Lagoons and Oceans

What is a coastal lagoon?

Coastal lagoons are shallow water bodies separated from the ocean by a barrier, connected to it at least temporarily by one or more inlets and usually oriented parallel to the shore. There are four coastal lagoons in Uruguay: from west to east, Laguna José Ignacio, Laguna Garzón, Laguna de Rocha and Laguna de Castillos.

Why focus on coastal lagoons?

Coastal lagoons are an interface between land and sea. They absorb and store carbon, and reduce the impact of floods and droughts. They reduce the intensity of ocean waves, recharge aquifers and regulate hydrological systems.
Among the most productive ecosystems on the planet, they are also highly valuable landscapes and generate diverse economic activities. Their conservation, together with their adjacent land and sea areas, is essential to the wellbeing of future generations.

The coastal lagoons of Uruguay

The coastal lagoons of Uruguay are part of the Atlantic Watershed on the southeastern coast of Uruguay, covering an area of 9,266 km2 and containing the following lagoons: Laguna José Ignacio, Laguna Garzón, Laguna de Rocha, Laguna de Castillos y Laguna Negra (SNAP – MVOTMA, 2016). This coastal lagoon system is the southern remnant of a lagoon system which extends to the south of Brazil, of recent geological formation: it arose some 6,000 years ago with local sinkages and coastal rises of tectonic origin, which finalised with the stabilization of sea levels around 2,500 years ago (García-Rodríguez et al., 2001; García-Rodríguez, 2002 for SNAP – MVOTMA, 2016). 5,500 years ago the current lagoons were bays, joined with the open seas.

Laguna José Ignacio

The smallest of our coastal lagoons, with an area of 1400 hectares, it is located in the department of Maldonado, a few kilometres from the tourist hotspot José Ignacio. It exhibits a variety of habitats, mainly wetlands and grasslands, and is well-known for the diversity of its bird life.

Laguna Garzón

A highly diverse environment with beaches, sand dunes, small lagoons, wetlands, forests and grasslands, it was designated as a national protected area in 2014 . A fragile sandbar separates it from the ocean, which opens several times a year, both natural and artificially.

Laguna de Rocha

This 7.200 hectare-lagoon is recognised nationally and internationally as significant for conservation, particularly with regard to shorebird populations. A national protected area since 2010 and a Ramsar site since 2015, it is also separated from the ocean by a fragile sandbar.

Laguna de Castillos

Declared a Refuge for Fauna by decree 266/1966, it was designated as a national protected area in February 2020. This lagoon is singular in that it is connected to the ocean by a canal, the Arroyo Valizas, which gives it a unique configuration and an unusual landscape.

Marine Protected Areas

In Uruguay Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) comprise the areas between the coastline and 5 nautical miles into the Atlantic Ocean, which are not over 30 metres in depth. There are approximately 525 species of fish in the marine territory, few of which are of commercial interest. Marine areas are of great importance for the movement of  cetaceans (whales and dolphins), and in these areas there are regular sightings, between June and October, of southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) and the Franciscana dolphin (Pontoporia blainvillei), a species endemic to South America and a priority for conservation. It is the most threatened small cetacean and a conservation priority, as it is frequently caught in fishing nets.
FLC is starting to work in the MPAs, through awareness-raising actions and coordinating scientific studies with the University of the Republic on different aspects of their conservation.
PH: Roberto Güller