“Gardens Worthy of a Queen”: Cuba’s Jardines de la Reina

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Sayli Sosa explains the colonial history behind Cuba’s Jardines de la Reina (The Queen’s Gardens) and describes what is special about this passage, saying that for Christopher Columbus, it was a paradise, “a labyrinthine archipelago in which the mangroves, thickets and dunes painted an exotic and unknown landscape for the discoverer.” Here are excerpts centering on its protected status and seemingly everlasting beauty.

[. . .] The relative distance from terra firma (some 50 nautical miles) and its complicated channels, as well as the hundreds of islets that comprised it, made of the Jardines de la Reina archipelago a practically unexplored place which survived five centuries of depredation. Its waters and cays, however, can tell stories of corsairs and pirates, the slave trade, sunken ships and fishers’ families that inhabited them since the late 19th century until the 1960s.

In 1996 the Cuban State declared Jardines de la Reina a Zone Under Special Regimen of Use and Protection; later, in 2002, it was proposed that it be declared a National Park, a decision approved in 2010. This management category implies guaranteeing the conservation and sustainable use of the biodiversity, taking into account that it is one of the priorities of the Cuban Environment and Development National Program. Commercial fishing is forbidden there and tourist-related activity has special characteristics.

Located to the south of the main island, from Cayo Bretón to Cabeza del Este, the group of islets and the sea surrounding them takes up more than 2,000 square kilometers, in the territory of two provinces: Ciego de Avila and Camagüey, which turn it into one of the best conserved areas of the Caribbean.

Noel López Fernández, a guide diver of the Avalon international diving station and who has even been called “a shark whisperer,” is clear about this. “It is a unique area, a biodiversity reserve, even of species not yet registered. It contributes to the entire Caribbean and even the United States. There’s a tremendous connection, the sea currents that pass through the south of Cuba carry with them fish larvae and corals through the Straits of Florida and even reach North Carolina.

“For example, the guasa (grouper) has in Jardines de la Reina an incomparable habitat, not just in our geographical zone, but worldwide. From the economic point of view, it is also an invaluable source of resources. Not because of the fishing, but rather because of the tourism-related activity which has particular conditions there.”

Noel refers to the Avalon international diving station, which promotes very attractive options for tourists not seeking sun and beach but rather direct contact with and the observation of nature. Underwater photography and swimming with sharks and crocodiles are powerful attractions guaranteed the year round. [. . .]

For full article, see http://oncubamagazine.com/economy-business/gardens-worthy-of-queen/

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