Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic
EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

Diving Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen National Park

For World Oceans Day, Sven-Olof Lindblad, President & Founder of Lindblad Expeditions, wrote about his recent trip to Cuba’s national marine sanctuary.

On March 30 I plunged into the depths of the Gardens of the Queen National Marine Park in Cuba. I had some trepidation, as it had been a long time since I had donned a tank to spend time 60 or 70 feet below the surface. Maybe it’s like riding a bicycle or skiing after a hiatus; anyway, it felt like that.

What we saw within minutes was astounding, particularly in a Caribbean context. First came Caribbean reef sharks — plenty of them circling us with great curiosity, sleek and beautiful with piercing eyes. Then as we approached the sea bed, groupers — big black groupers and a few Goliath groupers, the biggest one weighing approximately 300 pounds.

They followed us around like puppies, seeming to enjoy the encounter as much as we did. I don’t recall ever seeing so many large fish at once. It was remarkable and beautiful and comforting that they were here under protection

I heard that Fidel Castro was an avid diver and that he was responsible for setting up this National Marine Park and went there often. Dictators with an environmental bent — now that’s probably as rare as sharks are becoming in much of the world.

During most of the 70s I lived in Kenya, much of the time in Tsavo East National Park, a 5,000 square mile terrain of mostly thick bush. Here resided the largest populations of both elephants and black rhino in all of Africa.

One day I went out to see how many rhino I could find. I found 59 that day; 8 years later I was in the same region for a week and found not one. They had been largely killed off for their horns which were prized in Yemen for dagger handles and in the Far East for potions.

It was that day when I realized that we, as humans, had far too much power in a world that needed balance of all living things.

Now fast forward three decades and the assault on natural systems and our atmosphere is beyond dangerous, immoral, and stupid.

The Ocean is, in much of the world, a dump. Our voracious appetite for fish, combined with our growing populations and governmental shortsightedness, points in the direction of global collapse. And perhaps the most disgusting of all practices is shark finning — cutting the fins off and throwing them back to die a slow, painful death.

Will we come to our senses before they are all gone? Will we develop the sense of urgency that clearly is needed to overt disaster?

Somehow I believe we will. Somehow I do not believe we will want to look into our children’s eyes before we depart this world, having destroyed their future.

So to the sharks and groupers of the Gardens of the Queen — you are fortunate that the human leader of your waters was a diver.

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