Cuba’s wildlife and biodiversity is so incredible that it has been nicknamed, on occasion, the ‘Accidental Eden’. It is the most naturally diverse caribbean island nation with its display of thousands of plants and animals, many endemic (in fact endemism in plants and animals ranges between 40 and 50%). The list of unique species is thus endless: Cuba is the natural habitat of the bee hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world. There is also a native species of leaping Cuban crocodile which highly endangered (and totally terrifying) and a rare prehistoric fish, now only found in Cuba, called the Mangar.
One site where you can truly witness this diversity is the Alexander von Humboldt National Park where the species are spread across boisterous rainforests, pine forests, savannas and crystalline rivers. The Zapata Peninsula contains the largest and most important wetlands in the Caribbean and are often noted as ‘crocodile country’. They cover 1,5 million acres, and include marshes, peat bogs, mangroves, coral reefs and forests which all support a complex network of life. Along its coasts and in its waters, the country hosts a diverse range of seabed landscapes and a variety of corals, gorgonians, sponges and a huge variety of fish species. In fact, Cuba is home to some of the most dazzling reefs: such as just off the main island, along a string of jewel-like keys called Gardens of the Queen, where silvery fish zip past banks of coral, studded with colourful starfish, sea fans and sponges. In order to protect this vital diversity, Cuba has created the largest marine reserve in the Caribbean. Our marine conservation volunteer project in Cuba is directed specifically at coral reef and ocean maintenance and protection and includes activities like coral reef monitoring and coral gardening, fish and seagrass surveying and lionfish monitoring and capture.
A number of factors have contributed to the development of the havens in the country including the low population density, land isolation and the embargos by the US, which have significantly lowered tourism rates, leaving nature to flourish. Unfortunately, as tourism picks up, which it increasingly has, it leaves the island’s environment vulnerable to irresponsible tourism habits and destruction. Agricultural pollution, destruction of habitat for other reasons and invasive species are also key concerns.