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Unspoiled Coral Reefs Awe Scientists

Cuba has a secret: This country's thousands of miles of coral reefs appear to be healthier than others in Caribbean waters. 

Preliminary assessments indicate that the reefs do not exhibit the widespread disease and mortality occurring in places like the Florida Keys, Jamaica and Mexico, in part due to the decades of isolation from mass tourism as well as limited agricultural practices.

A study of the health of Cuba’s reefs can provide valuable insights into coral reef conservation for the Caribbean, and possibly, the world.

In 2012, the Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund completed a three-week expedition of Cuba’s Jardines de la Reina national park. Despite some localized coral bleaching, the research team was awed by what they found – many intact reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds teeming with fish and marine life. This work has laid the foundation for Cuban scientists and officials, who will decide if the 840-square-mile park should be expanded. The Conservancy participated in a joint effort to observe one of the region’s largest and healthiest colonies of Acropora palmata (Elkhorn coral), an important reef-building coral that has declined precipitously across the Caribbean since the 1980s.

Studying Cuba’s healthy Elkhorn coral colonies will open a “window to the past,” allowing scientists and resource managers a rare opportunity to observe coral reefs that retain a level of health not seen for decades in the Caribbean.

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