Contributing Monkie Sarah Backhouse
Published on June 3, 2008
Cuba’s Zapata Swamp sounds much more impressive in its native Spanish — Ciénaga de Zapata. And impressive it is. The largest and best preserved wetlands in the Caribbean, it’s estimated that “this marsh holds 65 percent of Cuba’s birdlife, including native species the Zapata wren, rail and sparrow, as well as 1,000 plant species.” However, the threat of climate change could result in these wetlands disappearing altogether — in less then 50 years.
Located 100 miles southwest of Havana with a latitude just 22 degrees north of the equator, these tropical wetlands are under siege. Humans live on the fringes of this UNESCO World Heritage site, bringing with them the inevitable by-product of civilization, pollution. Global warming is contributing to the mix by increasing the likelihood of hurricanes — the worst of which struck back in 2001, boasting wind speeds up to 210 km/h.
Pablo Bouza, director of the Ciénaga de Zapata National Park, warns that “the combination of hurricanes and drought can lead to more fires, as it did in 2007 with fires lasting 45 days and causing serious damage to 5,000 hectares, 70 percent forest”.
So, what can be done to ensure that Ciénaga de Zapata outlives all of us? Training, community workshops and the showing of the “Climate Change: The Challenge Continues” has been Cuba’s three-pronged attack to date. But they’d be best to implement some concrete measures, too. According to scientific projections, “the sea level of the Cuban archipelago could rise eight to 44 centimeters by 2050, or 20 to 95 cm by 2100”. Not only would the rising sea water reduce Ciénaga de Zapata’s land area by one-fifth, freshwater sources would be contaminated causing grave and irreversible damage to the flora and fauna.