It’s happened twice in the last few weeks that articles about Cuba’s Jardines de la Reina have crossed my desk. The first was from Sea to Table – that site is a bulletin created by a sympathetic American family and it serves to connect independent and sustainably practicing fishermen all over North America with chefs in large American cities. Because the US department of State has removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism that country will be undergoing intense change in the coming years. Since Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Cuba has languished due to the regime’s dislike of capitalism and economic development. The GNP per capita in 2011 was $6,051.20. In the United States, by contrast, it was $49,803.50.
As a result, the environment around Cuba is comparatively pristine – what was difficult for the Cuban people has been a bonanza for nature. There has simply been no money devoted to development. Additionally, the Cuban government has devoted much effort to conservation in the Jardine, making it a park. Jacques Cousteau visited the island in the ‘80s and convinced the Cuban government to create an environmental agency and begin conservation. People who have dived the reefs in the park report that it is like going back in time hundreds of years.
The second recent article was from Science magazine and describes a new effort by a UNC Chappell Hill biologist partnered with a Cuban post-doc to measure the fish mass in the reefs and study the micro flora. It is hoped that the study of the reefs will enable comparisons with degraded reefs around Florida to tease out a more nuanced narrative for reef degradation and what has caused it all over the Carribean.
Us foreign policy still prohibits federally funded research in Cuban waters. Current efforts are partially funded by Ocean Doctor, a D.C. non-profit which helps American scientists visit there. The project is a spin off from the San Francisco Baum Foundation’s environmental arm and is headed by a marine scientist, Dr. David Guggenheim.
It will be interesting to see how things go moving forward. Currently, under socialism, the government is the largest employer in Cuba. They pretty much control what happens there. There is little to no lobby pressure on the government unlike in capitalist countries. Internationally, scientists hope that meaningful research can be accomplished before tourism and development change the ecosystem. There will be a struggle there over this issue.