Cuba's Marine Environment
As many of you know, I just recently returned from Cuba as a part of my Marine Research in Cuba winter term course at Eckerd! In addition to posting a video of the activities and research we participated in during the trip, I wanted to briefly explain the status of Cuba's marine environment, as well as the various projects we collected data for.
Due to limited development and extensive conservation efforts, Cuba has some of the (if not the most) healthiest coral reefs in the Caribbean. Cuba's Law 81 has played a big role in the current status/health of it's reefs, having been adopted after explorer Jacques Cousteau visited the island in the 1980's. The law created an environmental agency that currently protects over 25% of Cuba's lands and waters. Within it's 26,000 square miles of continental shelf, Cuba has 109 marine protected areas (MPA's), one of which we collected most of our data from, Punta Frances.
In Cuba, we spent 4 days in Havana, touring the city and learning about the culture. We then proceeded to the Isle de la Juventud (Isle of Youth), which involved a 3 hours bus ride and a 4 hours boat ride. At the Isle de la Juventud our group was split into two, each group spent 4-5 days at the Hotel Colony and 4-5 days on the Felipe Poey (the University of Havana's research vessel). In addition to the 18 Eckerd students and the 2 Eckerd professors, we had 1 graduate student from FIT, and 6 students from the University of Havana, join us on the trip.
Marine Research in Cuba
In Cuba we collected data for 4 different projects, this included deploying FinPrint recordings, characterizing lagoon habitats, manatee boat surveys, and reef surveys/removal of invasive lionfish.
FinPrint is a Paul G. Allen initiative that brings together an international research team and collaborators around the world to fill a critical information gap about the diminishing number of sharks and rays (elasmobranchs). While on the Felipe Poey, we deployed 5 recording device for 90 minutes each. The videos were sent back to the University of Havana for students to analyze them, by doing so it allows scientist to better understand the abundance of the various reef fish, elasmobranchs, and corals in a specific area.
While at the Hotel Colony, we spend most of our time at 2 lagoons that were identified as potential nurseries for bonefish and tarpon. At the lagoons, we kayaked to various sites and took abiotic measurements (salinity, depth, visibility, temperature, wind speed, etc.) to assist scientist at the University of Havana with characterizing the habitats.
Little is known about Cuba's manatee population. Unlike manatees in Florida, manatees from Cuba are extremely timid and run from both, people and boats. Manatee in Cuba are often illegally hunted, unlike their Florida counterparts. We conducted boat surveys to try and spot manatees or find manatee feces (the presences of feces provide evidence of a manatee(s) in the area). Unfortunately, we found neither manatees or manatee feces.
While on the Felipe Poey, we went SCUBA diving at various reefs in the MPA. While diving we removed lionfish (an invasive species to the Caribbean), which we dissected on the boat for educational purposes. We also collected mucus samples from healthy coral reefs to grow on plates, in an effort to better understand the various microbes that grow on corals. Lastly, we took video recordings of the reef, which were sent back to the University of Havana for students to analyze.
Check out this video of my time in Cuba!