Ciénaga de Zapata

Year of compilation: 2009

Site description
Embracing the entire Zapata Peninsula in southern Matanzas province, this IBA is the largest wetland in the Caribbean. It has extensive cave lake systems with spectacular blue holes, flooded caves and important water resources. The IBA also provides critical habitat in the form of forest, flooded palm savannas, open waterand salinas, reefs and mangroves. It has unique submerged marine terraces and coral reefs, valuable archaeological and paleontological sites, and a history of traditional use of natural resources in the surrounding rural communities.

Key biodiversity
This IBA is home to 40 biome-restricted birds, including 21 Cuba endemics and 17 globally threatened species. The Endangered Zapata Wren Ferminia cerverai and Zapata Rail Cyanolimnas cerverai are endemic to the IBA. The Endangered Cuban Sparrow Torreornis inexpectata inexpectata, Gundlach’s Hawk Accipiter gundlachi, Blue-headed Quail-dove Starnoenas cyanocephala and Giant Kingbird Tyrannus cubensis also occur. The area supports large concentrations of waterbirds, including breeding populations of Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis nesiotes and Wood Stork Mycteria americana. This is the last site in Cuba where the Critically Endangered Bachman’s Warbler Vermivora bachmanii was observed, in 1964.

Non-bird biodiversity: The Endangered Cuban crocodile Crocodylus rhombifer, Vulnerable American crocodile C. acutus and Critically Endangered dwarf hutia Mesocapromys nanus occur. Globally threatened sea-turtles nest on the beaches, and the IBA supports the largest population of the endemic Endangered fish Atractosteus tristoechus, considered a living fossil.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Ciénaga de Zapata was declared a biosphere reserve in 2000 and currently awaits approval as a managed resource protected area. The proposed core zones are Ciénaga de Zapata National Park (approved by the Comité Ejecutivo del Consejo de Ministros in 2008), Bermejas Wildlife Refuge, and Los Sábalos Wildlife Refuge. Main activities are forestry, tourism and fishing. Tourism is concentrated in La Boca, Guamá, Playa Larga and Playa Girón, where wildlife watching, recreational fishing, hiking and beach tourism take place. The IBA has been affected by forest fires, storms, poor water management and restoration, as well as hunting, fishing, and illegal logging. Other threats include invasive plants and fauna (e.g. the carnivorous catfish Clarias gariepinus).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Ciénaga de Zapata. Downloaded from on 09/07/2020.