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Open Access Cuban land use and conservation, from rainforests to coral reefs

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Cuba is an ecological rarity in Latin America and the Caribbean region. 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 it has set aside major protected areas that safeguard a host of endemic species, Cuba's environment is by no means pristine. Through much of its early history, deforestation and intensive agricultural production under colonial then neocolonial powers was the norm. 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 of it 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 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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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Gund Institute for Environment, University of Vermont, Bington, Vermont 05405, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont 05405;, Email: [email protected] 2: Gund Institute for Environment, University of Vermont, Bington, Vermont 05405, Vermont Caribbean Institute, Burlington, Vermont 05402 3: Gund Institute for Environment, University of Vermont, Bington, Vermont 05405, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont 05405 4: The Fredrick S. Pardee Center, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria 5: The Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, Massachusetts 02540 6: Gund Institute for Environment, University of Vermont, Bington, Vermont 05405, Centro de Investigaciones Marinas, Universidad de La Habana, Havana, Cuba 7: The Fredrick S. Pardee Center, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, Boston University Marine Program and Program on Couple Human Natural Systems, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215

Publication date: 01 April 2018

This article was made available online on 29 January 2018 as a Fast Track article with title: "Cuban land use and conservation, from rainforests to coral reefs".

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  • The Bulletin of Marine Science is dedicated to the dissemination of high quality research from the world's oceans. All aspects of marine science are treated by the Bulletin of Marine Science, including papers in marine biology, biological oceanography, fisheries, marine affairs, applied marine physics, marine geology and geophysics, marine and atmospheric chemistry, and meteorology and physical oceanography.
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