About Sian Ka'an
Written by Sandra   

Jaguar Sian Kaa...
Jaguar Sian Kaan

Sian Ka'an was established as a biosphere reserve in 1986 and incorporated into UNESCO's list of natural world heritage sites in 1987. Adjacent to its southern border, the area for protection of flora and Fauna UYAMIL was established in 1994. Covering together over 1.5 million acres along the central coast of the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, they comprise one of the largest protected areas in Mexico.

The Sian Kaan reserve is composed equally of semi evergreen tropical forest, wetlands and savannas, and marine habitat with coral reefs. Sian Ka'an is home to more than 345 species of birds, including over one million wintering migratory song birds from the U.S. and Canada and the rare Jabiru Stork.

All of the endangered cat species of southern Mexico are found in Sian Ka'an, including jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay and the jaguarundi, along with spider and howler monkeys, white-tipped and collared peccary and tapir.The wetlands and marine habitats shelter the endangered Morelet's and American crocodile as well as manatee and provides habitat for the green, loggerhead, hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles. Small dolphin groups swim, feed and reproduce in Ascension Bay and Espiritu Santo Bay.These two large bays, Ascension and Espiritu Santo Bay and a unique fresh water wetland system and 60 miles of pristine coral reef is the enduring landscape used by the ancient Maya civilization over two thousand years ago.

Fly fishing and wild life observation tours are today transforming the fishing boats into tourism boats as well as inhabitants tourism income has become the first source for the villages, displacing commercial lobster fishing. Reserve Managers and Fishing Lodges made an effort to prevent netting, we offered to double the number of jobs and started our two guides per boat program, using head guide and apprentice, increasing the benefit for both anglers and local kids opportunities.

Ruinas de Muyil...
Ruinas de Muyil 1


The region hosts 23 arqueological sites, the most ancient are about 2300 years old. It is estimated that the area was populated by the Mayan tribes during the preclassic and classic period, and it's supposed that in the far north an ancient trading route connected - through lagoons and mangrove channels - to the ancient comercial centers of Tulum and Muyil.

Ruinas de Muyil...
Ruinas de Muyil 2

Once a major trading center, Muyil boasts a 55-foot-high pyramid called El Castillo as well as other partially excavated ruins, many overgrown with jungle. Today, descendants of the Maya still gather at Muyil for religious rites and cultural activities.

Ruinas de Muyil...
Ruinas de Muyil 3

Sian Ka'an offers professional guide services to the visitors, knowledgeable about flora and fauna of the area, as well as the ancient Mayan culture, introducing to the visitor the most amazing and exciting places to be found in the Mayan Riviera.

General description of the area:

Located along the south coast of Solidaridad Municipality and the entire coastline of Felipe Carillo Puerto Municipality, in the State of Quintana Roo, Mexico. Biosphere Reserve as a legal entity designated by the Comisión Nacional de Areas Protegidas Naturales (CONAP), -- a decentralized body of the Federal Government.

Approximate population: 800 permanent and 200 temporary residents in the buffer zone along the coast and 30,000 in 3 villages and 7 communities in the surrounding area (outside the Reserve). Fishing is the most important income earning activity and the majority of the inhabitants within the Area are fishermen. The Caribbean spiny lobster is the main catch (75%), it sells for approximately US $15 per kilo, with an average yearly capture of 80 tons over the last 11 years, the majority of which was exported to the United States and Japan. Use of the coastal zone for tourism purposes is the main reason for the long-term conservation plans for the Reserve, as it strongly competes as an economic alternative in the areas of: sport fishing, wildlife observatory, snorkeling, nature walks, camping, kayaking, scientific tourism and as a beach.

Sian Ka'an Facts:

Date of Establishment: January 20, 1986
Area (Km2): 6,000 Size of site (S <= 20Km2; M = 20 - 2000Km2; L >= 2000Km2) Large Ecosystem

Type/main ecological features: Terrestrial and marine (note: platform shelf) Description of special resources; important ecological features; reason for establishing a protected area: Coral reef and platform with a length of 120km and depth of 60m towards the Caribbean Sea, it is part of the second largest coral reef in the world.

Nine different kinds of vegetation and three aquatic habitats 1/3 marine zone, including a 120 km coral reef barrier, two big bays and marine platform 1/3 wetlands (coastal lagoons, grasslands, mangrove, swamps, and hardwood hummocks) and flooded forest, 1/3 tropical forest

Site accomplishments to date:

Design and application of the Public Use Program: planning and regulating aquatic and recreate activities 12 years monitoring the coral reef.

Sustainability of fisheries (spiny lobster mainly) by the application of regulation and appropriate technology Due to the application of the Prevention and Fight of Fires program, reduction of 100% of forest fires.Physical integrity of the area has been guaranteed through inspection and vigilance.

Different types of habitats in the area:


Coral Reefs

In Sian Ka’an we find 120 km of the second largest barrier reef in the world, it continues down to Belice and Honduras. The reef is habitat to various species in danger of extinction.

The uncontrolled development of construction along the Caribbean Coast of Mexico has exposed the reef to inminent damage, which will demand very difficult and longlansting procedures to recover over the decades.

Turtle first sw...
Turtle first swim


The beaches in Sian Ka’an are a very important part of the ecosystem. Being a transision zone between land and sea, they are very important nesting areas for many animal species.

Between the months of May until August, the beach is host for 4 different tipes of turtles in danger of extinction, coming to lay their eggs in the soft sand: Green Turtle (Chelonia Mydas), Lora Turtle (Lepidochelys Kempii), Laúd Turtle ( Dermochelys Coriacea) and Hawksbill Turtle (Caretta Caretta), which have lost important nesting areas in different Caribbean locations.

Coastal Dune

The coastal dune is a natural protection area for inland ecosystems, especially during the time of storms and hurricans. The vegetation includes species such as Coccoloba uvifera, Tournefortia gnaphalodes, Suriana maritima, Sesuvium portalacastrum, Ambrosia hispida, Ipomoea.



The wetlands along the Sian Ka’an coast work like protection barriers between land and ocean, as they are able to absorb the impact of storms. They contain an inmense variety of animal and plant life, including several endangered species. In all of these waterbodies we find a type of algae (Periphyton) that plays a very important role in the dissolution of the calcerous soil, it's also a valuable source of food for many types of fish, molluscs and insects.



Heron in mangro...
Heron in mangroves

Mangroves, Marismas  de Zacate and Tasistales are part of the wetland eco-system. The water plays a very important role for the existence of each of those eco-systems, determined by the amount of dissolved salts in it. In Sian Ka’an we have four different types of mangroves: Rhizophora mangle (Red Mangrove), Avicennia germinans (Black Mangrove), Laguncularia racemosa  (White Mangrove), and Conocarpus erectus (Grey Mangrove).

These communities are critical for the survival of different species of fish, birds, insects, reptiles and also other plants. Some types of mangroves filter the contaminated water and and attach loose sediments, forming a natural protection barrier for the coral reefs and other habitats.

Marismas de zacate

Marismas de Zacate are areas with low and scarce vegetation, growing on soils with a low percentage of oxigen, which are mostly flooded throughout the year. Some types of trees have adapted to those conditions and the most commonly found species are trees like Zacate, Juncos and Carrizos, mostly reaching a maximum height of 3mts. Other types of vegetation are mainly bushes, found in areas with less salinity. Due to their dryness, these eco-system are threatened by fires in the dry season in winter.


Cenotes are big water bodies, underground caverns, caves and rivers, which have been formed through the water passing through the calcerous soil of the peninsula of Yucatan for millions of years. The mayor part is connected with other cenotes through underground tunnels and rivers. In occasions, completely isolated Cenotes have been found, some of them are habitat to a variety of sweet water fish and other animals and plants, that have evolved with the time, until becoming completely independant organisms, adapted perfectly to the Cenotes environment.


Those are isolated areas within the tropical forrest, from a diameter of a few metres up to various kilometers, surrounded by wetland areas.

Petenes are only found in Cuba, Florida, and in México, in the península of Yucatán. The mayority of Petenes in México have some kind of Cenote in their center, which makes the vegetation grow in form of arrows around them. There is a huge variety of fauna to be found in Peten areas, from small insects to big mammals.



Tasistales are islands that can be found inside the areas of the Marismas de Zacate. In it's mayority, the vegetation consists of Tasiste (Acoellorraphe wrightii), Zacate (Cladium jamaicensis),  and some other species as Black Chechem (Metopium brownei) and Grey Mangrove (Conocarpus erectus). The tasiste palmtree is extremely resistant to fire, and can survive the mayority of the natural fires that break out during dry season.

Crocodile in ma...
Crocodile in mangroves

Sweet water lagoons 

Fresh water lagoons in Sian Ka’an are fed by an underground sistem of rivers and channels, being part of the Cenotes sistem. The water filters from the center of the peninsula through various layers of calcerous soil. Those lagoons are home to a great number of different species of fish and plants in the coastal regions.


Brackish water lagoons 

Those lagoons are formed in areas along the coastline of Sian Ka'an, where fresh water and ocean water come together. They are populated with mangroves and Zacates, tolerant to brackish water and give a home to fish and molluscs, giving excellent conditions for local birds to nest. There can be found two species of crocodiles: Crocodylus moreletii and Crocodylus acutus.


Tropical Forrest 

There are different species of mammals residing in Sian Ka’an, inside the tropical forrests at the Eastern part of the reserve.& nbsp;These forrests are formed by different types of trees including Chechem, Chicozapote (used to make the famous chewing-gum), Mahagony, Tsalam and other precious woods. The ecologic importance of preserving those environments has been intensified, due to the high demand of foreign countries for those materials, used in construction, decoration, pharmacy and many more areas.

Other groups and organizations

The secretary of state, the SEMARNAT in Quintana Roo, National Institute of Ecology (INE), the Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and the Centre of Research in  de Quintana Roo (CIQRO) are some of the organizations that work inside the reserve. Non-lucrative and international organizations like World Wildlife Foundation, Amigos de Sian Ka’an and some of the universities are involved in various activities.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 August 2012 15:10
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