Notes from the Field: Cuba, February 2020

March 18, 2020; By Molly Shane, Marine Program Coordinator

In February, the WildAid Marine team traveled to the Zapata Peninsula in Cuba. The Zapata Peninsula is renowned for its incredible ecological diversity, including some of the country’s rarest birdlife and most vibrant and well-protected coral reefs. Ciénaga de Zapata National Park stretches across the peninsula, which is also recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a Ramsar Site. Ciénaga de Zapata encompasses one of the largest and most important wetlands in the Caribbean region and boasts important spawning grounds for numerous commercial and recreational sport fishing species, making it a critical conservation hotspot.

WildAid Marine met with Cuban officials in February 2020.

The purpose of WildAid Marine’s trip to the Zapata Peninsula was to begin developing a comprehensive Marine Protection System (MPS) Plan for the Ciénaga de Zapata marine area. Over the years, we have learned that effective partnerships are essential for the successful implementation of our ‘BLUEprint for MPA Success.’ We are pleased to be partnering with the National Center for Protected Areas (CNAP) and ECOCIENZAP, the company tasked with the conservation of the Zapata Marsh protected area, to develop an MPS Plan for the Zapata marine area. Our partners are extremely resourceful, highly trained, and exhibit strong inter-institutional coordination to fill gaps in compliance. In addition, conservation efforts have been complemented by the development of alternative livelihood programs that enable the local community to prosper without negatively impacting the environment. Thanks to our partners’ past efforts, we are confident we can achieve substantial marine conservation outcomes with small, targeted investments.

Artisanal fishers in Cuba.

During our visit, we carried out a comprehensive site assessment of the marine area and met with key stakeholders including the CNAP, ECOCIENZAP, representatives of the fishing industry, fisheries inspectors, park rangers, and forest rangers. 

By the end of our visit, WildAid Marine, our partners, and local stakeholders arrived at a consensus on how to strengthen maritime surveillance and enforcement to enhance the protection of the Zapata Peninsula’s breathtaking biodiversity. The next phase of work will entail drafting and finalizing the MPS Plan for the Ciénaga de Zapata marine area. We will also work with Cuban authorities to procure essential equipment and train and deploy marine park rangers to actively patrol and enforce the most vulnerable ‘no-take’ areas in the region.

The places we work, like Ciénaga de Zapata in Cuba, are truly extraordinary and WildAid Marine remains committed to scaling our enforcement model to reach 250 conservation-critical MPAs by 2025.