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Natural Awakenings

Cuban Connection: Caribbean Neighbor Shows Environmental Promise

Valle De Vinales

A mere 90 miles from Florida’s Key West, Cuba is still a world away, environmentally speaking. With more than 4,200 islets and keys, the country teems with marine and terrestrial treasures. Half of its southern coast is mangrove forest, the largest fish nursery of its kind in the Caribbean. Its coral reefs are among the most intact in the region.

Politics have insulated Cuba from development and the environmental destruction that so often accompanies it, reports the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). But pressures from hotels and offshore oil interests are mounting.

Over the past eight years, with U.S. government permission, the fund has helped Cuban scientists implement new environmental laws, laying the foundation for conservation. Already, Cuba is one of the few Caribbean countries to reverse deforestation. “Cuba has excellent laws in place,” says EDF attorney Dan Whittle. “The challenge is implementation.”

Still, “The Cubans are motivated to protect their environment,” observes Scott Edwards, EDF’s Caribbean oceans director. “Cuba could become a model for marine and coastal stewardship.”

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