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Cuba names East Los Colorados Archipelago a new protected area

Cuba’s newest protected area covers 728 km2 of vibrant mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and climate-resilient corals

For immediate release, January 27, 2022

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Cuba has just declared Este del Archipiélago de Los Colorados (“East of Los Colorados Archipelago”), a new marine protected area. This new MPA covers about half of one of the four major archipelagos surrounding the country, and hosts exceptional marine life including Antillean manatees, American crocodiles, and critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtles.

Establishment of this new protected area is a result of years of collective effort from communities, nonprofits, scientists, and protected area and fisheries authorities. It involved a participatory zoning process and building consensus in approving the proposed MPA, an extensive project supported by WCS every step of the way.

Los Colorados Archipelago encompasses a chain of 160 keys extending about 140 miles off Cuba's northwestern coast. Extensive patch reefs, reef crests, and fore reefs sustain key spawning aggregations, including Corona de San Carlos - a massively important spawning site providing fish larvae and supporting the replenishment of fish stocks in waters as far away as the southern United States.

The new MPA encompasses 72,800 hectares ( 728 square kilometers / 281 square miles) of coastal marine ecosystems, including mangroves, seagrass beds, and coral reefs - ecosystems that provide a first barrier of defense against severe storms and hurricanes worsened by climate change. It includes a  27,200-hectare (272 square kilometers / 105 square miles) core “replenishment” zone called Corona San Carlos Wildlife Refuge, where no fishing is permitted, plus a series of other zones with limited and regulated activities where some sustainable use of natural resources is permitted.

“It has been inspiring to see people coming together to protect this incredible place,” said Natalia Rossi, Director of the WCS Cuba Program. “Understanding that the health of coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves is connected to the quality and quantity of fish available was a key step of the process."

Ecological surveys conducted in support of the establishment of this new MPA revealed an incredible range of biodiversity, including abundant populations of Antillean manatees found in seagrass beds, mouths of rivers and inlets across the archipelago; green, hawksbill and occasionally leatherback sea turtles; American crocodiles in the extensive coastal mangroves; and multiple types of shorebirds. The numerous keys and coastal vegetation in the MPA constitute an important corridor for North American migratory birds, and about half of Cuba’s endemic birds can be found here.

The creation of Este del Archipiélago de Los Colorados is part of a nation-wide effort by local communities, research institutions, local NGOs, and environmental authorities to increase the protection of the country’s coasts and waters. This MPA contributes to fulfilling global targets for marine conservation and coastal protection based on well-preserved coastal-marine ecosystems. WCS congratulates Cuba for this incredible achievement, and applauds the protection of important blue carbon ecosystems like mangroves and seagrass beds that increase climate change resilience.

“Protected areas play vital roles in combating the interrelated climate, biodiversity and human health crises – all of which are being felt deeply across the Caribbean Islands,” said Jenny Daltry, Re:wild’s Caribbean Alliance director. “I am delighted that Re:wild has been able to support Cuba's magnificent collaborative effort to conserve the Este del Archipiélago de Los Colorados, which, at well over 70,000 hectares, is now one of the biggest protected area in this region.”

WCS’s contributions to this important milestone for marine conservation have been generously supported by Re:wild, Bloomberg Philanthropies' Vibrant Oceans Initiative, Oceans 5 (a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors), and donors to the WCS MPA Fund. WCS is committed to working long-term with the managers and local communities of East of Los Colorados Archipelago to establish and maintain effective conservation management.

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Photo by Gregory Piper

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