This past June, I participated on a CubaMar expedition to Cuba’s Isle of Youth. As a graduate student at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, I am collaborating with CubaMar to research marine protected areas (MPAs) in Cuba. Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, and its shores are comprised of diverse marine ecosystems including coral reefs and seagrass beds. To protect these marine environments, Cuba has developed an extensive national network of MPAs. The main objective of our journey was to learn about and participate in the community-based conservation projects taking place in Cocodrilo. Cocodrilo is a remote fishing town located on the southern coast of the island within a Protected Area for Managed resources and it is the closest community to Punta Frances National Park, which is an MPA located off the southwestern tip of the island.
The Cocodrilo community was founded by Cayman turtle fishermen in the early 1900s, and to this day the Cayman influence remains. The houses have a Cayman architectural style and it was a surprise to be greeted in English by a woman whose ancestors were among the original founders of the town. Fishing is still the main livelihood for the majority of the residents, although in 2008 the Cuban Government banned the sea turtle fishery.