Conservation value and special characteristics
Guanahacabibes National Park is one of the largest protected areas in the country with a size of more than 400 km2. It is home to diverse marine and coastal ecosystems, encompassing coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves and semi-deciduous forests. The National Park is a biological corridor for more than 50 migratory bird species, and its beaches are nesting grounds for three species of sea turtle. Its fringing coral reefs, extending about 80 kilometres, are known for their intricate architecture and host 42 species of hard corals, including some of the Caribbean’s last remaining healthy stands of black coral, as well as over 200 species of fish and invertebrates. The Guanahacabibes Peninsula was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1987.
The main challenge for Guanahacabibes National Park and for the marine protected areas in Cuba in general is increasing tourism. Tourism rates have increased over 60% in the last four years, mostly due to the cruise business which itself increased by 48% in 2018 alone. Cruise ship tourism can create pollution and degradation of coral reefs and marine ecosystems. Apart from tourism, invasive species, sargassum and sea-level rise threaten Cuban marine and coastal ecosystems. The lack of resources and difficult access to equipment make the management of marine protected areas more challenging.
Guanahacabibes National Park and the Banco de San Antonio Prominent Natural Element represent an important potential source of income to support Cuba’s extensive network of MPAs. The remote location and rugged ecosystems offer unique tourism opportunities. Since rapprochement between Cuba and the United States began in 2014, the rate of tourists visiting Cuba has been increasing and total visitation surpassed the four million threshold for the first time.
Revenue from cruises, scuba tourism, hotel development, and sustainable fishing could be channelled into supporting conservation. However, managers of the reserves have indicated that they lack fully trained human resources, infrastructure, and financial resources that will be necessary to support the monitoring, enforcement, planning, education, and communication necessary to manage in an effective manner the increasing pressures of tourism and fishing.
In February 2019, INC organized an exchange between representatives of the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature and Cuba’s National System of Protected Areas to better understand the current landscape of conservation finance in Cuba and explore potential mechanisms. Through INC, partners involved in the reserves will work to determine such a mechanism that could help capture funds from tourists and channel them towards conservation.
INC will promote further exchange of experiences to ensure the coordination and alignment of efforts to promote sustainable financing in Cuba.