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Los Roques Archipelago National Park is found in the Caribbean Sea, 130 km north of the central coast of Venezuela's continental territory. The archipelago is an extensive coral atoll that spans 36 km east to west and 24.6 km north to south. The atoll is composed of 50 islands, about 292 keys, and extensive coral reefs covering an area of 221,120 ha. It is only 130 meters above sea level at its highest point, but it can reach depths of 1,700 m in its deepest portion, with average depths below 15 m in the north. The park is located between 11° 58' 36" and 11° 44' 26" N and 66° 57' 26" and 66° 36' 25" W, and it is part of the Federal Dependencies of Venezuela's insular territory.

 

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The climate in Los Roques is warm and dry. Average annual temperature is 28 °C with an average annual rainfall of 250 mm (maximum of 480 mm). The warmest months are September and October. Under these conditions vegetation is mostly xerophytic, dominated by halophilic grasslands and bushes common to the Venezuelan coast. There are also large extensions of mangrove forests and immense shallow water seagrass beds. Inland lagoons are common in the many keys that form part of the archipelago. Many of these lagoons were created when two or more keys intertwined, and also when the growing tendency of mangrove forests and coral reefs enclosed the lagoons (originally connected to the open sea). One of the major attractions is the coral atoll that forms the archipelago. Experts consider it to be one of the largest and best-preserved atolls in the Caribbean Sea.

 

The geologic origin of these reefs is very recent -about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. However, the rock foundations that sustain the reefs originated about 40 million years ago during the Upper Cretaceous (Méndez 1978). These igneous and metamorphic rock foundations constitute the hills in Gran Roque. Calcareous sediments from reef crumbling, shells, and the residues of other marine organism, accumulated on these rock foundations. After the last ice age, between 15 and 19 thousand years ago, sea levels rose considerably due to the melting of polar ice. This caused the growth of the north and south barriers, which enabled the formation of keys because they offered a natural protection of the inner area (Méndez 1978, AUA 2002). Los Roques is a unique archipelago because it is a coral-shaped atoll that formed without the intervention of volcanic processes (Méndez 1978).

 

In 1996, Los Roques was declared as a Ramsar site because of its importance as a biodiversity and food-resource reservoir.

 

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