Thursday, December 29, 2011

The healthiest place on earth is located in the most backward place on earth. The ocean is alive and well flourishing with live coral reefs and huge fish. You would think it was in the Bahamas but sadly no. It is off the coast of poor Cuba in a place named The Gardens of the Queen.
Coral reefs are often called the rainforests of the ocean. They are stunningly beautiful and are composed of towers of healthy organisms that feed all sorts of living things in the ocean. Kind of a candy store for fish where they can taste everything from every colorful tower. The Bahamas used to be that place but sadly too much tourism and cruise trip traffic has left the oceans there little more than a super highway for luxury ocean liners complete with their trash.
The Coral reefs anywhere are a source of food and income for nearly a billion people and of course something as valuable as this to the world is in danger. Scientists estimate that 25% of the world’s reefs have died completely. What is left is at risk. Years ago you could go scuba diving near reefs and even pluck off a piece as a souvenir. Today you could be arrested if you touch the coral and besides, you wouldn’t want to anymore. They do not look that abundant at least in the Bahamas.
They say that there is one spot in the Caribbean that marine biologists describe as an underwater Eden. A coral reef largely untouched by humans. It is called The Gardens Of The Queen and getting permission to go there isn’t easy. It is located off the coast of Cuba. And, yes you guessed it, there are NO direct flights there.
You can take a flight now to Cuba’s Capitol, Havana but why would you? The city is a mess and is crumbling, streets unpaved and run down buildings. There was a time when Cuba was beautiful and attracted tourists from everywhere. Now you are lucky if you can get a ride from a 1956 Chevy.
From Havana, you have to drive 6 hours through the countryside and then take a boat ride for another 6 hours more till you reach a stretch of tiny islands 50 miles off Cuba’s southern coast. The island of Cuba actually shields this area from the ocean superhighway to the Bahamas. These islands are little more than patches of moss and sand.
The only inhabitants are hermit crabs and iguanas. Christopher Columbus named this area after his Queen Isabella. To see the real gardens you have to scuba there. There you can see the most protected and flourishing reef most boaters have ever seen. According to David Guggenheim, a Marine Biologist and a Senior Fellow at the Ocean Foundation in Washington D.C., he claims the coral is healthy and the fish are healthy and abundant.
There are large predatory fish there like large sharks. It is the way eco-systems should look. The first thing you notice at this area according to the few that are able to go there, is the coral, its color and its texture. Coral isn’t a rock or a plant. It is colonies of tiny animals that share a common skeleton. Pillar coral is evident there and is one of the rarest types of coral. Coral is one of the oldest living animals on the planet. Some of it could be 4,000 years old.
So, who cares. We do because the reefs hold an extraordinary amount of diverse fish. It holds a very complex relationship between the fish there. Small shrimp can be seen cleaning the mouth of a 400 pound grouper. Humans have taken about 80% of the world’s sharks out of the oceans within the last 50 years. Other predatory fish like tuna and swordfish are gone as well in large numbers.
The world’s temperature is rising and in most areas the coral is white or called bleached from the warm temperatures. Fidel Castro, the leader of Cuba in 1996 made this area one of the largest marine preserve in the Caribbean. That means almost all commercial fishing was banned. Since then the population of fish has grown dramatically by as much as 30 to 50% depending on the species.
Even fishing is regulated in Cuba. Tourism is tightly regulated. Only 500 fly fisherman and 1,000 divers are permitted to come each year and the fisherman have to release their catch. If a commercial fishing boat were to be allowed there, much of everything would be depleted quickly. Those boats are highly efficient killing machines.
So. Cuba is poor; the people are living very simple lives with few of the worlds new inventions. Yes, they do not have pollution, agricultural run-off, coastal development and over fishing like the rest of the so called developed countries have. Well, good for them. Without all the man made nonsense the earth’s sea has a chance to recover from human’s harm. If you want to be rejuvenated, visit a healthy coral reef. Leave the earth alone and let it do its job of giving us a beautiful paradise on land and in the seas.

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