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 pollutionespecially 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).
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