Selected tags: Gardens of the Queen

Tri-national collaboration & research in the Gardens of the Queen: The expedition begins

By: Kendra Karr & Owen Liu

With support from the Waitt Foundation, EDF launched an initiative last year with the University of Havana's Center for Marine Research that allowed teams of Cuban, U.S. and Mexican scientists to carry out a series of expeditions to conduct vital new research on Cuba's remarkable—but understudied—marine and coastal ecosystems. 

A Special Caribbean Reef

Coral reefs are some of the world’s most imperiled marine habitats.  Impacts from climate change, pollution, overfishing and resource extraction combine to threaten reefs all over the world.  This is especially true in the Caribbean, where rapid development is underway across the Caribbean Sea, exacerbating the stressors on coral reefs and their related seagrass and mangrove ecosystems.

However, in one special corner of the Caribbean, the Gardens of the Queen archipelago, has remained remarkably resilient in the face of this collective pressure.  A Caribbean marine paradise, The Gardens consist of more than 600 cays and islands and is home to the largest contiguous reserve in the Caribbean at 2,170 square kilometers.  It supports a mosaic of mangrove, seagrass, patch reefs, fringing red and reef slope and is abundant with fish, sharks and other marine life.

To reach the Gardens of the Queen from mainland Cuba, one must bisect the Gulf of Ana Maria, a shallow-water system comprised of mangrove, seagrass and coral reefs. The ecosystems of the Gulf of Ana Maria and Gardens of the Queen together cover more than 10,000 square kilometers of productive habitat, making the entire archipelago a magnet for eco-tourism, including SCUBA diving and recreational fishing. Despite a growing eco-tourism industry and offering one of the best examples of a resilient Caribbean reef, much about the Gardens remains a mystery.

We are excited about our partnership with the University of Havana’s Centro de Investigaciones Marinas (CIM) and the Centro de Investigaciones de Ecosistemas Costeras (CIEC), and the potential for collaborative scientific exploration to yield foundational data  and information about marine habitats in and around the Gardens of the Queen.  Our inaugural expedition in (February) 2013 harnessed expertise from a tri-national team of scientists, which shared knowledge and scientific methods while surveying migratory shark populations off Cuba's south coast in the Gulf of Batabanó, to the west of the Gardens of the Queen.  In October 2013, scientists from the three organizations hopped aboard the RV Felipe Poey and RV Itajara to journey to the Gardens reserve itself, and the nearby Gulf of Ana Maria.  This 19-day expedition produced new data about the special Gardens ecosystems, and shared expertise among scientists from the three organizations, promoted collaboration, increased scientific capacity and forged new friendships. Read More »

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Protecting Cuba's Abundant Coral Reefs

Two of the authors, Doug Rader and Dan Whittle with a goliath grouper.

*Re-posted with permission from Sailors for the Sea

This month's ocean watch essay comes to us from theEnvironmental Defense Fund(EDF), and was written by:Dan Whittle the senior attorney at Environmental Defense Fund and director of its Cuba ProgramDoug Rader, PhD, EDF's Chief Oceans Scientist, and Violet Dixon the Marketing Communications Associate for EDF's Oceans program. All images by Noel Lopez Fernandez.

In the waters off the Southeast coast of Cuba there's a near-pristine coral reef reserve called Jardines de la Reina, or the Gardens of the Queen. In this national park, groupers, snappers and many other reef fish flourish, along with several species of sharks. Although many of the world's best-known reefs face destruction in the face of global warming and other threats, large portions of the Gardens of the Queen remain remarkably healthy. Relative isolation from human influence helps make Cuba's coral reefs unique. Protecting these ecosystems — and species that rely on them — requires careful collaboration and cooperation among managers, scientists, fishermen and local fishing communities. Well-designed marine protected areas (MPAs), combined with innovative fisheries management, are the foundation for both sustainable commercial and recreational fisheries and a thriving eco-tourism sector.The abundance of big predators, like these Caribbean reef sharks, is a sure sign of an ecosystem in balance. The Gardens has six to eight times as many sharks as elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Seeing under the sea
Healthy coral reefs, mangrove swamps and seagrass beds support thriving fish populations, which in turn support local fishing communities and attract ocean enthusiasts. Scuba divers come from around the world, for example, to witness the myriad of sea animals and breathtaking underwater ecosystems in the Gardens of the Queen.

On these dives, they encounter numerous species of shark including Caribbean reef sharks, silky sharks, nurse sharks and occasional lemon and blacktip sharks.  Depending on the season and other factors, visitors also occasionally encounter whale sharks, the largest known fish species. Read More »

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