Soviet Union Collapse Saved Cuba’s Coral Reefs

Grace Higgins | March 4th, 2020

In a turn of events that can only be called a conservationist’s dream, it is now thought that the collapse of the Soviet Union directly helped the return of Cuba’s coral reefs. For years it was one of the world’s most well-kept secrets amongst the diving community: the coral reefs of Cuba were spectacular. The lucky few who were able to dive always came back with amazing stories: seagrass beds of the Gulf of Batabano, eerie shipwrecks and caves along the Isla de la Juventud. Not to mention the lush reefs and mangrove forest that can be found in the Jardines de la Reina in the archipelago.

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While it is true that decades of restrictions and blockages have caused the Cuban economy to suffer tremendously, it did mean the island’s major reef chains have escaped the destruction that we have seen happen in the Caribbean reefs or Australian ones. In Cuba, the corals quietly thrived and became even more spectacular.

Today with the doors opening up a little between the world and Cuba, more collaboration on scientific topics is a real possibility. Conservationists around the world have rushed over to find out why the corals have been preserved and not damaged, trying to figure out the best way to save them before climate change kicks in.

One of the main theories on why Cuba’s coral reefs are much healthier than others comes down to the Soviet Union’s abrupt collapse in 1991. You see before this time, the USSR was heavily subsidizing sugar production in Cuba. Once the USSR collapsed we saw that agricultural policies on the island changed radically and quickly. In particular, as Cuba could no longer import the chemicals required to make synthetic fertilizer, they encouraged a change towards organic farming.

Marine scientists agree that one of the major causes of coral reef destruction is fertilizer runoff into the oceans. As Cuba switched to organic farming, their ocean pollution by chemicals dropped significantly and this allowed their coral reefs to thrive.

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