Part of the ¡Cuba! exhibition.
The Zapata peninsula contains the largest and most important wetlands in the Caribbean. Covering 1.5 million acres (6,000 square km), the immense Zapata Biosphere Reserve includes marshes, peat bogs, mangroves, coral reefs, and forests that support a complex web of life, including frogs, turtles, fish, shellfish, crocodiles, birds, and countless plants and insects, making its conservation a top priority for the entire region.
Cuba is home to two species of crocodiles—the Cuban crocodile and the American crocodile. Both have suffered steep declines from overhunting and habitat loss. But the Cuban crocodile, with its more restricted distribution, is now critically endangered. Cuban scientists, collaborating with researchers around the world, are now using DNA sequencing tools to help understand and conserve these ancient species.
A Walk in the Wetlands
All too often, wetlands and marshes are ignored, forgotten, or drained for development. But in Cuba’s Zapata National Park, a vast wetland ecosystem supports many important species and diverse habitats. This unique setting is home to many plants and animals found nowhere else.
Migration Way Station
The protected wetlands of the Zapata peninsula attract hundreds of thousands of migrating birds. Many birds winter in Cuba, and many more use the island as a stopover when migrating between North and South America.
The Zapata Reserve is a haven for birds not just from Cuba but throughout the Caribbean and beyond. A whopping 372 bird species can be spotted on the island, including 24 species that live only in Cuba—and several of these live only in Zapata.
American Museum of Natural History
Top photo: ©AMNH/D. Finnin