Modern invasion threatens Cuba's Zapata Swamp
Web posted at: 2:21 p.m. EDT (1821 GMT)
From Correspondent Gary Strieker
ZAPATA SWAMP, Cuba (CNN) -- The Zapata Swamp stretches for hundreds of square miles surrounding the Bay of Pigs.
If the American-supported invasion of Cuba in 1961 had not fallen to pieces on the beach, the forces could have melted into the swamp's million acres of sawgrass, mangrove and hardwood forest.
Now the swamp faces an invasion of another sort.
Logging has degraded much of its forest, and poachers have become a continuing menace to wildlife.
The biggest wetland in the West Indies, the Zapata Swamp is also the most important, scientists say.
A critical wintering territory for millions of migratory birds from North America and a spawning area for commercially valuable fish, the swamp is also home to many plant and animal species found nowhere else on Earth.
For some endangered animals like the Cuban parrot and the Cuban crocodile, the swamp is one of the few places where they still survive
Yet poor villagers in the area have no choice but to make a living using what's available -- and that means the vast resources of the swamp.
"They will use their resources in a way they can survive, and sometimes it's not sustainable," said Lazaro Echenique Diaz of the National Protected Areas Center.
Diaz and others fear that exploiting the resources will eventually exhaust them and destroy the Zapata Swamp.
In a project developed by conservationists and adopted by the Cuban government, environmental education is being used to show local people ways to raise their incomes without damaging the swamp.
"We are trying to show the way that conservation and people can go together," said Antonio Perera Puga, also of the National Protected Areas Center.
Whether it will work remains to be seen.
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