A new day is dawning for Cuba, not just on land, but at sea. But we don’t know what kind of day. On its magnificent coral reefs, Los Jardines de la Reina (The Gardens of the Queen), will it be a Good Friday, or Easter?
Marine scientists and divers now call this pristine and healthy reef, teeming with marine life, “an accidental Eden.” Isolation and good stewardship by the Cuban government have spared the Gardens the massive coral bleaching and reef destruction suffered by most of the Caribbean.
It’s been an ironic blessing of the US embargo: no pesticides for agricultural runoff, no massive sport fishing industry decimating the top predators who are necessary to maintain the precious balance coral needs to survive, less pollution and warming and ocean acidification - all the forces that bleach and kill these dynamic habitats.
I learned this story from the cool ocean organization Oceandoctor.org, which has been engaged in science and education exchanges with the Cuban marine science community for many years. (Scientific, educational and religious groups have been allowed limited travel to Cuba during the embargo.) Their partnerships helped promote scientific scholarship, exchanges and management advice, after Cuba establish the Jardines as the Caribbean’s largest Marine Protected Area in 1996.
The “queen” honored in its name is Isabella; 500 years ago Columbus recognized the Jardine’s preciousness. But he was just the island’s first foreign exploiter. Expected massive tourism and economic “development” could threaten the reefs’ survival.
Coral reefs are indeed Edens – beautiful, undamaged birthplaces. Many organisms spawn there, like fish and lobsters, and then travel throughout this confluence of Gulf, Atlantic and Caribbean seas.
Not even Cuba, like no man, is just an island – one coral’s death diminishes us all.
This dispatch from the international desk of the Blue Theology Mission Stations reminds us that oceans have no borders, fish no passports, corals no protective safety nets.
At Easter we celebrate walls breached, tombs emptied. Will these coral gardens keep blooming with new life, or suffer the crucifixion of consumerism? Let’s chose life, and life abundant.
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