Sian Ka’an Facts
-Largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean (approximately 1.3 million acres)
-Established January 20th 1986 as part of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program
-UNESCO World Heritage Site
-Unique for its geography and wetlands
-23 known archeological sites (with relics dating up to 2,300 years old)
-103 known mammal species
-336 known bird species
-Nesting ground for many species of wading birds
-Annual rainfall between 44 and 48 inches
-Important nesting site for two endangered sea turtle species
-Believed to be inhabited in the Pre-Classic and Classic Periods in the chieftanships of Cohuah and Uaymil
-Currently home to over 2,000 inhabitants
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve was established on the 20th of January 1986 by presidential decree (under President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado) and became part of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program that same year. In 1987 the reserve was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As part of the MAB program, Sian Ka’an faces the greatest challenge of conservation: to find a way to integrate human activities without compromising other forms of life contained within its boundaries.
Sian Ka’an is approximately 1.3 million acres in size and spans 120 kilometers from north to south (comprising almost one third of the Caribbean coast of Mexico). In 1994 an area of over 200,000 acres to the south of the Reserve was named a Protected area of Flora and Fauna of Uaymil, increasing the continuous area of protected land.
The reserve contains three large core zones where human activity is limited by permission to scientific research. These areas, known as the Zonas Nucleares of Muyil, Cayo Culebras, and Uaymil, cover a total area of almost 700,000 acres. Low-impact human activities and sustainable development occur in the area of the reserve known as the buffer zone. The human population is estimated at 2,000 inhabitants, the majority of which are located in the coastal regions, especially in the fishing villages of Punta Allen and Punta Herrero. Approximately one percent of the land within the reserve is privately owned.
There are five entrances to the reserve, located at Pulticub, Santa Teresa, Chumpón, Chunyaxché and Chac Mool. Guards employed by the governmental SEMARNAP organization are stationed at every entrance to enforce the Reserve regulations.
“Sian Ka’an” is translated from Mayan as “where the sky is born” or “gift from the sky”. The reserve is thought to have been inhabited in the pre-Classic and Classic periods as part of the chieftanships of Cohuah and Uaymil. There are twenty-three known archeological sites inside the reserve. Discoveries of human remains, ceramic pieces, and other artifacts have been dated up to 2,300 years old. The northernmost section of Sian Ka’an contains what is thought to be an ancient trade route through lagoons and mangrove channels between the cities of Tulum and Muyil. Parts of what is now the Reserve were once areas of chicle production and trade through the middle of the twentieth century, and the fishing industry is still one of the most important economic activities of the Reserve’s population. Common species include spiny lobster (Palinurus espinosa) tarpon, grouper, permit, nurse shark, hammerhead, black tipped shark, and snapper. Tourism is a another source of income for fishermen in Sian Ka’an, hired to run boat trips to see the reefs and lagoon systems. Approximately 36,000 tourists entered the reserve in the year 2000, and those numbers are expected to increase significantly for the year 2001. There is a charge of $ 4 USD as a fee entrance to the Reserve per person per day.