What is a natural space?
A natural space is a surface of the planet that has not been affected by human activity and that relies on special protection measures to prevent damage to its resources, fauna and flora, and any change in its status.
There are various types of spaces depending on the legislation that protects them and which administration is responsible for their care. On the one hand, there are parks, which may be national, regional and natural, and there are also nature reserves, natural monuments and protected landscapes.
In this gallery, we have compiled some of the world's most important parks.
Tortuguero National Park (Costa Rica)
On the eastern coast of Costa Rica, Tortuguero National Park covers 31,000 hectares of land and 52,000 hectares of sea and has been part of the Ramsar Convention since 1991, due to the high biodiversity value of its wetlands.
Tortuguero is especially known for the spawning of green sea turtles, giant leatherback turtles, loggerhead turtles and hawksbill turtles, all of which are endangered species. However, it is also home to crocodiles, pumas, manatees, iguanas, monkeys and a multitude of bird, fish and crustacean species, as well as an extensive variety of flora.
Surface area: 831.87 square kilometres
Year of creation: 1975
Doñana National and Natural Park (Spain)
In southern Europe, Doñana National and Natural Park, comprising 54,251 hectares of national park and 53,835 hectares of natural park, is one of the continent’s most biologically diverse parks due to the confluence of marshes, beaches, dunes and reserves. However, UNESCO is studying the possibility of listing it as an endangered World Heritage Site, given the alarming decline in fresh water provided by its underground aquifer.
Endangered species like the Iberian lynx and the Iberian imperial eagle inhabit Doñana, which is also a habitat to over 300 species of migratory birds migrating to Africa each year. The park was also declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.
Surface area: 1,080.86 square kilometres
Year of creation: 1969 (the National Park) and 1989 (the Natural Park)
Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl National Park (Mexico)
With over eighty years of history, Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl National Park is one of the first natural spaces for which the Mexican government established a special protection plan and, since 2010, it has also been a UNESCO biosphere reserve, known as The Volcanoes Biosphere Reserve.
Its location, in the centre of the country and near the most populated region, just south of Mexico City, makes Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl a green lung and an essential source of water for an area that is especially affected by pollution and drought. Its mountains are also home to around fifty species of mammals and are also the location of the most important coniferous forests and prairies in central Mexico.
However, a study by the Autonomous University of Puebla reveals that the park's demographic pressure, in which homes have been built for over half a million inhabitants, has led to a deforestation of 30% in the last twenty years, reducing the absorption of CO2 from the air.
Surface area: 0.4 square kilometres
Year of creation: 1935
Iguazú National Park and Reserve (Argentina and Brazil)
The impressive border between Argentina and Brazil has also been one of the seven natural wonders of the world since 2011. The Iguazú Falls are located on the Iguazú River, a tributary of the Paraná River, stretching to one and a half kilometres wide in some areas.
Its water resources, apart from offering a spectacle in the form of a waterfall with a drop of up to 80 metres - the “Devil's Throat” - and being a major financial asset for both countries due to tourism, also irrigate the entire natural park, which shelters several endangered species, such as the jaguar, tapir, ocelot, jaguarundi, giant anteater, tamandua (anteater), wild eagles and the broad-snouted caiman.
According to Greenpeace, the rise of the Iguazú and Paraná rivers is causing larger floods than usual due to deforestation, which has reduced the size of the Paranaense and Misionera forests by 93%.
Surface area: 676.2 square kilometres (Argentina) and 1,700 square kilometres (Brazil)
Year of creation: 1934 (Argentina) and 1939 (Brazil)
Picos de Europa National Park (Spain)
The greatest gem crowning the Cantabrian mountain range lies in northern Spain, between Asturias, León and Cantabria. Picos de Europa National Park is one of the most important reserves of the Atlantic forest ecosystems, also hosting the largest limestone formation in Atlantic Europe.
Its water resources, flora and fauna make Picos de Europa a unique natural space which is home, for instance, to 82% of the amphibians and 88% of terrestrial mammals that exist in the Iberian peninsula.
On the negative side, climate change is affecting the biodiversity of the area, with certain new types of fungi and parasites that attack some of the native species.
Surface area: 674.55 square kilometres
Year of creation: 1918
Plitvice Lakes National Park (Croatia)
Sixteen lakes, 22,000 hectares of beech, fir and pine forests, lynxes, deer, owls, toads, brown bears, wolves and grouse make Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia’s most important natural sites.
Established by former Yugoslavia as a natural park in the mid-20th century and having been a World Heritage Site since 1979, Plitvice became a clear example of official protection against external threats in 1992, when UNESCO declared the area endangered due to the conflict between Croatia and Serbia over Krajina. This status lasted until 1997 and the park is now a major source of income for the Croatian government.
Surface area: 300 square kilometres
Year of creation: 1949
Cleland Conservation Park (Australia)
In South Australia, Cleland Conservation Park plays a key role in protecting the koala, one of the country’s national emblems. Located on the outskirts of Adelaide, the activities that the park offers its visitors are a major attraction and source of income to cover the costs of protecting the native fauna.
In Cleland, species such as kangaroos, koalas, wombats, wallabies, dingos and various species of reptiles, including snakes and lizards, can be observed and sometimes even interacted with. An aboriginal guide offers guided tours through the park, which also opens its doors at night for observing and listening to nocturnal species.
Surface area: 11.25 square kilometres
Year of creation: 1945
Serengeti National Park (Tanzania)
Elephants, zebras, wildebeest, impalas, lions, rhinoceroses, buffaloes, leopards… Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania is one of the most characteristic natural images of the African continent.
However, excessive hunting since the beginning of the 20th century has led to a drastic reduction in animal populations. With the creation of the national park in 1951, an attempt was made to protect the animals, achieving a remarkable recovery of species. Particularly noteworthy is the case of the black rhinoceros, of which there are only around twenty survivors, despite there having been almost one thousand in the 1970s.
Surface area: 14,763 square kilometres
Year of creation: 1951
Salonga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Africa's largest nature reserve, listed as a World Heritage Site in 1984, is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Salonga National Park is a green lung that is home to elephants and bonobos and can only be accessed by river, which helps to isolate it from human activity.
UNESCO listed it as an endangered area between 1984 and 1992, due to the poaching of white rhinoceroses and their alarming population decline. Fortunately, thanks to the work of the World Heritage Committee, IUCN, WWF, the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the national authorities, the species is starting to recover.
Apart from the danger faced by animal species, in Salonga, there is also great concern about deforestation, caused by fires and felling to create crop fields and the fact that UNESCO has already issued an official warning regarding this problem.
Surface area: 36,000 square kilometres
Year of creation: 1984
Sagarmatha National Park (Nepal)
Sagarmatha, which means “mother of the universe” in Sanskrit, is a park where part of the Himalayas and the south face of the Everest are located. This "roof of the planet" has also been a World Heritage Site since 1979, comprising 69% barren land, 28% grassland and 3% forest.
Motivated by the financial rewards provided by Mount Everest and the Himalayas, Sagarmatha National Park faces multiple political conflicts that affect its villagers, the Sherpas, including disputes between the governments of China and Nepal over control of the area's resources.
Surface area: 1,148 square kilometres
Year of creation: 1976
Pirin National Park (Bulgaria)
In the south-west of Bulgaria, one of the European countries with the greatest number of protected natural spaces, lie the Pirin Mountains, located in Pirin National Park. The mountainous region is home to two nature reserves: Bayuvi Dupki–Dzhindzhiritsa and Yulen.
It contains a wide variety of ecosystems, plants, lakes of glacial origin and animal species such as wolves, bears, owls and various kinds of birds, making the site one of the most beautiful and complete national parks in the world, according to a ranking by The Guardian newspaper.
Unfortunately, the conservation organisation WWF warned last year of the urgent need to stop the serious threat of deforestation, which threatens the park that is home to the oldest trees in the Balkan Peninsula.
Surface area: 403.56 square kilometres
Year of creation: 1962
Sources:>National Geographic, Ecología Verde, La Croacia, Serengeti, Unesco, Government of South Australia, Áreas y Parques, Gobierno de España, Junta de Andalucía, México desconocido, Argentina World Friendly, Turismo de Asturias, WWF, Viaje por Nepal, Crónicas de viajes de aventura, Senderismo Europa, El Periódico, Greenpeace, Red de desarrollo sostenible, Milenio and El Diario Montañés.
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