Guatemala has designated its fourth Ramsar site, this one in the Municipality of Puerto Barrios in the Izabal Department, which is located in the Honduran Gulf on the Caribbean coast. The new site, Punta de Manabique, covers a total of 132,900 hectares, of which 44,900 ha are terrestrial, 22,000 ha are inland waters, and 66,000 ha are coastal waters.
The site includes four different ecosystems: a) marine; b) marshes and swamps; c) coastal areas; and d) terrestrial area. The marine ecosystem is shallow with a sandy bottom and a few patches of corals. The main vegetation in the marine area is Tallasia. The marshes and swamps serve as refuge for many species such as manatees (Trichechus manatus). The coastal area also serves as refuge for many species. The forest cover is typical of a flooded tropical jungle. The swamp is characterized by detritus and peat which have been transported by the Motagua River, the largest of Guatemala. The main plant communities in the terrestrial area are Chrysobalanus icaco, Symphonia globulifera, Phragmites comunis and Manicaria. There are several threatened and vulnerable mammal species such as Allouatta palliatta; Tapirus baiirdii, Tayassu tajacu, Tayassu pecari and Panthera onca are also found in the area. Crocodylus acutus and Iguana iguana are also typical of the area. Birds such as Platalea ajaja, Eudocimus albus, Helionis fulica, Thalurania furcata, Threnetes ruckeri, Picumnus olivaceus, Xiphorhyncus guttatus and Thamnophilus punctatus have been observed in the site.
The main threats faced by the wetland are expansion of the grazing areas, use of pesticides and fertilizers, development of tourist resorts, and the activities carried out by the small local population. The main economic activity, although restricted to a very small area, is fishing in shallow waters. Hunting of wildlife such as iguanas is also important, as well as grazing and rice plantations in the borders of the wetland.
The Protected Areas Law designated Punta de Manabique as an "Area of Special Protection" in 1989, and in 1996 it was officially declared that designation of Punta de Manabique as a protected area was a matter of national urgency. The draft decree of designation of the protected area is at present in Congress for its approval. The management plan for the area is being prepared by FUNDARY (Fundación Mario Dary) with the support of CONAP (El Consejo Nacional de Areas Protegidas).
-- reported by Margarita Astrálaga, Ramsar.