Can Ocean Conservation and Development Coexist in Cuba?

Ninety miles south of the Florida Keys, where the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico meet, Cuba’s waters are still teeming with marine species that are now seldom seen in other parts of the Caribbean. The Nature Conservancy’s partnership with Cuban conservation agencies is long-lasting: for more than 20 years, we have trained together for protected-area management and planning, coral-reef monitoring, climate adaptation, and sustainable tourism. Now, with loosening restrictions on U.S.-based organizations working in Cuba and growing pressures on Cuba’s historically preserved marine environment, it’s time to craft a bolder vision and take bigger actions.

An Urgent Opportunity

The Caribbean Sea has experienced large-scale environmental degradation since as early as the 1600s, when the overharvesting and loss of nesting habitats of sea turtles drove them nearly to extinction. Coral reefs have had a tough time, too, particularly in more recent decades with increased pollution, overfishing and poorly planned coastal development that, exacerbated by climate change, have resulted in massive coral bleaching and severe reef deterioration in many places.

However, Cuban coral reefs do not appear to exhibit the more widespread disease and mortality occurring in other sites of the region. Why is this? Cuba’s reefs — accounting for nearly a third of the coral reefs in the Caribbean — are healthy primarily as a result of limited coastal development and more sustainable agricultural practices that limit sediments and toxic runoff into the sea. Given the shifting U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relationship, the potential for increased economic activities could fuel detrimental changes to the country’s marine environment, particularly in land-use in sectors such as tourism, agriculture and energy. A clear and comprehensive plan that promotes smart development can help protect Cuba’s unique and spectacular reefs and marine life.

Introducing the Cuba Conservation and Development Blueprint

The Nature Conservancy and our Cuban partners are defining a long-term —> Read More