East Los Colorados Archipelago, Cuba


By Stephen Martinelli | March 10, 2023

Photo credit: ©Miguel Adrian Pino

Last week at Our Ocean 2023 in Panama, WCS announced the launch of the 30x30 Ocean Accelerator to advance the historic goal of protecting 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030. As part of our launch, we’re highlighting a few of the 26 countries that WCS works with to advance the global expansion of effective and equitable Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs). In this story, we look at Cuba.

In 2022 after years of work behind the scenes, Cuba declared a new marine protected area: Este del Archipiélago de Los Colorados (“East of Los Colorados Archipelago”).

A hotspot for marine biodiversity, Cuba’s newest MPA totals 728 square kilometers of coastal marine ecosystems, including climate-resilient coral reefs, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds. Antillean manatees, American crocodiles, oceanic whitetip sharks, and endangered hawksbill sea turtles all call the area home, and the MPA has one of the most important fish spawning sites in Cuba — supporting the livelihoods of over 10,000 people living on or near its coasts.

But that’s not where the story starts.

Before Los Colorados became a reality, it was clear to everyone how vitally important the area was, both for nature and for the coastal communities living on the edge of its waters. However, significant time and resources were still needed to lay the groundwork to achieve protection. WCS’s Cuba program was keen to work on the project, but needed some financial support to do so. This is where WCS’s MPA Fund came in — a predecessor to the 30x30 Ocean Accelerator aimed at expanding and establishing MPAs in countries around the world where WCS works. With this timely funding mobilized, work could begin immediately.

In beginning the MPA process for Los Colorados Archipelago, a key step was to align on a plan with local community members, who are intimately familiar with how important the area is both for biodiversity and fishing. The new stream of resources from the MPA Fund allowed WCS Cuba to facilitate participatory zoning processes in Corona San Carlos in Los Colorados, a critical spawning site and coral reef habitat.

Photo credit: ©Noel Lopez

As Natalia Rossi, Director of WCS Cuba explained, these initial conversations about the budding protected area were no easy feat.

“When you start talking about protecting an area of the sea, some local fishers inevitably begin to worry that resources might be taken away from them and they won’t be able to fish as before,” Rossi said.

The process had additional complexities stemming from the dual nature of Los Colorados as both a resource for many local fishermen to feed their families and earn an income, and as a crucial spawning site for the fish.

“When the fish go to reproduce, they go by the thousands to one spot, lay their eggs there, and then leave. We know that if you fish them when they’re going into the spawning site, then you are also killing the next generation, which ultimately hurts communities,” explained Rossi.

She noted that understanding this challenge, local fishers jump-started a conversation around more regulation and protection of the proposed MPA. Rossi said that bringing together key stakeholders was ultimately “pretty easy,” as local people quickly agreed on which areas should receive the highest levels of protection and which should still allow for activities such as fly fishing and sports fishing.

Photo credit: ©Noel Lopez

Through their collaboration, WCS, local experts, community members, and policymakers successfully moved the new marine protected area across the finish line. The project required the various stakeholders to listen to each other and find joint solutions that would serve both conservation and community goals.

Now, the next phase of work begins: setting the MPA up for long-term sustainability.

Local Cuban leaders hope to expand the number of protected areas in the country, even considering offshore waters for protected sites. Ensuring Los Colorados, as well as future MPAs, are fully functional and successfully managed requires a long-term commitment to resources and training. Rossi and other collaborators are now moving their attention to the future, figuring out what tools, technologies, and funds will be needed to keep Cuba’s oceans healthy for the next generation.

Enter the 30x30 Ocean Accelerator. The Accelerator is a tool to support countries in protecting 30 percent of the ocean by 2030 — a goal embraced by 195 nations in December 2022 in Montreal, Canada at a meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). To create and sustain new protected areas, local leaders in Cuba and beyond will continue working with WCS through programs like the 30x30 Ocean Accelerator to access the funding and tools they need to boldly commit to new protected areas, then to follow through with their creation, and finally to ensure the long-term management and sustainability of those areas.

Photo credit: Ocean Image Bank © Gregory Piper

“The goals set for this decade are very ambitious,” says Rossi. “We have less than 7 years until we reach the deadline of the 2030 target, but WCS is an organization that is very well-positioned to help countries, environmental authorities, local communities, and NGOs to get us there.”

“This success in Cuba by our long-term partners and our WCS team is a great example of how we want the 30x30 Ocean Accelerator to function. In close partnership with and often led by local communities, it supports the establishment and effective management of protected areas,” said Simon Cripps, Executive Director of WCS’s Global Marine Program. “The Accelerator is supporting joint wins for biodiversity and communities so that these gains in nature protection are maintained in the long-term with the support of local people and governments.”

The 30x30 Ocean Accelerator unlocks the world’s most sustainable and equitable area-based conservation wins in community seas and strongholds across 25 countries. We leverage the expertise of 1,200 scientists, conservationists, and policy professionals to commit, create, and sustainably manage Marine Protected Areas and Other Area-based Conservation Measures, supporting Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and governments in achieving their 2030 targets. Learn more: wcs.org/30x30ocean

Stephen Martinelli is a Program Office in the Global Marine Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).



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