'an means 'Origin of the Sky'. Located on the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, this biosphere reserve contains tropical forests, mangroves and marshes, as well as a large marine section intersected by a barrier reef. It provides a habitat for a remarkably rich flora and a fauna which cohabit in the diverse environment formed by its complex hydrological system.
Thousands of years ago the original Maya inhabitants appreciated the exceptional natural beauty of this stretch of coastline, naming it Sian Ka'an, or "Origin of the Sky." Situated on the Caribbean coast in the southeast of the country, on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula in the State of Quintana, the reserve lies on a partially emerged coastal limestone plain, and includes part of the extensive barrier reef system.
It is covered by medium altitude semi-evergreen forests, medium and low altitude semi-deciduous forest; palm savannah formations, freshwater and saltwater marshes, petenes (or hammocks), mangroves and, dunes. A total of 4,000 plant and 28 mammal species have been recorded, including five species of cat, jaguar, puma, Central American tapir and Caribbean manatee.
Due to the great diversity of aquatic habitats, marine and wading birds are well represented. Twenty-three Mayan sites have been recorded in the reserve, while Tulum, one of the most visited Mexican archaeological sites, the Chunyaxché ruins, Vigia del Lago and Xamach, are just to the north.
Sian Ka'an is one of Mexico's largest protected areas, established to manage 528,148 ha (1,305,000 acres) of intricately linked marine, coastal and terrestrial ecosystems. Along its roughly 120 km (75 mi) of coastline, the property covers over 400,000 ha (990,000 acres) of land ranging from sea level to only ten m.a.s.l.
The property boasts diverse tropical forests, palm savanna, one of the most pristine wetlands in the region, lagoons, extensive mangrove stands, as well as sandy beaches and dunes. The 120,000 ha (300,000 acres) of marine area protect a valuable part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and sea grass beds in the shallow bays. The lush green of the forests and the many shades of blue of the lagoons and the Caribbean Sea under a wide sky offer fascinating visual impressions.
About a third of the property is comprised of highly diverse and productive mangrove communities, of vital importance to fisheries in the broader region. Hundreds of forested islands, locally known as "Petenes", emerge from the flooded marshes, some reaching over 1 km (.6 mi) in diameter. A geological, biological and cultural peculiarity are the "Cenotes", deep natural sinkholes harboring fascinating life forms, many of them endemic. This karst phenomenon results from collapsing limestone exposing groundwater.
The diversity of life in Sian Ka'an is exceptional. The tropical forests are home to charismatic mammals such as Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot and Central American Tapir. The property also provides habitat for a large number of resident and migratory bird species. There is a great diversity of marine life, including the West Indian Manatee, four species of nesting marine turtles and hundreds of fish species.