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La Encrucijada Biosphere Reserve

Coastal ecosystems are among the most productive on the planet, and La Encrucijada hosts a number of these coastal resources—with lagoons, swamps, the only Zapatonal forest in the region, and some of the best-preserved mangroves forests on the Pacific Coast. The reserve serves as a natural bridge between the nearctic and neotropical biogeographical regions harboring the northern and southernmost extensions of numerous species. Because of these features, La Encrucijada has critical ecological and economic importance to the region: many local communities rely on the natural resources for their livelihoods, supporting a thriving local fishing economy, and the reserve’s wetlands function as an upstream filtering system for communities in the lower watersheds.

did you know?

The coastal wetlands of La Encrucijada form one of the largest marine fishery spawning grounds on Mexico's Pacific coast.

black mangrove

Black mangroves are one of several wetland systems found in La Encrucijada © Connie Gelb/TNC


site profile

total area protected:
357,824 acres
map of site

Central American Pacific Dry Forest, Mexican Mangroves Chiapas-Nicaragua Biogeographic Marine Region

partner organization:
Instituto de Historia Natural (IHN) 

Ecological Importance

La Encrucijada’s well-preserved resources serve as a refuge for an abundance of wildlife, including 73 mammal, 11 amphibian, 34 reptile, and 294 bird species. Endangered and threatened species such as jaguar, spider monkey, Mexican anteater, river crocodile and boa constrictors also seek refuge in the reserve. La Encrucijada provides important nesting grounds for threatened birds such as the roseate spoonbill, American wood stork, chestnut-bellied heron, and the giant wren—which is found only in Chiapas—as well as 94 species of migratory shore and songbirds.


Threats to La Encrucijada date to the early 1900s when the construction of a railroad and the Pan-American Highway tore through the watershed and led to the area’s colonization. These early changes in the region can be tied to the reserve’s present situation: the area is now critically threatened by deforestation and alteration to water resources. Erosion caused by deforestation in the reserve’s upper and middle watersheds deposits sediment in the lower watershed and threatens both fish catches and water supplies needed by local communities. River diversion and dam construction have diminished and sometimes eliminated the fresh water supplies needed by the lagoons and estuaries, resulting in a loss of species, including species important to the local fishing economy. Fires are commonly set to clear land for agriculture as well as by poachers to attract young turtles. This has not only posed a threat to turtle populations, but also to rare palm forests, wetlands, and grasslands.

A Strategy of Success

When Parks in Peril (PiP) began working in La Encrucijada in 1991, the area had little infrastructure or staff. PiP was instrumental in expanding the 6,000-acre state park to a 350,000-acre biosphere reserve—the highest status of protection in Mexico. The reserve grew from seven staff people working in a dilapidated camp to 32 trained staff with fully equipped offices at the reserve and a central office in the state capital. 

La Encrucijada has also demonstrated major advances in community-based conservation activities, with projects being implemented in all local communities. The reserve’s first community project was initiated in 1991 when the partner organization Instituto de Historia Natural del Estado de Chiapas (IHN) conducted a letter-writing campaign to introduce the local communities within the reserve to critical conservation issues. Since then, local fishermen have raised concerns to the federal and state government regarding the government’s support of infrastructure projects that benefit agriculture and livestock but is detrimental fishermen’s livelihoods and the environment. When the reserve’s biosphere status was still in the proposal stage, the fishing community supported conservation by calling for the issuance of fishing permits and the promotion of traditional fishing techniques.

Local communities have contributed to the design, organization, and management of successful conservation projects. This has included creating a list of desired sustainable development projects which was presented to and supported by a variety of agencies. A watershed committee was also formed and successfully lobbied for local government support of a watershed management plan between La Encrucijada and its upstream neighbor, El Triunfo, another PiP project. Three communities have also donated land to the reserve to aid in fire control.

Beginning in 1996 and continuing beyond PiP funding, community members participated in a restoration and rehabilitation project of fishing areas in La Encrucijada. The project improved natural flows, restored estuaries, drainage systems and river deltas, and recovered fishing productivity in the lowlands and lagoons. Based on the success of this project, fishing cooperatives have embraced the need for environmental protection. Read PDF of full project report...

Reserve staff also created a financial planning and fundraising department, which was showcased in the Financial Planning Guide to Protected Natural Areas, a publication of The Nature Conservancy, and was distributed to over 400 Latin American conservation practitioners. In 1999, La Encrucijada was consolidated with well-trained staff, sufficient infrastructure, a long-term financial plan, and community outreach and environmental education programs that integrate the needs of local communities.

Read more about La Encrucijada...

Instituto de Historia Natural (IHN) 
The Nature Conservancy in Chiapas

Read more about projects in Mexico...

El Pinacate/Gran Desierto del Altar Biosphere Reserve
Cuatro Ciénegas National Wildlife Reserve

Loreto Bay/Isla Espiritu Santo Migratory Flora and Fauna Reserve
Ría Celestun & Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserves
Ajos Bavispe Biosphere Reserve
El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
El Ocote Biosphere Reserve

Calakmul Biosphere Reserve

Mexico Partner Organizations

The Nature Conservancy in Mexico