There's more to Cuba than one island

Posted: 23-Jan-17 11:40

The Isle of Youth is one of Cuba's unsung ecological gems, with abundant thriving reefs. But despite the protected status of the waters surrounding the island, to the south of Cuba, illegal fishing and pollution poses a threat, as Eco Watch found out.

There's more to Cuba than one island

While most of us think of Havana's iconic streets whenever Cuba is mentioned, or the mile after mile of near-untouched beaches that define so many trips to this corner of the world, as a new report on Eco Watch is quick to point out, there's actually a lot more to the Caribbean's largest island than that particular rock in the sea.

Introducing the Isle of Youth, a comparatively small island up against the main strip of land the majority of us know as Cuba, and one that has plenty of historic significance both in terms of the region and the wider world overall. This is one of the first sights of Central America that Christopher Columbus laid eyes on, at which point he was convinced it represented the first coastline of Asia, leading him to believe, incorrectly, that an overland journey back home to Spain would be possible.

Clearly not the case, alarmingly members of Columbus' crew were even forced to sign affidavits declaring their arrival in Asia, and this contract bound them to maintain this story or risk having their tongues cut out as a punishment for contradicting the master explorer. Indicative of a very different period in history – one far more brutal and unforgiving than our own – the sailors would eventually learn of their true location, and thus began a century-spanning story of this tiny dot in the middle of the warm waters of the Caribbean.

Since then the island itself has been through several name changes, reverting to Isle of Youth under the rule of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro during the 1970s. An attempt to revitalise and redefine this destination, this renaming acted as a catalyst for the construction of a network of international schools, which would continue to exist through to 2008, when Hurricane Gustav tore through this part of the world, unleashing sustained gusts of over 150mph, devastating the 80,000 strong community that permanently live on the island, and destroying the aforementioned seats of learning.

With this in mind, the island itself continues to struggle both economically and diplomatically, with many residents feeling physically and culturally isolated from the main Cuban island. Ecologically, though, it's a more positive story, with the coral reefs surrounding the shore among the healthiest in the region, with many still very much alive in comparison with the 50% of Caribbean reefs that have died in the last three decades.

Sadly, though, despite the protected status of this marine sanctuary illegal fishing and polluted water from elsewhere in the world still cause problems, with bleaching and a reduction in numbers of predatory fish two tell-tale signs.
For now, though, this remains one of the unsung ecological assets of Cuba as a whole, with the phrase "seeing is believing" springing to mind when considering the sheer amount, and variety, of life below the water's surface.


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