Cuba provides one of the most scenic locations for snorkeling and diving for water enthusiasts. It is home to some of the most exotic coral reefs in the world and has massive biodiversity as far as marine life is concerned.
Cuba a place that naturally attracts thousands of underwater enthusiasts from around the world.
Pristine Cuban coral reefs
Cuba has one of the biggest coral reefs internationally and this runs all around the perimeter of the country. This is a very delicate ecosystem and one that is by and large endangered. Around 50 miles away from the shore of Cuba is one of the most magnificent reefs known to man; it is known as “The Gardens of the Queen” reef.
This name was actually inspired by Christopher Columbus who named the land surrounding this area after his Queen Isabella; however, he was one person who never got to appreciate the beauty of the reef from underwater. This has been likened, by many enthusiasts as an underwater Eden and has been extensively explored and recorded on cameras for posterity. There is every chance of this reef being destroyed if it is not looked after.
The area is a large part of the tourism in Cuba and many travel here to snorkel and go scuba-diving.
The Cuban Government has taken several measures to ensure that these reefs are kept healthy and flourishing. The area is completely off limits to commercial fishing as well as development. The fish here are present in healthy numbers and a great number of predators such as large sharks are also present.
In fact, the sharks form a very important part of this reef’s ecosystem and its functioning. The main problem that plagues reefs, as found by scientists, is that they are vulnerable to a convoluted mix of environmental issues. Thanks to pollution, the development of the coast and the phenomenon of over-fishing the reefs undergo a process known as bleaching, where they turn white and die.
The overheating of the oceans too has the same result. In small parts, bleaching has taken place in the Cuban reefs as well; however, it has been healthy enough to recover and has been regenerating itself to an extent.
Experiencing the reefs
The good part about this reef system is that it is still open for tourism and exploration, though understandably in limited amounts. Cuba’s coral reef system is believed to be the third largest in the world and its beauty can only be appreciated when it is looked at from underwater.
On a trip, you are bound to see large numbers of flat teem filled with fish. At the southern end of this island, you will find a cross section of coral reefs that are generally untouched by humans. They are filled with mangrove roots, which have now become home to several smaller fish that in turn feed the larger schools around.
Thanks to the presence of these small fish as food, these reefs attract larger fish in vast numbers, much higher than what is generally seen. If you go on a planned diving expedition, you will be able to feed a 200 to 400 pound jewfish by hand at any given time.
You will be able to experience marine wilderness at its best with several beautifully bright sponges and corals dotting the walls underwater. These go much beyond the depth of safe swimming. There are several legends that talk of the bounty that is left behind by ancient galleons that sunk off the shore and into these reefs.
Such stories provide a great deal of inspiration to divers who love such stories about the places they visit.
One of the main attractions that you are bound to see when you go scuba diving or snorkeling in the area is sharks. On any given dive, you will be able to spot a variety of species of “Carcarinus” such as the Silky or the Caribbean Reef or even the Lemon, Black tip and the nurse.
You will also be able to dive alongside Whale sharks and Hammerhead sharks. If you are looking for some great photo and video opportunities, then the best time to get underwater here is between October and May. The water has pristine clarity during this period and you will be able to see down as deep as 200 feet.
Also, during summer, that is between the months of June and August, you will also be able to see a large number of fish, as they tend to come out during the mating season.
If you are exploring the Garden of the Queen reefs, the first thing you will notice is the color and texture of the coral. You will see a rare species of pillar coral with hair-like tentacles, which are constantly moving to catch microscopic plankton in the water. It is a known fact that coral can survive for 100s of years and some of the coral that you will see here can be as old as 4000 years.
Visiting this place and taking in the beauty of this underwater wonder is something that you will not want to miss.