Garden of the Queen, Cuba

Marine Park Areas

A marine park area (MPA) is a designated area of sea set aside as a sanctuary for marine life and coral to thrive. These parks define an area of ecological sustainability, promote marine awareness and understanding, enable marine recreational activities, and provide benefits for Indigenous peoples and coastal communities

Typically MPAs are funded by governments and marine tourism including permits for divers and fishermen. 

In the last 50 years, Cuba has relied on tourism dollars to supplement support for its people and parks, including Jardienes de la Reina. I traveled there in 2016 to dive the park, located 60 miles off the southern coast of the main Island, comprising an archipelago 1.7 million acres in size and rich in marine diversity. The area is patrolled by boats to prevent blast fishing, poaching and other illegal practices. The diversity of coral and marine life is unmatched in the hemisphere. We saw Atlantic goliath grouper the size of cars, healthy, schooling sharks on every dive, and one day we snorkeled over acres of elkhorn coral – a primary species of reef building that is gone in most other areas of the Caribbean. 

When the US government re-exerted sanctions on travel to Cuba in 2016 there were serious and negative consequences to the economy including lack of funding for protecting Jardienes de la Reina. In 2020 when nations closed airports and locked down borders to combat the spread of the Coronavirus, tourist travel to Cuba again plummeted and the island lost an important source of hard currency, plunging it into one of the worst food shortages in nearly 25 years.

Without tourism dollars, illegal and desperate practices, including blast or dynamite fishing, go unchecked, causing critical damage to plants, animals and indigenous people. The benefit of dollars for this particular marine park is hard to overestimate. Destructive fishing practices have reduced the number of Atlantic goliath groupers by 80% – they are critically endangered and vulnerable to extinction. These large predators keep fish and coral species in check, without them, there are additional, grave consequences for the sea, the reef and us.

Marine tourism, when it is safe to travel, can fund the critically needed surveillance, protection and management, requiring only a relatively small additional investment in park protection systems and technology . An organization that works to expand and protect marine parks is World Wildlife Federation. Even when you can’t travel to these special places, you can support their work.