Yucatán Peninsula has one of most unique ecosystem found in North
America. The peninsula itself is actually a limestone shelf resting
overtop an underground river system leading out to the ocean.
There are no aboveground rivers of lakes, only cenotes, fresh
water sinkholes created when the limestone crumbles, exposing
the water below. Some cenotes are no bigger than a well, others
are as large as lakes. They are found in the surrounding forests
and are the only source of fresh water in the area. Out in the
ocean, running parallel to the coast is the Maya reef, the second
largest coral reef in the world. The mangroves are wedged between
the cenotes and ocean. The small, unassuming trees in the mangroves
collect nutrients from rain and the soil and pass them
along to feed the coral reef. Without the mangroves, the coral
reef would die. As well, the mangroves and jungles are home to
many animals, including the endangered jaguar and a large bird
population. In fact, this area has a more varied bird population
than all of the US and Canada combined.
The cenotes, mangroves and reef are all interconnected in a delicate
ecosystem that scientists are only beginning to understand. To
protect this amazing environment, the government has created a
number of wildlife sanctuaries and encouraged the use of ecoparks
for visitors to experience the unique flora and fauna of the area.
Cancun’s central location makes it easy for visitors to get to
the many ecoparks and wildlife sanctuaries in the area. Some are
more rugged than others and farther away; the wildlife refuges
tend to have fewer amenities but more animals. Most local travel
agencies can make arrangements for you.