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Cuba is an ecological rarity in Latin America and the Caribbean. Its complex political and economic history shows limited disturbances, extinctions, pollution, and resource depletion by legal or de facto measures. Vast mangroves, wetlands, and forests play key roles in protecting biodiversity and reducing risks of hazards caused or aggravated by climate change. Cuba boasts coral reefs with some of the region’s greatest fish biomass and coral cover. Although Cuba has set aside major protected areas that safeguard a host of endemic species, its environment is by no means pristine. Its early history is one of deforestation and agricultural production for colonial and neo-colonial powers. Using remote sensing, we find Cuba’s land today is 45% devoted to agricultural, pasturage, and crop production. Roughly 77% of Cuba’s potential mangrove zone is presently in mangrove cover, much outside legal protection; this is likely the most intact Caribbean mangrove ecosystem and an important resource for coastal protection, fish nurseries, and wildlife habitat. Even the largest watersheds with the most agricultural land uses have a strong presence of forests, mangroves, and wetlands to buffer and filter runoff. This landscape could change with Cuba’s gradual reopening to foreign investment and growing popularity among tourists—trends that have devastated natural ecosystems throughout the Caribbean. Cuba is uniquely positioned to avoid and reverse ecosystem collapse if discontinuities between geopolitical and ecosystem functional units are be addressed, if protection and conservation of endemic species and ecosystems services accompany new development, and if a sound ecological restoration plan is enacted.

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© 2018 Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science of the University of Miami


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