HAVANA, Dec. 10, 2021 Environmental Defense Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society and The Ocean Foundation congratulate Cuba’s Parque Nacional Jardines de la Reina, or Gardens of the Queen National Park, for winning a prestigious Blue Park award from the Marine Conservation Institute. The Blue Park’s initiative recognizes some of the most outstanding marine protected areas on the planet and supports actions to conserve them.
Jardines de la Reina joins a network of 21 marine parks from around the world that are models for healthy oceans with vibrant marine life.
“Jardines de la Reina National Park is one of the most spectacular marine parks on the planet. The park may be best known for its healthy and colourful coral reefs and the diversity and abundance of fish, sharks, sea turtles and other marine life.
In fact, extensive colonies of Elkhorn coral, a critically important reef-building species that has virtually disappeared in the Florida Keys and much of the Caribbean, flourish in the park,” says Valerie Miller, director of EDF’s Cuba Oceans Program.
Natalia Rossi, the WCS Cuba Country director points out that, “Jardines de la Reina, a spectacular string of keys that stretches for 135 km, connecting seagrass beds, mangrove forests, and coastal habitats, is one of the largest marine protected areas in the Caribbean and among the region’s best-preserved coral reef ecosystems.”
These interwoven habitats are more resilient to climate change and protect Cuba’s shorelines and the people who reside in coastal areas against rising seas and intensifying storms.
Recent research indicates that the coral reef system in Jardines de la Reina is one of the 50 most resilient reefs in the world — making it a place that has the potential to survive the future impacts of climate change and potentially repopulate neighbouring reef systems (Beyer et al., 2018).
“In terms of biodiversity, Cuba is considered the most important island country in the Western Hemisphere. Cuba’s government decided to designate Jardines de la Reina as a national park in 2010 because of its high species richness and presence of rare and endemic species. The Blue Park Award makes special mention of how well protected the park is,” states Fernando Bretos, program officer at The Ocean Foundation.
Commercial fishing with the exception of lobster is prohibited within the park’s boundaries, allowing fish to thrive; research conducted in the park shows that some populations “spillover” to neighbouring areas, supporting livelihoods outside the park.
This spillover effect goes beyond Cuba, as larvae of several species of snappers, groupers and corals are exported to neighbouring regions like Jamaica, Belize, Mexico, Honduras and the Cayman Islands that benefit from these aggregations in different degrees.
The presence of healthy populations of large predators, including many shark and grouper species, is also important for long-term regional conservation.
The conservation successes of Jardines de la Reina are built on science-based management plans and ecosystem monitoring projects. We salute the park’s managers, the National Enterprise for the Protection of Flora and Fauna and Marlin Azulmar, along with Cuba’s National Center for Protected Areas.
Many other institutions, organizations and individuals have worked tirelessly to research, protect and promote this crown jewel of the Caribbean. Even over the past two years as COVID halted visitation, the renowned tourism operator Avalon found ways to keep its boats out on the water to monitor the park.
EDF, WCS and The Ocean Foundation are honoured to have collaborated with Cuban scientists and scientific institutions in Jardines de la Reina to support conservation efforts and to connect the success of the park with the international community, spreading lessons learned and best practices to other places.
We remain committed to working with Cuban partners to foster sustainable practices that will protect this unique habitat. Now as a Blue Park, this network will grow and Jardines de la Reina will inspire more people to protect their special places where ocean life can thrive for generations to come.
To get to know the park and its stewards, we invite you to watch this trailer for the upcoming documentary, “Los Jardines de la Reina,” from the award-winning Cuban actor and filmmaker Jorge Perugorría.
Also, check out EDF’s book, “Gardens of the Queen — Cuba’s Crown Jewel,” a compilation of photos from Cuban and U.S. photographers highlighting the spectacular ecology and wildlife and celebrating the park’s science-based stewardship. (www.edf.org)