Dr. Sylvia Earle’s second Deep Search Foundation expedition will take us to the coral reefs of Cuba. Join us from October 30th – November 5th as we explore what remains of a priceless ecological resource; largely unspoilt coral reefs that support a wide array of rare plant and animal species.

The expedition aims to document Cuba’s marine life and the biodiversity that thrives on Cuba’s coral reefs in order to aid future conservation efforts. Cuba is located at the convergence of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea; it provides a vital refuge for fish, amphibians, birds, and other creatures that have been forced to flee nearby local habitats. For example, Cuba is the exclusive sanctuary for the Cuban crocodile which once thrived in an area that extended from the Cayman Islands to the Bahamas.

Cuba’s marine environment is of vital importance to U.S. conservation efforts. For example, snappers and groupers spawn in Cuban waters and their floating larvae, or eggs, are carried by ocean currents to United States waters where the larvae support commercial and recreational fisheries. Additionally, each spring east coast warblers assemble just east of Havana before they fly across the Straits of Florida to the U.S. mainland. In the fall the warblers stop-over in Cuba as they migrate south to warmer climates. Highly-prized game fish such as mahi, wahoo, tunas, billfishes, and several threatened species of shark grow and feed in Cuban waters before traveling north to U.S. waters. Cuba and the United States’ shared waters are also home to populations of sea turtles and manatees.

We hope that our documentation efforts will help to protect Cuba’s rare natural resources from the ravishes of unregulated development. Cuban and American scientists anticipate that an influx of tourist to the island following the departure of President Raul Castro, Fidel Castro’s brother, will devastate the surrounding marine habitat as developers from the United States move in. Meetings to establish policy for the protection of Cuba’s rich resources are underway, but experts are unsure as to the best method for protecting the near pristine environment off Cuba’s shores.

Cuba’s geographic and political isolation does not make it immune from global issues such as the rise in ocean temperatures and acidification levels. Like other coral reefs in the region, Cuba’s reefs experienced a mysterious die-off of sea urchins which left the coral reefs overgrown with algae. Further, Cuban scientists recently documented the invasion of Pacific red lionfish from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. These non-native fish are venomous, eat nearly anything, and have few potential predators; their impact on native fishes and marine ecosystems is potentially devastating

Jardines de la Reina, or the Queen’s Gardens, is the biggest Marine Nature Park in the Caribbean. It was named by Christopher Columbus for Queen Isabel of Spain and is located about 50 miles south of the mainland of Cuba; 80 miles north of Cayman Brace, in the middle of a 150 mile long mangrove and coral island system. This system forms what some people say is the third largest barrier reef in the world. Jardines de la Reina covers about 2,200 sq kilometers of ocean habitat, which means there is no commercial fishing in this area and the number of inhabitants is zero.

One of the most amazing things about this park is that it sees no more than 400 divers a year! This is a marine wilderness with blue lagoons, coral walls covered with brightly huge sponges and colorful corals spanning from the depths to shallow reefs filled with both schooling and solitary fish and wrecks.
Elkhorn coral is a rarity in the Caribbean, but can be seen in abundance throughout the Marine Nature Park. Lots of healthy corals, fish, sponges, sharks and sea fans could be see at “Five Seas” dive site – Kip’s new favorite dive spot!

Caribbean Reef Sharks circling the dive site. There were about 15 sharks in the immediate location cruising over one of the many reefs.

A revered Silky Shark swims by.

This image is of the entrance to Octopus Cave, an area where large groupers, schooling fish, and sharks – of course – congregate.

Dr. David Guggenheim, a well know scientist and activist for these waters descends for a dive. Click here to learn about his work in Cuba.

In the nearby mangroves there are a number of interesting inhabitants. Including the Spoon Bill, which perches on the top bows of the nearby mangroves.

An Osprey coming in for a landing. Osprey collect small pieces of wood from the mangrove forest to build their nests.

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