Despite being the largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba’s political and economic isolation for over half a century means biodiversity research outputs have been severely limited. Cuba is home to extensive coral reef, mangrove and seagrass habitats, although anthropogenic and natural stressors threaten their future health and survival. With large scale growth in tourism expected in the coming decade, pressure on Cuba’s marine ecosystems will likely grow, and Operation Wallacea aims to address (1) the long term resilience of coastal habitats in the face of a changing planet, and (2) the current status and conservation forecast of marine megafauna.
Operation Wallacea and the Centre for Marine Research at the University of Havana (CIM-UH) have developed a long-term collaborative partnership to implement a biodiversity monitoring programme in the south of the Isle of youth (Isla de la Juventud), the largest island off the coast of Cuba. With the western end already designated as the Punta Frances National Park, the entire area is now being proposed as a Sustainable Use and Protected Area (APRM) due to its significant importance to biodiversity. Research assistants will join a team of Cuban scientists to complete fish and benthic surveys of reefs along the southern Isla de la Juventud APRM, explore the ecology of invasive lionfish, and assess the local manatee population in the nearby mangrove system. Data will be used to inform conservation management practices across the entire southern island APRM.