The site was established as a private Nature Reserve in 1987, and operated as a butterfly farm. Following the sub-division of the land in two parts (2000 acres and 20000 acres), the International Tropical Conservation Foundation, based in Neuchatel, Switzerland bought the latter section in 1989 and took over the management. The protective value of the area was increased in April 1990, by the designation of a 32000 acre no hunting zone around Sarteneja which included Shipstern Nature Reserve (SI 47). The reserve was expanded in 1994 with the acquisition of a further block of land to the west of the main reserve, the Xo-Pol area (1’500 acres). In 2000, Shipstern Reserve opened Belize’s first Mahogany Park, close to the village of Sarteneja, together with a small museum dedicated to the national tree of Belize. In 2004, Shipstern Nature Reserve was again enlarged by 4’000 acres to the South of the reserve, as a physical contribution to the Belize Biological Corridor.

The total area of Shipstern Nature Reserve is now close to 26’000 acres (Although the reserve includes part of Shipstern Lagoon, the lack of protection currently afforded to that area is considered by Wilson (1995) as a significant gap in Belize's protected area network )

The site is scattered with relic Mayan house mounds.

The site protects the more seasonal northern hardwood forests of Belize, as well as the only dry forests of Belize, the rare Kuka Palm forest. It is also of importance for waterfowl conservation (IUCN 1986), and Shipstern actively protects two large colonies of the American Woodstorks, White Ibis, Reddish Egret, etc.

Subtropical Moist.

Yucatan and Central America

Information on the reserve's wildlife has expanded considerably, for a number of species groups following 5 years study by reserve managers, compiled in the Occasional Papers of the Belize Natural History Society Volume 2 (1993), detailing inventories of flora, butterflies, hawkmoths, silk moths, odonata, miscellaneous invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles, birds and mammals. Since 1997, numerous Master’s theses have completed the knowledge of Shipstern’s biodiversity and ecology. Its vegetation has been categorized into 5 main types, with many subtypes. Its sub-tropical moist forest covers approximately 2400 acres, is heterogeneous and in a state of regeneration after the devastation wrought by the 1955 Hurricane Janet and subsequent fire. Essentially, the forest is now in a state of mature second growth. A small and unique patch of Yucatan coastal dry forest is to be found North of the lagoon. This forest occurs only in four areas of the Yucatan Peninsula and is highly threatened by tourism developments. Shipstern lagoon itself, along with its associated bays and creeks is the third habitat, particularly important for waterfowl. Its crocodile population has been investigated and found to hold a relatively low density, tentatively attributable to low prey populations resulting from the harsh conditions of the lagoon. The coastal savannah (also referred to as mangrove savannah), forms wide belts around the Lagoon and reserve border. When these flood, they attract many wading birds. The final habitat is coastal mangroves. The site contains a good breeding population of White-winged Doves, the main population in Belize. Nesting on 2 small cayes in the lagoon are more than 200 pairs of American Woodstorks, numerous White Ibis, Reddish Egrets (largest population in Belize), Great Egrets and Neotropical Cormorants. Other birds that may be found include the Clapper rail, Roseate Spoonbill, Black Catbird, Yellow-lored Parrot, Red vented Woodpecker and Yucatan Jay. Both American and Morelet's crocodile are present, whilst the lagoons are not considered good habitat for Manatee, because of shallow waters and absence of suitable aquatic vegetation. The freshwater fish of the reserve have been surveyed by Bijleveld (1990) during a 8 month study. Cyprinodon variegatus was a new record for Belize, and Rivulus ocellatus was recorded for the first time on the mainland, previously only noted on Twin Cayes.

Shipstern Lagoon is a saline coastal lagoon surrounded by mangrove, subtropical moist forest and semi- deciduous forest Shipstern. Caye (locally called Isla de Conejos) is adjacent to the reserve, and is an important waterfowI nesting site for Wood Stork, Reddish Egret and other species, but unfortunately often depleted by hunting.

The site has a small permanent population of wardens and researchers. Corozal (regional commercial centre) is 14 miles west but approximately 25 miles by boat Sarteneja is 2 miles northwest.

Average rainfall is approximately 50 inches a year, although there is considerable fluctuation. The dry season generally begins in January and ends in May. August is also usually a dry month, and September the wettest. The elevation of the reserve is between approximately 0- 10 ft. Shipstern Lagoon and its peripheral bays, comprises about 20% of the reserve. It is shallow (1.5 ft) with deeper interlinking channels, although water depth varies with the seasons, and with the direction and strength of winds. Northern winds in the winter can lower its water level significantly. It has a silted bottom overlying limestone, with occasional mangrove islets. Its salinity fluctuates widely, and varies from 0.5% in the rainy season to 3.3% in the dry

During the early years of the reserve, tourism was not encouraged but facilities have since been put in place as part of public awareness efforts. These include a comprehensive Botanical Trail, a butterfly aviary, a natural history museum, tree-top observation posts and numerous trails.

There is widespread evidence of Mayan use of the area.

Belize Parks Home / Bacalar Chico / Bird Sanctuaries / Burdon Canal Nature Reserve / Blue Hole National Park / Great Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef / Chiquibul National Park and Caracol / Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary / Columbia River Forest Reserve / Community Baboon Sanctuary / Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary / Five Blues Lake National Park / Glover's Reef Marine Reserve / Guanacaste National Park / Half Moon Caye Natural Monument / Hol Chan Marine Reserve / Laughing Bird Caye / Marco Gonzales / Mexico Rocks / Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve / Payne's Creek National Park / Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area / Shark Ray Alley / Shipstern Nature Reserve / Turneffe Atoll /

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