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Jaragua National Park occupies the southern portion of the procurrent of Barahona in the southwest region of the country, including in its territorial demarcation the Beata and Alto Velo Islands, as well as the cays called Los Frailes and Piedra Negra. The marine-terrestrial protected area is the largest area of the Dominican Republic with about 1,543 km2 of surface between marine, insular, estuarian, lake and terrestrial areas.
The marine area of the park covers 900 km2 of surface. The Park presents a low elevation area where the relief is smooth. The protected area has two large topographic formations. One group the flat coastal strips at sea level (wetlands on the southwest coast with about 20 km in length that includes the Bucan de Base lagoons and the salt water pools and the lagoons of Oviedo and Rabiza). The permanent lagoons in this strip they are Puerto en Medio (Trudille), Manuel Matos, Salada and Salado de Bucan de Base. Other temporary lagoons are the Salado de Cotinilla that only has water during the rainy season.
The second unit is composed of the tertiary formations of calcareous coral rocks that give rise to stepped platforms, hollows, hills and low hills. The highest hills can reach up to 300 meters above sea level (m. a. s.l.), locating the highest point in Punta del Cerro with 334 m.a.s.l. Other elevations are Loma Toussaint with 234 meters above sea level, Cerro Camello with 112 m.a.s.l and the Morro de Bucan de Base with 70 m.a.s.l, it also has large expanses of cliffs with cliffs up to 60 meters high.
Jaragua National Park was declared as such in 1983, however, it was incorporated into the National System of Protected Areas in the General Law of Environment and Natural Resources 64-00 of the year 2000.
Jaragua National Park has an extraordinary value as a world heritage because it contains terrestrial, coastal, marine and wetland ecosystems unique to the island of Santo Domingo and of great relevance in the Caribbean, due to its physical and biological characteristics, its high level of endemism and its excellent state of preservation. The subtropical dry forest, the scarce and most threatened vegetal association of America, occupies 95.25% of the territory of the protected land area (70,433.11 Ha.) And the subtropical thorny forest, even more scarce and threatened, represents 0.96% of the protected area (710.03 Ha.). It represents the largest extension of this type of primary forest that is located in the Antilles, with all associated fauna in excellent condition. This biome remains very little altered by human action, presenting a solid vegetal cover. One of the most notable wetlands of the park is the Laguna de Oviedo, with an extension of 25 km2 where there are several well forested cays; It is located on the east coast and separated from the Caribbean Sea by a narrow sandy strip, constituting a place of refuge, nesting and reproduction of numerous species of migratory, endemic and native birds.
In the territory of Jaragua National Park a great variety of ecosystems are found: semideciduous forest, semideciduous forest on calcareous rock, coastal semideciduous forest on calcareous rock, semideciduous forest on altered calcareous rock, clear semideciduous forest on calcareous rock, clear forest under coastal semideciduous calcareous rock, coastal dwarf forest, coastal xerophytic scrub, mangroves, halophytic prairies, coastal forest on sandy alluvial soil, vegetation of beaches and dunes, coastal lagoons, salt marshes, seagrass beds, algae pleasures, gorgonian beds and coral reefs . In its different environments the presence of singular, unique, endemic and endangered species stands out, which find space for their reproduction and protection, such as mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and marine mammals, among others.
The protected area also has interesting archaeological sites, mainly inside caves and their surroundings, many of them can be visited. The oldest archaeological site dates from 2590 years before Christ, corresponding to an indigenous settlement with lithic industry, characterized by the use of shell artifacts and silex instruments. The rock art of the caves is spectacular and is considered one of the oldest of the Greater Antilles, manufactured by the first settlers of these islands. The archaeological sites that constitute the settlements with lithic industry and the cavities with rock art are frequently associated and integrated into spectacular landscapes that complement the cultural interest of these places.
On the coast of the park are located the most beautiful virgin beaches of the island, such as the bay of Las Aguilas or Playa Blanca. The marine zone of the park is of extraordinary interest, since it is the habitat of some species of marine mammals, such as dolphins and manatees. The large coral reefs that develop in the waters of the Park are in perfect condition and are the healthiest and largest extension that is preserved on the Hispaniola Island. Sea turtles abound and have on the beaches of the park one of the most important and best conserved destinations of the Caribbean for nesting, also locating in its waters a lot of juvenile turtles.
Jaragua National Park integrates the island Beata, with its 27 km2 of surface and the islet of Alto Velo, which are extremely important places for the conservation of the biodiversity of the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean, because their ecosystems remain untouched and in they reproduce many species of amphibians and reptiles. It also represents a seabird nesting area of exceptional interest to biologists and nature scholars.
In 2002, the UNESCO MAB committee approved the first biosphere reserve in the Dominican Republic, which included Jaragua National Park in its entirety. Based on its special value and the need to safeguard the species of flowers and fauna it contains, in December 2014 Jaragua National Park has been declared a SPAW site, within the framework of the agreements taken in the Cartagena Convention to safeguard the areas of high ecological value in the Greater Caribbean. In 2007 Jaragua National Park was incorporated as an area of importance for the conservation of birds, IBA, within the program of the organization Bird Life International. Also in 2007, with the support of UNDP, the establishment of the Caribbean Biological Corridor was signed, incorporating territories of Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Jaragua National Park, being within the Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve, is entirely within the aforementioned corridor. Due to its importance at international level, the wetlands of Jaragua National Park have been declared in 2014 as a Ramsar site with the name of "Wetlands of Jaragua".
Criterion (i): The prehispanic rock art located in Jaragua National Park represents a masterpiece of the human creative genius, since it combines the religious or educational intentionality with the plastic art expressed in three different specialties: painting, engraving and sculpture. The technical perfection of a large part of the cave paintings and the different styles of parietal art that are found in the caves and shelters of the protected area, surprise for their iconographic heterogeneity and for their aesthetic beauty. Stands out for its importance: the cave of La Tortuga, with 18 paintings and 14 petroglyphs; the cave of La Colmena, with 50 paintings and 300 petroglyphs and the shelter of Guanal with 50 petroglyphs. To carry out their works, the shaman artists refined techniques to prepare the pigments, make them durable and apply them to the stone and also made tools and systems that allowed them to excavate the rock to make the engravings.
Criterion (iii): The rock art is a unique testimony of the pre-Hispanic Antillean cultures already disappeared. It offers us a vision frozen in time of nature, its culture and its uses and customs, related to the cultural group that made them in each case. The oldest representations take us to the mythical world of hunters and gatherers and other presumably more recent ones, they present themes related to myths typical of the jungle cultures that generated in the continent migrated to populate the island of Santo Domingo. We also observe shamanic systems to communicate with the deities, so that they can make adequate decisions to ensure the survival of their people. In some cases we locate scenes of their daily life and the fauna and flora that millennia ago developed in their tropical ecological environment within the current protected area.
Criterion (vii): Jaragua National Park contains areas of exceptional beauty that are authentic emblems of the Antillean nature. Within the protected area is the Bay of Las Aguilas, a seven-kilometer-long beach, completely enclosed by a calcareous terrace that runs parallel to the aforementioned beach. The beauty of this coastal-marine space with its transparent and blue waters always calm bathing the strip of white sand, make the place one of the most beautiful and characteristic natural sites of the Caribbean region. Also within the Park is the lagoon of Oviedo, with brackish waters of a characteristic blue-green color of a truly exceptional beauty. In the marine area, the islet of Alto Velo appears in the middle of the sea as a spectacular telluric element, colonized by thousands of birds that flutter around it. These places, along with innumerable natural untouched places, such as cliffs, caverns and underground springs, give the park a truly exceptional natural beauty.
Criterion (ix): Jaragua National Park is one of the few coastal-marine protected areas of the insular Caribbean where the ecological and biological processes associated with the ecosystems it harbours, are kept in perfect conditions. The subterranean waters that emerge in the springs of the park, coming from the neighbouring mountain range of Bahoruco, generate extensive wetlands that develop parallel to the coast in the form of a coastal cord, creating biological interactions between very diverse habitats. The fauna associated with forests, wetlands and caves is developed in perfectly healthy communities, resulting in this conservation unit one of the best preserved fauna and flora refuges in the Caribbean basin. Eighteen different ecosystems with all their associated fauna have been identified in the protected area, comprising twelve plant associations, lagoon systems, seagrass beds and coral reefs. The levels of endemism in the protected area are very high, which gives its fauna and flora a truly extraordinary value.
Criterion (x): Jaragua National Park contains some of the most important and significant natural habitats for the "in situ" conservation of Caribbean biological diversity. It has the largest area of tropical dry forest in the Antilles, which is also in an excellent state of conservation and with a high level of endemism. It is also the refuge of a multitude of threatened and endangered species that have an exceptional value because they are endemic to the island of Santo Domingo, even some of them have only been identified within the protected area. Many of the species that live in the Park are considered as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, with the protected area being an exceptional place to shelter them.
Jaragua National Park is a protected area that is part of the National System of Protected Areas of Dominican Republic, also having a complete Management Plan updated, so it has high levels of control and protection, both legal and physical. It is also located within the Jaragua - Bahoruco - Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve that brings together this protected area together with the Lago Enriquillo and Isla Cabritos National Park and the Sierra de Bahoruco National Park, which ensures its authenticity and doubly strengthens its integrity. The territory of the Park is part of the international network of Important Areas for the Conservation of Birds (IBAs), considered of global importance for housing important breeding colonies of Onychoprion fuscata, possibly the most important in the Caribbean, Dendrocygna arborea, Patagioenas leucocephala, Amazona ventralis and Aratinga chloroptera, all listed as vulnerable to extinction according to the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The protected area is one of the few sites on the entire island of Hispaniola, where there are stable wild populations of these endemic endangered species.
Regarding to the archaeological remains located in the protected area, these are safe from looting and are in very good condition. In terms of cave art there are 15 sites where we find paintings, petroglyphs and bas-reliefs. The authenticity of the rock art present in Jaragua National Park, this is unquestionable, since it has been studied for many decades and several scientific works have been published in this regard. There are some recent works done on it during the last update of the Protected Area Management Plan. The studies focused on the paintings, lead us to consider them carried out by the oldest prehispanic settlers of the island and the calcite flows that cover many of the petroglyphs and some paintings, show us the great antiquity they have.
The integrity of the rock art of Jaragua National Park is, in general, very satisfactory. The sites have the surveillance that park rangers in the protected area can offer. On the other hand, many of the cave stations are located in remote places or in the middle of wooded masses, so their access is complex and this has prevented them from being altered, being mostly untouched.
The integrity of the protected area in terms of the situation of the natural resources of the Park is excellent. The protected area has a recent Management Plan that replaced the previous one, which ensures the correct management of the resources of the protected area. Likewise, regular monitoring of species is carried out, with detailed inventories of their natural heritage.
In Jaragua National Park, 14 different terrestrial ecosystems have been identified, inhabiting 464 plant species, among which there are 122 endemic species of the island, the most notable being the guanito (Haitiella ekmanii) or the cannelloni (Pimenta haitiensis) that have a very limited distribution almost restricted to the protected area. Of these species a total of 37 are threatened according to the National Red List of Threatened Plants. Likewise, 7 are considered in critical danger, 16 in danger and 14 as vulnerable. On the other hand, all genera of the family Orchidaceae and Cactaceae are regulated under appendices I and II of the CITES convention. In Jaragua National Park, 21 species of mammals are reported, of which 11 are from flying mammals (Quiroptera), 8 are terrestrial and 2 species of marine mammals. In the Park we can see the hutia (Plagiodontia aedium) and the solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus), both endemic to the island and in danger of extinction.
The protected area has 179 species of birds, belonging to 48 families, of which 67 are residents, 19 are endemic, 64 are migratory, 3 are introduced and one colonizer. There are 7 species on the IUCN Red List: yaguasa (Dendrocygna arborea), sandpiper (Charadrius melodus) pigeon coronita (Patagioenas leucocephala), parrot (Amazona ventralis), parrot (Psittacara chloropterus), torico (Siphonorhis brewsteri) and raven (Corvus leucognaphalus). According to the Red List of Threatened Wild Animals in the Dominican Republic, Environment Ministry there are 19 species at some level of danger of which 6 are in danger and the rest are vulnerable.
The inventories of amphibians made in the Park have reported a total of 4 genera and 6 species; equivalent to 13.64%, of a total of 44 species described for the Dominican Republic. Regarding endemism, in Jaragua National Park, 6 species, equivalent to 14.28%, of the country's 41 endemic species are present. In the protected area, two threatened species have been reported according to the Red Lilac of Endangered Species of the Dominican Republic: the Barahona rock frog (Eleutherodactylus alcoae) listed as endangered and the yellow spotted frog (Eleutherodactylus pictissimus), identified as vulnerable.
In Jaragua National Park 11 genera and 43 species of reptiles are known, equivalent to 39.09% of the 110 species described for the Dominican Republic. Of these, 2 are native to Hispaniola Island and 36 are endemic, equivalent to 34.28% of the 105 known endemic species in the country.
The marine area of the park contains 4 different ecosystems, including the best preserved seaweed meadows of the Spanish island, as well as extensive coral reefs in excellent condition along with all their associated fauna, such as lobster (Panulirus argus) or the lambí (Strombus gigas). Species as scarce as manatees (Trichechus manatus manatus) and hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata) have one of their best intact natural refuges and one of the most important breeding places in the Caribbean. All species of marine turtles in the region have been identified in the waters of the Park.
The archaeological sites located are fundamentally the remains of the passage of pre-agro-pottery peoples (agroalfareros), identified by their flint industry and also located on the island of Cuba and the island of Aruba, although there are not human heritage proclamations of UNESCO that focuses on this type of archaeological sites in the Caribbean.
The cave painting of the Park stands out for its antiquity, being associated with pre-ceramic remains attached to the first inhabitants of the Greater Antilles. We found parallels of the rock painting of Jaragua National Park with very old sites of the so-called Geometric School on the island of Cuba, from where we think these people jumped to the one of Santo Domingo precisely on the Southwest coast, where the Dominican Park is located. A similar style of rock painting is also found on the island of Aruba, associated with the first cultural groups that left the continent from Venezuela. The spirals of the caves of Punta del Este on the island of Pinos in Cuba and the cave of Ambrosio in Varadero, are also found in caverns of Jaragua National Park, such as the Los Huesos cave. In spite of the distance and the difference of pictorial styles and dates, we have to point out the parallel of the paintings of the cave of Las Manos located in Argentina and that was the first site of rock art declared World Heritage by UNESCO in America. Another world heritage in continental lands, the Sierra de Capibara National Park in Brazil, also contains rock art similar to the one found in Jaragua National Park, although of different prehistoric stages.
The petroglyphs are of the same type as those located in hundreds of caverns scattered throughout the geography of the island of Santo Domingo. These designs have very clear parallels in all the Antilles and in the continent, fundamentally from the Orinoco-Amazon basin. The type of designs and their bill is common throughout the Caribbean basin, but it is understood much further, both in Central America and in South America. In most of the Lesser Antilles there are petroglyphs similar to those of the Park, highlighting those located in Trois Riviere and La Coulisse in Guadeloupe, Winfield State in Sant Kitts, Roche Gravee in Martinique, etc.
As for its natural resources, Jaragua National Park is unique in the Antilles, because it represents the largest expanse of dry tropical forest that exists in the Antillean archipielago and that is also protected and in perfect condition. Other representative samples of tropical dry forest are located in the center and north of Haiti, in the southwest of Cuba and on the south coast of Jamaica, where there are some protected areas within the Blue Mountains National Park. We do not yet have UNESCO samples of this type of forest declared World Heritage in the Antillean area. There is only a small sample of about 4,000 Ha. within the Guanica Biosphere Reserve, on the island of Puerto Rico.
In the Caribbean basin located in the continental zone, we locate large tracts of dry tropical forest on the coasts of Colombia and Venezuela. In Venezuela there is an extension of protected coastal dry tropical forest of 4,500 Ha. Within the Morrocoy National Park, and important extensions of this protected ecosystem are also located within the Mochima National Park. In Colombia, only 41,100 Ha of dry tropical forest are within protected areas, specifically in the Tayrona and Macuira National Parks and in the Los Colorados Wildlife and Flora Sanctuary.
In the rest of the American continent the most important tropical dry forest extensions are located in the Amazon, where they represent 9.5% of their coverage; in the cerrado located in the southwestern part of Brazil and in the "certao" of the Northeast of this country; the Paraguayan Chaco and in the coastal strip of the Pacific in Peru.
We can say that Jaragua National Park has the remnant of the most important protected tropical dry forest in the Caribbean, without being able to establish a comparison with similar protected areas or sites declared World Heritage in this geographical area.