Cuba Saves Five Internationally Important Wetlands
GLAND, Switzerland, January 6, 2003 (ENS) - Cuba has set aside some of the most important wetlands in the Caribbean for protection from development and climate change. Calling them "extraordinarily valuable," the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention announced today that the Cuban government has designated five areas for the List of Wetlands of International Importance.
Designation of wetlands under the Ramsar Convention brings increased publicity and prestige for the lands, and the increased possibility of support for conservation and wise use measures. The five Cuban sites include an array of coastal wetland types and provide support for many species of plants and animals, some of them rare or endangered.
At 313,500 hectares (1,210 square miles) Buenavista Bay, in Cuba's central region, is already a national park, a protected area, and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. As described by Julio Montes de Oca of the Ramsar Secretariat, who describes all of the five Cuban wetlands, Buenavista Bay includes extensive beaches and dune systems, coastal lagoons, mangroves and karstic mound formations that are unique within the Cuban archipelago.
Currently, there are no human settlements within the Buenavista wetland, but various economic activities take place in the area, among them commercial and sports fishing, forestry, cattle farming and tourism. Conservation efforts are centered on regulating these activities as well as on improving management capacity of the site which contains important plants and animals, as well as areas of high archeological, speleological, and cultural value.
The second newly designated wetland is located in the second largest island of the Cuban archipelago, occupying the southern part of the Isla de la Juventud, including the Ciénaga de Lanier marshland. Its 126,200 hectares (487 square miles) includes semi-deciduous forests, reef lagoons, marine grasslands, mangroves and peatlands.
Within the Caribbean, the site is a truly unique mosaic of ecosystems, says de Oca, amongst them a karstic plain connected to the island's southern coast. This subterranean drainage system yields clear waters that favor the formation of coral reefs. A number of threatened species are present, including green turtles, loggerheads, and American crocodiles.
The main threats to the site include forest fires, the future increase of tourism activities in the area, and the possible effects of climate change.
There are six protected areas within the third newly protected site known as Gran Humedal del Norte de Ciego de Ávila. It occupies the northern part of the Ciego de Ávila province, spanning most of its coast, its immediate maritime zone, and adjacent islets.
There are two protected areas within the next wetland site. "The largest delta in Cuba and one of the most important in the Caribbean," says de Oca, "the Humedal Delta del Cauto is an intricate system of estuaries, lagoons, marshes and swamps of singular beauty."
Its inaccessibility and difficulty of transit have kept human effects to a minimum here. There are some of the best preserved mangroves in Cuba, and vulnerable and endangered animal species inhabit the site, among them the endemic Cuban parakeet and Cuban tree-duck.
The Humedal Delta del Cauto is also considered a major contributor to the productiveness of the fisheries in the Gulf of Guacanayabo, where the Río Cauto flows out to the sea.
Large populations of American crocodile and Caribbean manatee, both vulnerable species, inhabit the Humedal Río Máximo-Cagüey. There are mangrove forests, swamp evergreen forests, and other, unique evergreen forests.
Adverse factors affecting the site are related to human activities in the catchment area, including upstream deviations of the water supply and pollution from agricultural residual waters.
There are presently 135 countries that are Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention, with 1,235 wetland sites, totaling 106.6 million hectares (411,585 square miles), designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.