Habitat-level mapping of mangrove cover trends in Ciénaga de Zapata, Cuba, using landsat imagery and local knowledge
The mangrove forests of Ciénaga de Zapata, Cuba, are of critical importance from both biodiversity and ecosystem service perspectives. The peninsula is home to more than 1,000 invertebrate species, more than 80 percent of the island’s total bird species, and numerous fish, mammals, and reptiles, including the Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) and Cuban gar (Atractosteus tristoechus), two species found only in Cuba. Zapata’s mangroves also support populations of sport and commercial fish such as bonefish (Albula vulpes), tarpon (Megalops atlanticus), permit (Trachinotus falcatus), and snook (Centropomus undecimalis). Despite the ecological importance of Zapata’s mangroves, no published work has documented any changes in the forests’ extent or distribution throughout the past two decades. This project combined unsupervised classification and visual interpretation of Landsat imagery with local knowledge to quantify and map area changes in Zapata’s mangrove forests from 1994 to 2014. Habitat zones mapped by local stakeholders were used to measure and compare mangrove change at the scale of individual species’ preference areas. Study results demonstrated a negligible (1.20 percent) decrease in total mangrove area during the study period. However, changing socio-political and economic dynamics between the United States and Cuba could precipitate rapid development along nearby coastal locations in the near future, and these results provide necessary baseline information against which to measure future pressures on Zapata’s mangroves at the cusp of a period of potentially substantial future change.