Cuba has a secret: The country's thousands of miles of coral reef ecosystems appear to be healthier than the other reefs found in Caribbean waters.
From preliminary assessments by Nature Conservancy scientists, the reefs do not appear to exhibit the widespread disease and mortality occurring in places like the Florida Keys, Jamaica and Mexico. Why is this? Cuba’s healthy reefs can thank limited coastal development 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, for 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—reefs intact, teeming with fish and marine life.
This exploration has laid the foundation for Cuban scientists and government to research the expansion of the 840-square-mile park. The Conservancy participated in a joint project to observe one of the region’s largest and healthiest colonies of the critically endangered elkhorn coral species, an important reef-building coral that has declined precipitously across the Caribbean since the 1980s. Studying Cuba’s healthy elkhorn coral colonies opens a window to the past, allowing scientists and conservationists a rare opportunity to observe reefs that have retained a level of health not seen for decades in other parts of the Caribbean.
The Conservancy is working closely with Cuban government and partners to maintain the health of the country’s iconic coral reefs. By supporting conservation efforts that promote long-term coral reef protection in Cuba, the Conservancy aims to play a key role in maintaining the magnificence of these coral reefs that serve as a window to the past and also a symbol of the future we're working toward across the region.