Along Cuba’s Coast, the Last Best Coral Reef in the Caribbean Thrives

Repeating Islands


This article by Fen Montagne appeared in Yale’s Environment 360. It is accompanied by an impressive photo gallery.

View the photo essay.

The enduring image of Cuba is of a country locked in a time warp, with 1950s American sedans cruising the streets, colonial-era buildings in disrepair, and six decades of strict state control over the economy and a U.S. embargo keeping development at bay.

This frozen-in-amber quality also applies to many of the marine ecosystems surrounding the Caribbean’s largest island, with tremendous benefits for Cuba’s aquatic life. While coral reef cover has declined by 50 percent throughout the Caribbean in recent decades, Cuba has managed to retain some of the most pristine and biodiverse coral reef environments on earth. A lack of coastal development, limited tourism, relatively small amounts of runoff flowing into the sea, tight controls on commercial fishing, and the establishment of extensive marine protected areas have…

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