Mysteries of Cuba’s Gulf of Mexico Waters

Proyecto Costa Noroccidental (Project of the Northwest Coast) — a project of the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas: CIM) and The Ocean Foundation in Washington, DC — explores the most unknown corner of the Gulf of Mexico: Cuba’s northwest coastal waters. The next leg of the expedition is scheduled to depart Havana on September 5, 2009.
A green sea turtle hatchling at Cuba's westernmost point, Guanahacabibes
It is often said that those 90 miles of open water south of the Florida Keys — the Straits of Florida — separate Cuba and the USA. Like a hand-drawn blue borderline, the Straits are often invoked as a symbol of the 50-year-old Cold War that has frozen our two countries so tantalizingly close, yet so tragically far apart. But to the sea turtles, sharks, lobster, whales and other sea life, those same 90 miles of blue unite our countries with racing blue currents, unseen underwater pathways, and a web of colorful life that defies the perceptions of so many of the Gulf of Mexico, who know it only as a hot, muddy cauldron that spawns hurricanes and oil platforms. Cuba’s northwest coast – the verdant Pinar del Río province, home to Cuba’s legendary cigars — is the least-developed coastal region of Cuba. But as Cuba’s tourism trade continues to develop and as Cuba’s fledgling offshore oil development expands into the Gulf, it is hoped that the insights from this joint research will help to guide the hand of such development so that some of Cuba’s most precious assets, its coral reefs, will be spared the fate they have seen elsewhere in the Caribbean.

The majority of Cuba’s reefs are remarkably healthy, a fact made even more striking given that just 90 miles to the north, in the Florida Keys, nearly half the reef system has died. For that reason, and because of its unique history and geography, Cuba may hold important clues for coral reefs elsewhere in the Caribbean and perhaps around the world.

This project is providing the first-ever comprehensive study of Cuba’s northwestern waters and providing research opportunities for Cuba’s next generation of marine scientists — nearly 20 have based their Masters and Ph.D. research on this project.


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