Just a couple of hours outside the tourist Mecca that is Cancun, Mexico, where delegates at the UN’s climate summit are meeting, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve offers up 120 km of pristine Caribbean coastline.
Watch a video from the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, produced by OneClimate TV:
With rainforests, mangroves and palm-fringed beaches, Sian Ka’an translates appropriately from Mayan to "where the sky is born".
The mangrove forests, which line this coastal zone, play an important role in the fight against climate change, providing shoreline protection in areas where sea levels could rise, and defending against extreme weather events.
Mangroves, which also suck out carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, could potentially fall under a future Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism.
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is managed by IUCN member, the Mexican National Comission for Protected Areas (Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas/CONANP).
Deputy Director of Sian Ka’an Reserve, Omar Ortiz, agreed that climate change is a major threat to Sian Ka’an.
Mangroves are also critical for the survival of many species of fish, birds, insects, reptiles, and other plants. They filter contaminated water and trap loosened sediment, making them protectors of the coral reef and other habitats.
The building of a road some 50 years ago to link the small Mayan villages that lie within the Reserve to the closest main town of Tulum has also brought with it problems which CONANP are working hard to fix.
Inadequate drainage channels under the road have reduced the flow of water to mangroves on one side, causing vaste swathes to die off.
Pascal Girot is Programme Coordinator at IUCN’s Regional Office for Mesoamerica and the Caribbean.
But there are also other pressures at work here in Sian Ka’an, as Omar Ortiz explained.
Pressures from tourism, unsustainable farming practices and large-scale aquaculture have threatened the wetland habitat in Sian Ka’an, including mangroves and reefs. However, the park authorities and local community, along with other partners have established new strategies for sustainable development and protected areas management.
The success of Sian Ka’an lies in launching research and monitoring programmes, as well as setting up community outreach and environmental education programmes.
Covering some 1.3 million acres it was established in 1986 by the Mexican authorities, achieving its status as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1987. Home to some 1,000 people, Sian Ka’an balances livelihoods with preserving the environment. It’s also home to 800 plant species, 103 species of mammals, 336 known bird species and includes the nesting sites for two endangered sea turtle species.
The reserve is also one of the main refuges in Mexico for the endangered jaguar, puma, ocelot, spider monkey and king vulture. There are 23 known archeological sites inside the reserve. Discoveries of human remains, ceramic pieces, and other artifacts date back up to 2,300 years.