Green-Friendly Enterprise Helps Save Biggest Caribbean Wetlands

The 18 communities in Cuba’s Ciénaga de Zapata, the largest wetlands in the Caribbean, have long survived on the abundant local hunting and fishing and by producing charcoal. But that is no longer possible, due to climate change.

Years ago it was inconceivable that the people living in the Zapata Swamp, a UNESCO-recognised biosphere reserve in western Cuba, would one day stop using the forest here to make charcoal, extract precious wood, or hunt crocodile and deer.

Enterprising residents of the wetlands like Roque have been spontaneously exploring green-friendly ecotourism initiatives, small animal production and small gardens, none of which were common in this area, where people have always been hunters, gatherers and fishers.

Just 9,300 people live in the 4,322-sq-km Ciénaga de Zapata, the most sparsely populated municipality in this country of 11.2 million people.

The area’s wealth lies in its vast forests, swamps that cover 1,670 sq km, and more than 165 migratory and autochthonous species, like the Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer).

In 2000, UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation – declared the wetlands, which occupy the entire Zapata peninsula and surrounding areas, a biosphere reserve. A year later, the Ramsar Convention included it on its list of wetlands of international importance.

The Ciénaga de Zapata, in the province of Matanzas, has weak points when it comes to weathering future threats, even though it is the best-preserved wetlands system in the Caribbean islands.

Its surface and underwater water have been salinised, the swamp system has been fragmented, and there are imbalances in its ecological functioning.

Nor have the felling of trees and poaching of protected or endangered species like the Cuban crocodile been completely eliminated, just as there are still illegal charcoal kilns that use wood from off-limits species such as mangroves.

To strengthen the protection of the wetlands, the Cuban government made a submission to UNESCO in 2003 for the Ciénaga de Zapata to be declared a World Heritage Site.

Source: Ivet González | IPS News