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Ría Celestún & Ría Lagartos

Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

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Ria Celestun and Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserves

The Ría Celestún and Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserves combine to protect over 265,000 acres of near-pristine estuaries, mangroves, and tropical forests. Both reserves are located in the Yucatan Peninsula and although 140 miles apart, they biologically link migratory waterbird areas. In the winter months 89 percent of all pink flamingos in the world migrate to Ría Celestún and Ría Lagartos. As the only mainland breeding and feeding areas for the pink flamingo in all of North America, the area was given biosphere status--the highest level of protection in Mexico—in 1979.

did you know?

Over half a million birds are known to congregate in the lagoons (rías) of Celestún and Lagartos.


Over 20,000 flamingos flock to Ría Celestún and Ría Lagartos each winter © Janie M. Greene


site profile

total area protected:
265,000 acres
map of site

Mexican Mangroves, Yucatan Dry Forests, Gulf of Mexico Biogeographic Marine Region

partner organization:
ProNatura Peninsula de Yucatan (PPY)

Ecological Importance

In addition to the pink flamingo, the coasts and wetlands of Ría Celestún and Ría Lagartos are important habitat for over 300 other species of birds, including herons, ducks, seagulls, and a number of migratory wading birds from the U.S. and Canada. The beaches of the reserves are the main nesting areas in Mexico for the endangered hawksbill sea turtle. Other endangered species such as jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay, and marsh and river crocodiles also find refuge in the reserves.


Ría Lagartos is threatened by cattle ranching and salt mining, which can fracture wildlife habitat and pollute waters through improper waste management. Ría Celestún is subject to a booming tourist trade, yet poorly planned development has contributed to vegetation loss and altered the area’s hydrology. In both areas, sensitive plant and animal species have been affected by unregulated natural resource practices and are beginning to disappear from the forests, dunes and estuaries.

A Strategy of Success

Although decreed a reserve in 1979, Ría Celestún and Ría Lagartos did not have on-site staff or infrastructure until Parks in Peril (PiP) began in 1992. PiP hired and trained a reserve director and rangers and provided vehicles and reserve signs. PiP helped partner organization Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan (PPY) obtain important conservation data about land tenure, water quality, tourism, fisheries, and human and environmental health. With this information PPY was able to develop environmental education materials for distribution among local schools.

PPY has organized fishermen, tour boat operators, and women to participate in sustainable production alternatives. PPY has worked to help local ranchers convert to compatible ranching methods that protect local vegetation and do not require logging of large areas. In Ría Lagartos, five cattle ranchers agreed to reduce their grazing areas. PPY has also worked on conservation efforts in the Peten Tucha watershed to restore traditional water flow.

In 1998, PPY and a Celestún doctor were asked by the state health authority to present their environmental health studies to state officials so the studies could be replicated throughout the state. At the time of site consolidation in 1997, PPY and reserve staff were being asked to share their land stewardship tools and experiences through the Mexican Reserve System. Ría Lagartos is currently exploring initiatives for improving conservation on private land, something not yet widespread in Mexico.

Read more about Ría Celestún and Ría Lagartos ...

ProNatura Peninsula de Yucatan (PPY)
The Nature Conservancy in the Yucatan Peninsula

Read more about projects in Mexico...

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

Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserves
Calakmul Biosphere Reserves
Ajos Bavispe Biosphere Reserve
El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve
Loreto Bay/Isla Espíritu Santo Reserves
El Ocote Biosphere Reserve

La Encrucijada Biosphere Reserve

Mexico Partner Organizations

The Nature Conservancy in Mexico