Lindsay Taub

Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen: the Key to Coral Conservation?

2012-01-03 by Lindsay Taub

I am rarely disappointed by 60 Minutes. In fact, I think it’s one of the few television news magazines that still exists which consistently delivers important, thorough, well-reported, relevant stories that matter. I DVR it every week and often don’t get a chance to watch for a week or two or more later, but I always watch. This afternoon, I finally caught up.

In the episode (from December 18, 2011) was a segment with CNN’s Anderson Cooper who went on assignment to one of the world’s most vibrant coral reefs at a time when many of the world’s reefs are in danger – or already dead. They are called “Gardens of the Queen,” located 50 miles off the coast of Southern Cuba.

While Christopher Columbus may have named the area after Queen Isabella, it is unlikely he ever saw the “underwater Eden” that Cooper explored. Envy doesn’t begin to describe the emotions I felt as I watched him scuba dive amongst the sharks and vibrant sealife. But most importantly, the segment was one of the best I’ve seen that so precisely explained why we take this issue — disappearing coral reefs — seriously.

With some estimates of the amount of coral reefs destroyed around the planet as high as 25 percent, the Gardens of the Queen is one of the few that is actually flourishing. Why? Because it’s been well-protected. Interestingly, it was Fidel Castro, an avid diver, who in 1996 made this one of the largest marine preserves in the Caribbean. Almost all of the commercial fishing was banned, and to this day, only 500 fly fisherman and 1,000 divers are permitted in the area each year. (And all fish must be released.)

As a result, the fish population since then has increased a whopping 30 to 50 percent, and the complex web of life coral reefs depend on to survive has been reinvigorated. Coral, which are actually vast colonies of tiny sea animals that share the same skeleton, are some of the oldest animals on the planet. Some may be more than 4,000 years old. The health of their ecosystem has wide-reaching effects that not only affect the diversity and sustainability of life in the oceans, being a source of food, but also our human life, being a source of income, jobs, and overall economic strength.

Cooper explains all this in the segment with utmost clarity, which is quite frankly what we need the masses to see and understand to make a difference. Yes, climate change is an important part of it. As a result of the oceans temperatures rising, coral reefs are bleaching and dying. This has been going on for decades. But this is not the only part. The other culprits? Pollution, agriculture, coastal development, and overfishing. If those are not also regulated, climate change alone cannot be to blame.

Scientists estimate 25 percent of the reefs in the world have been lost already, with predictions that another 25 percent will be lost in the next 20 years.In the segment, Cooper interviews two impressive marine scientists on the front lines of the issue: David Guggenheim, a Senior Fellow at The Ocean Foundation, and Fabian Pina, a researcher for the Cuban Ministry of Science.

The footage of Cooper among the colorful reefs was simply beautiful, at times surrounded by sharks, 200-pound Goliath Groupers, and the brilliant reds, blues, yellows, and greens of the fish and coral below.

Cooper has seemingly made the plight of sharks a personal passion. I remember watching a segment for CNN’s “Planet in Peril” special in 2008, hosted by Cooper, in which correspondent Lisa Ling delved into the issue of Shark Fin Soup. At the time, I had never heard of this Chinese delicacy and was horrified to learn about it. Ninety percent of the planet’s sharks have been killed. Gone. Sure, no one wants to have a Jaws moment, but they are animals critical to the survival of the ocean’s ecosystems. With so many circling (but truly ignoring) Cooper and the crew underwater, it was apparent that Gardens of the Queen is one area where sharks are thriving.

This area may very well hold the key to how to protect and save the disappearing reefs. I for one, hope that everyone not only watches the episode, but also takes some time to think about the issues at hand and what you can do to be part of the solution.

As a traveler and an adventurer, it is one of my ultimate dreams to scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef. University of Queensland researchers have made predictions that the Great Barrier Reef may be dead within 50 to 100 years, and some predict even sooner, as some areas already indicate bleaching is in progress. That means I may get to visit in my lifetime, but future generations may not. More importantly, it’s an indication that something must be done now to ensure we stop this destruction around the globe. Our oceans, our planet, and our sustainability as a whole depend on it.

I commend Cooper and 60 Minutes for their coverage and will continue to follow the issue closely. Here’s hoping you do too!


Tags: 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper, Biodiversity, climate change, Conservation, Coral Reefs, Cuba, Environmentalism, featured, Gardens of the Queen, Oceans, Scuba Diving

Posted in Features |

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WordPress SEO fine-tune by Meta SEO Pack from Poradnik Webmastera