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Cuba's flourishing coral reefs helped by changes in human behaviour

Coral reefs all over the world are declining at a significant rate due to pollution, increased, scuba diving traffic, and global warming, but the precious marine species off the coast of Cuba are flourishing and according to David Guggenheim, this is due to changes in human behaviour. The marine scientist says much of its success is down to organic farming.

Cuba's flourishing coral reefs helped by changes in human behaviour

Corals are among the world's most precious species and all over the world coral reefs are dying out due to global warming, pollution, and human activity.

However, the coral species off the coast in Cuba, a popular scuba diving destination, are flourishing, and according to David Guggenheim a marine scientist and president of Ocean Doctor, a marine conservation organisation, this is due to changes in human behaviour and organic farming. Guggenheim explained:

"After the Soviets pulled out [in 1991], Cuba couldn't afford fertilisers and pesticides, so they were essentially forced into organic farming - and that's had a beneficial effect on corals."

Just like on dry land, nutrients from these fertilisers fuel the growth of plants, but in the ocean this nutrient pollution encourages the growth of plants and algae that then overgrow and kill coral reefs.

Guggenheim explained that another factor that contributes to Cuba's healthy reefs is the country's laws that ensure 25 per cent of the waters are marine-protected areas which is huge in comparison to the global average of about one per cent. He commented:

"They are very good stewards of their environment, and I have faith in them to continue that."

Since 1970, coral reefs in the Caribbean have declined by about 50 per cent and nearly 95 per cent of the elkhorn coral has disappeared. This has been cause by rising ocean temperatures and pollution that causes bleaching which usually kills off the species. However, in Cuba, the bleached species have recovered which is an indicator of its healthy ecosystem.

Talking about one of Cuba's prime scuba diving spots is Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen), on the south coast, which is part of a barrier reef system that extends for 30 miles, Guggenheim said:

"Over the years I have had to endure, like many of us, the disappearance of corals. When I went back to Gardens of the Queen, it looked better than I remembered as a teenager in the early 70s. It looked incredibly pristine."

He also added:

"If we can learn from this living laboratory how a healthy coral reef is supposed to look and function, then those are very valuable insights we can use for restoration efforts around the Caribbean."

It isn't just about letting nature run its course; human behaviour has a big part to play in the recovery of corals, particularly in heavy populated scuba diving and fishing regions.

"In the case of Gardens of the Queen, most of the former fishermen are now employees of the park - working out there guiding catch-and-release fishing, scuba diving trips, and making maybe ten times what they used to make."

Guggenheim concluded.

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