Untitled Document
Geography
National Context
National System of Protected Areas
Table of Protected Areas
Map of Protected Areas

Geography

Venezuela's geography varies greatly, creating diverse landscapes and an extraordinary plant and animal diversity. The country is characterized by five major geographic regions: the maritime region and the coastal mountain range (Cordillera de la Costa) in the north; the Andes cordillera in the west; the central plains; and the Guayana shield in the south.

The maritime region is approximately the same size as the Venezuelan mainland. Desert landscapes and mangroves make up the 311 islands, keys, and islets bordering the 4,006 km of Caribbean and Atlantic Coasts. The coastal range is dominated by forests. The highest mountain in this range is Naiguatá peak at 2,765 meters above sea level (almost 9,100 feet). The high Andes region is characterized by páramo vegetation. The country's highest mountain is Bolívar peak, with an altitude of 5,007 meters above sea level (approx. 16,500 feet). The plains and the Guayana shield are the most extensive regions in the country. The plains are composed of savannahs, gallery forests, and palm dominated wetlands. The Guayana shield is a vast region of large rivers, jungles, and "tepuyes," which are mountainous relicts found only in this part of the world.

The climate varies greatly due to altitudinal differences and the country's geograhic location, at a convergence point between the Northern and Southern Trade Winds. Rainfall varies between less than 400 mm per year in the arid/semiarid central and coastal regions to more than 4,000 mm per year in the Amazon. The median daily temperature can reach 28° C (83° F) in hotter regions, and below 0° C (32° F) in the upper reaches of the Andean páramos. These climatic variations result in ten bioregions within the country: Marine, Island, Coastal, Costal Range, Lara-Falcón Highlands, Lake Maracaibo Lowlands, the Andes, the Plains, the Orinoco River Delta, and the Guayana Shield.

Venezuela is one of top ten biologically diverse countries of the world. There are more than 17,000 plant, 1,400 avian, 350 mammal, 340 reptile, 300 amphibian, approximately 1,800 fish, and more than 100,000 insect species within the national territory. Highly endemic regions include the Andes and the summits of the tepuyes in the Guayana region. Nevertheless, many of these habitats are endangered due to deforestation, natural resource exploitation, and pollution—especially north of the Orinoco River where the majority of the human population lives. 105 species of animal species are considered endangered (34 mammals, 33 birds, 13 reptiles, 7 amphibians, 10 fish, and 8 invertebrates).



National Context

Venezuela maintains a rich natural resource base, which is a great opportunity for sustainable development. Venezuela has not yet taken full advantage of this opportunity for two main reasons: first, there is still a lack of understanding of the value of, and threats to, the country's natural resources; second, the country's heavy reliance on oil extraction revenues has hindered a diversification of the economy.

Additionally, the fact that 80% of the Venezuelan population lives in poverty overshadows the country's environmental problems, and the environment is not seen by the government or the general population as a priority. The prevailing view is that with so many social problems, environmental issues must be pushed to the wayside.

Venezuela was a pioneer within South America for being one of the continent's first countries to enact an environmental legislation. Some of its environmental laws, such as the Organic Environmental Act (1976), the Territorial Planning Act (1982), and the Environmental Penal Code (1992), are exemplary. Yet, in practice, they are not upheld.



National System of Protected Areas

Venezuela possesses an extensive protected area system, offering various degrees of natural resource protection. National parks, natural monuments, and wildlife refuges are the strictest categories and make up 16% of Venezuela's territory. The other categories of protection, comprising about 32% of the national territory, consider the sustainable use of the natural resources they contain (as a matter of fact, 19% of these territories are considered production areas). Several institutions and offices within the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) are responsible for managing these protected areas, which makes coordinating efforts difficult.

The Venezuelan national park system is composed by 43 Bational parks and 21 natural monuments. Although the first park was established in 1937 (Henri Pittier), the majority of the parks were declared between 1970 and 1995. The National Parks Institute (INPARQUES), created in 1978, is in charge of the management and administration of these protected areas.

The first national parks were created in order to protect the country's most important watersheds. Only later did biodiversity protection become the motive for the the creation of new parks. Some national parks also protect the country's cultural heritage, since indigenous communities reside within their boundaries . Despite INPARQUES' best efforts, lack of financial resources hinders proper management and contributes to a lack of effective control on the ground. Specifically, there is a lack of infrastructure, equipment, personnel and training.

It is of utmost importance to verify the effectiveness of the park system in achieving the preservation of Venezuela's natural resources. Unfortunately, the only governmental initiative to evaluate the functioning of Venezuela's protected areas did not begin until the 1980's, and it was never finished. To ensure that the parks are more than just "paper parks" requires constant monitoring of their functioning and their resources, as well as teaching inhabitants and visitors the importance of conserving these natural areas.

Table of Protected Areas
Map of Protected Areas


 
 
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