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How visiting a scenic Cuban resort can help save green sea turtles

How visiting a scenic Cuban resort can help save green sea turtles

by Paul Guzzo Waterloo Region Record
The Florida Aquarium has been collaborating with Cuba’s National Aquarium since 2015 to help save coral dying throughout Caribbean waters.

Now, the downtown Tampa marine research and tourism centre is partnering with a Miami-based nonprofit on expanding its rescue work in Cuba to endangered green turtles.

In a unique approach to the challenge, the aquarium will venture into the travel industry next year by offering educational trips to one of Cuba’s most scenic beach areas — excursions that will double as an educational and fundraising effort to help the turtles.

« Turtles don’t see political boundaries, » said Margo McKnight, vice president of biological operations at the Florida Aquarium, which has rescued, rehabilitated and released hundreds of sea turtles since its opening in 1995.

« To protect them, we have to protect them everywhere. »

The Cuban resort island of Cayo Largo has no full-time human inhabitants. People who work there are shuttled by boat to the 16-mile (23-kilometre) long, two-mile (3.2 km) wide cay off Cuba’s northern shore for shifts at one of its 10 hotels.

But every May through October, the islet — with its white sand and clear water — plays host to crowds of finned, green visitors arriving from the Gulf of Mexico for nesting season.

In a good year, the turtles lay as many as 375,000 eggs in 2,500 nests on the beaches of Cayo Largo, said Fernando Bretos, director of Miami-based Cuba Marine Resea

rch and Conservation Program, or CubaMAR, the aquarium’s partner in the venture.

Overall, Bretos estimates, Cuba averages around 4,000 turtle nests per year.

« Cayo Largo has the highest density of green turtles in Cuba, » the aquarium’s McKnight said. « It is an important nesting beach for all of the Gulf. »