Conserving Cuba’s vast natural wonders

Quick action is needed to prevent irreversible losses

Grouper in Cuba's gardines de la reina

A grouper swims in the Gardens of the Queen, one of Cuba's most pristine marine environments.

Noel Lopez Fernandez/EDF


Cuba is at a crossroads of political and economic change. We must act quickly to prevent irreversible losses.

The nation’s magnificent coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove colonies support hundreds of marine species—including sea turtles, reef fish, sharks, dolphins and manatees—across more than 4,000 islets and keys. Fishing is vital to the nation’s economy, but the majority of its commercially valuable fish stocks are already in critical condition.

This, paired with rapid development and offshore drilling, could irreversibly harm the county's unique natural resources. EDF is actively working to to conserve Cuba's natural wonders.

We're safeguarding vulnerable marine and coastal ecosystems 

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has worked in Cuba for more than 12 years and is one of the few U.S. organizations that have built the strong local relationships essential to success.

We helped create Cuba’s massive network of more than 100 marine protected areas, the largest in the Caribbean, and secured numerous visas for exchanges between Cuban and U.S. scientists. We are now working to ensure that if Cuba taps offshore oil and gas reserves, it follows strict environmental safeguards to avoid disastrous spills.

In 2011, the Cuban government unveiled far-reaching economic reforms. EDF seeks to leverage the government’s unprecedented openness to transform Cuba’s marine resource management and preserve its coastal environments.

We're restoring valuable reef fish populations

Cuba has had difficulty controlling overfishing of important reef fish species. EDF is collaborating with Cuban scientists, managers and fishermen to deepen the knowledge base about Cuba’s distressed fish populations and develop science-based recommendations for sustainable fishery management policies, such as cooperatives and other catch shares.

These are proven approaches with demonstrated success across the U.S. and in Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. Catch shares rebuild stocks, reduce waste, and increase revenues by giving fishermen long-term financial incentives to fish more carefully. We are in the planning stages for a catch shares program that rebuilds fish stocks and improves livelihoods in two fishing communities along Cuba’s south coast.

We're saving highly migratory sharks

In the Gulf of Mexico, some shark populations have plummeted by more than 90% because of overfishing. This is an ecological red flag because sharks, as top predators, are essential to healthy marine food webs and coastal economies. But sharks are difficult to manage because many swim vast distances and cross national borders, within which fishing laws and practices vary greatly.

EDF is working to develop a first-of-its-kind shark recovery program in the Gulf of Mexico, bringing together Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. in a comprehensive management strategy. With Cuban partners, we are assessing the scope of shark fishing—and its interaction with shark tourism—in order to correct perverse incentives that lead to overfishing, and put a higher value on keeping sharks in the water.

We're making marine protected areas more effective

At the invitation of Cuban officials, EDF will help strengthen and expand the marine protected area (MPA) network along Cuba’s beautiful southern coast. Our goal is to establish two new MPAs, as well as a series of “no-take” reserves within existing protected areas where fishing is still allowed.

We will help identify strategies for reducing illegal fishing in MPAs and develop management plans for “paper parks”—MPAs that exist on maps but lack administration and enforcement.

We're reducing habitat impacts from fishing gear

Cuban fishery managers are eager to reduce impacts on habitat from bottom trawls used by Cuba’s shrimp fleet. The commonly used gear results in unintended catch of juvenile fish, and severely damages coral reefs and other fish habitat.

As part of our community-based fisheries project on the south coast, EDF is working with Cuban partners to enact rules that will improve the fishery’s performance and reduce bycatch and habitat impacts.