The ecology and conservation of Cuba’s coastal and marine ecosystems
Author: Roman, Joe
Abstract: Cuba has some of the most well-protected coastal ecosystems in the Caribbean Sea, with strong marine policies and legislation, including a system of marine protected areas intended to cover 25% of its insular shelf. The “crown jewel” of the system, Jardines de la Reina National Park, has near pristine levels of apex predators and well-preserved coral reefs. Yet overfishing, illegal fishing, land-based pollution, and global changes, including increased bleaching events and more intense hurricanes, are widespread stressors and major threats to marine ecosystems. Limited resources have hindered Cuba’s ability to address these threats. Despite having numerous shared species and resources with the United States, the political division between the two governments has resulted in limited transfer of scientific information. At the end of 2014, the Obama and Castro administrations announced that they would begin improving relations after an approximately 50- yr gap that followed the US embargo of 1962, presenting an opportunity for more scientific exchange and collaboration in environmental management. This special issue of the Bulletin of Marine Science celebrates Cuban marine science and conservation efforts, while recognizing that improved relations and increased tourism and trade could put some natural areas at risk. Joint research shows promise that Cuba, the US, and other countries can work together on regional conservation efforts.