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Cerro El Copey National Park (also known as Jóvito Villalba in memory of a famous local politician), is located on the eastern side of Margarita, Nueva Esparta State, between 10°57'34'' and 11°04'18'' north latitude and 63°51'31'' and 63°18'08'' west longitude. It protects the island's largest and tallest mountain formation, the Oriental Sierra, which summits at 960 m above sea level. The park contains the only permanent waterway on the island, River Asunción. Due to its elevation, Cerro El Copey constitutes a green oasis amidst an arid environment dominated by xerophitic shrubs, halophilous grasslands and dry forests, which characterize the Araya and Paria Xeric scrubland ecoregion (World Wildlife Fund 2001). While average annual rainfall on the rest of the island is under 400 mm, the park receives between 600 and 1,000 mm, depending on the altitude. June through August and November through January are the months that receive the majority of precipitation (MARN 1994, PDVSA 1995). Similarly, the average annual temperature inside the park (between 18 and 24 °C) is up to 9 °C below that of the rest of the island.

 

These conditions have led to the development of plant communities normally found at higher elevations. In fact, the park's floristic composition shares many similarities with the Coastal Mountain Range (Huber 1999). The foothills are covered by semi-deciduous piedmont forest up to 300m, followed by a submontane evergreen forest up to 620m and mountain range is topped by montane evergreen shrubs, which extend to the highest elevations (Huber 1999).

 

Formed in the early Cretaceous period, Cerro El Copey is composed of igneo-metamorphic rocks. The relief is highly fractured, with lesser slope gradients towards the foothills. Urban settlements have developed on the surrounding plains, which are covered with tertiary and quaternary sediments (PDVSA 1995). This is where La Asunción, Nueva Esparta's State capital, and Porlamar, the most important commercial area, are located. The park's main access is through the village of La Sierra, which lies within the park's boundaries. A 4 km-long road connects La Sierra to the highest peak, where several private phone and television companies, the Venezuelan Air Force and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have antennas.

 

Cerro El Copey benefits from being located in the only Venezuelan state that actually complies with its land ordinance plan. As an indication of this, Nueva Esparta is the country's most intensely mapped state (1:5,000 scale maps) and displays the highest proportion of protected areas. Isla Margarita's three natural monuments and two national parks cover 35% of the island's territory. There is currently a plan to enlarge Cerro El Copey National Park in order to include all of the El Copey mountain range.

 

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