New Opportunities for Conservation in Cuba

Photo by Jeff Hunter/Getty Images

With the opening of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba earlier this year, new opportunities for conservation among the two countries are emerging.

The United States and Cuba recently signed an agreement on marine conservation and research, representing the first such collaboration on environmental protection. The agreement proposes to link marine sanctuaries in the Gulf of Mexico for technical cooperation. Scientists from the Florida Keys and Texas Flower Garden Banks national sanctuaries will partner with Cuba’s Guanahacabibes national park and the Banco de San Antonio. Guanahacabibes is one of Cuba’s largest and most isolated reserves, teeming with biodiversity. These marine parks share similar species assemblages and overall conservation goals.

Cuba is currently undertaking a new initiative to protect its shark populations, record fishing catch levels and develop a long-term conservation plan. A priority for Cuban researchers is the Bluefin tuna, a highly threatened and commercially valuable species for the region. Cuba is also an important stop for many migratory species, marine and bird.

Cuba is home to a diversity of bird life, the Cuban crocodile and other game species. Cuba is well known for its great sport fishing, including goliath grouper, snook, tarpon, sailfish, and marlin. Several species of ducks, doves, common snipe and quail attract hunters on the island’s fifteen game reserves. Large mammals including deer and wild pigs are also hunted. New partnerships in conservation could lead the way for more recreational opportunities for international hunters to contribute to wildlife conservation in Cuba as economic ties grow.

Cuba’s marine sanctuaries remain well preserved. However, oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and increased tourism are both threats to the fragile coral ecosystems that exist there. The memorandum between US and Cuba also opens the door to collaboration on other environmental issues.

The agreement made between the US and Cuba is a welcome start to a new relationship on conservation. Scientists say that collaboration among the marine sanctuaries was needed and will lead to improved cooperation.

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