Almost 700 sites in Cuba offer visitors the opportunity to experience one of the largest, most diverse and best preserved coral reefs on the planet
Cuba’s marine ecosystems, considered to be the most important natural environment in the Caribbean given their size, variety, number of species and state of conservation, captivate divers and underwater photographers alike.
Some 1,000 species of fish, 58 corals, 160 sponges, mollusks, crustaceans and a large variety of plants, live together in the coral reef which surrounds the wide and relatively shallow underwater platform, in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean to the north, and Caribbean Sea to the south. Coral reefs are very rare. They are found in less than 1% of the world’s oceans. However, they are one of the ecosystems most crucial to human survival, given that they are home to between 25% and 33% of all marine life.
Currently, due to irresponsible human activity, the impact of meteorological phenomena, the rising temperature of the sea due to climate change, many of these “tropical jungles” have become extinct or are slowly dying.
In Cuba protection and conservation of ecosystems is governmental policy. In the case of marine ecosystems, monitoring and control projects have been implemented which have enabled the reefs’ health to be maintained or restored. Cuba’s coral reef one of the largest, most diverse and best preserved in the world, is also filled with caves, tunnels, channels and shipwrecks among other attractions which turn snorkeling and diving – up to 40 feet – both during the day and at night, into unforgettable adventures.
In the clear, gentle waters, free of contamination which surround the Cuban coastline and its 4,000 keys and small islands, spectacular wreckage of several submarines, can be seen, according to French researcher and naturalist Jacques Costeau.
Enthusiasts and professionals who wish to enter this marvelous, silent world, have more than 700 sites on the island in which they can immerse themselves, in 18 zones, many of which are located in protected areas and often near principal tourist destinations.
These zones are: Cabo de San Antonio, María la Gorda, Cayo Levisa, La Habana, El Colony, Cayo Largo, Varadero, Bahía de Cochinos-Playa Larga-Playa Girón-Caleta Buena, Cayo Santa María, Cienfuegos, Guajimico, Trinidad, Cayo Coco-Cayo Guillermo, Jardines de la Reina, Santa Lucía, Guardalavaca, Santiago de Cuba and Marea del Portillo.
Comfortable hotels and 40 well equipped diving centers, where expert instructors certified by the World Underwater Activities Confederation (CMAS) and the American-Canadian Underwater Certifications (ACUC), welcome participants, who increasingly choose Cuba as a destination.
Diving is among the activities which the Ministry of Tourism is promoting in order to further diversify options in the sector, and better position Cuba as a holiday destination in the international market.
SOME ESSENTIAL ENVIRONMENTS
Although it is difficult to choose among so many of unique beauty along the 67,831 kilometer square Cuban coral reef, some are essential.
María la Gorda, a remote enclave on the southern coast of the marine territory of the Guanahacabibes National Park, a Biosphere Reserve, Pinar del Río, is one of these.
With 50 diving sites, the area is renowned for its clear waters and sea beds, home to largest black coral colony in the Cuba, in addition to a wealth of fauna including anchors, cannons and other underwater treasures from other eras.
On the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth), the second largest in the Cuban archipelago, we find The Colony, with 56 sites where diving through tunnels and caves is a popular option, making the area a regular location for international underwater photography competitions.
Cienfuegos, in Cuba’s southern central region, has 21 diving sites, famed for the lushness of its coral reef along a large area of its coastline, where a six meter coral column, known as Notre Dame, makes the region one of the most important in the Caribbean for divers.
Comparable to a giant natural aquarium, Coco and Guillermo keys, in Jardines del Rey, to the north of Ciego de Ávila, have 46 immersion sites, and next year will host the International Cuban Tourism Fair.
In the Jardines de la Reina National Park, in the south of Ciego de Ávila, with 93 diving sites, the interaction between two species of shark, the Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinusperezi) and the Silky shark (carcharhinusfalciformis) is fascinating.
The so-called Coral Garden stands out among the 47 dive sites in Guardalavaca, in northern Holguín, with marine relief characterized by enormous mounds, caves and vertical rocky peaks which form terraces covered with a large variety of corals.
Marea del Portillo, which forms part of Sierra Maestra National Park, in the south of Granma, has among its many underwater treasures, an old 36 canon galleon and the Colón, both belonging to the Spanish fleet commanded by Admiral Pascual Cervera, sunk by U.S. ships in 1898, during the Cuban War of Independence.
Lilliam Riera, Granma