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The Yucatán Peninsula has one of most unique ecosystem found in North America. The peninsula itself is actually a limestone shelf resting overtop an underground river system leading out to the ocean. There are no aboveground rivers of lakes, only cenotes, fresh water sinkholes created when the limestone crumbles, exposing the water below. Some cenotes are no bigger than a well, others are as large as lakes. They are found in the surrounding forests and are the only source of fresh water in the area. Out in the ocean, running parallel to the coast is the Maya reef, the second largest coral reef in the world. The mangroves are wedged between the cenotes and ocean. The small, unassuming trees in the mangroves collect nutrients from rain and the soil and pass them along to feed the coral reef. Without the mangroves, the coral reef would die. As well, the mangroves and jungles are home to many animals, including the endangered jaguar and a large bird population. In fact, this area has a more varied bird population than all of the US and Canada combined.

The cenotes, mangroves and reef are all interconnected in a delicate ecosystem that scientists are only beginning to understand. To protect this amazing environment, the government has created a number of wildlife sanctuaries and encouraged the use of ecoparks for visitors to experience the unique flora and fauna of the area. Cancun’s central location makes it easy for visitors to get to the many ecoparks and wildlife sanctuaries in the area. Some are more rugged than others and farther away; the wildlife refuges tend to have fewer amenities but more animals. Most local travel agencies can make arrangements for you.

 
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