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Carimar 2018 Partnership

Acadia during 2018 via our partners The Ocean Foundation set forward an exciting expedition in Cuba with a direct focus on Elkhorn coral which is still doing well in the southern remote bay of Jardines de la Reina. Due to schedule difficulties Acadia was unable to make the passage to Cuba. However the fantastic team at CARIMAR were able to complete the intended coral mapping as well as an exceptional variety of other conservation projects with the Grant placed forward by Acadia. The Report via the lead scientist Fernado Bretos.

The Caribbean Marine Research and Conservation Program (CariMar) [], formerly Cu

baMar, is grateful for the $25,000 donation to CariMar via The Ocean Foundation in late 2018. While we were unable to carry out a joint research project with SY Acadia in Cuba, CariMar remains steadfast in that goal and in the meantime continues to conduct high quality marine conservation programs in the Western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. We submit this report of program activities carried out over the past year. Below we describe the major activities we undertook in 2018-2019: 1. Mapping the distribution, abundance and health of Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) in the Jardines de la Reina Archipelago, Cuba 2. Initiative to Save Caribbean Sawfish 3. Financing Marine Protected Areas in Cuba 4. Sea Turtle Monitoring in Guanahacabibes Peninsula 5. Sea Turtle Research Expedition to Cayo Largo Mapping the distribution, abundance and health of Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) in the Jardines de la Reina Archipelago, Cuba Elkhorn coral is an important reef building coral that was once abundant throughout the Caribbean and Florida. These elegant, orange-hinged gardens provide habitat for a variety of important commercial reef fish and invertebrates while protecting coastal areas from storms. A regional collapse of elkhorn coral due to white band disease greatly reduced its abundance throughout its entire range in the 1980s but other threats such as bleaching, storms and other diseases have reduced current populations to very low abundances. Understanding the habitat distribution of elkhorn is a critical first step for saving this species. Identifying existing populations will aid to prevent the destruction of the limited areas where this species occurs and advocate for new protected areas where the species is thriving or recovering. CariMar has initiated a new program to quantify elkhorn coral abundance and health in Cuba, starting with two of its largest and healthiest reef chains on its southern coast: the Jardines de la Reina archipelago and the Los Canarreos archipelago. Both have existing marine protected areas that could be expanded to include newly identified Elkhorn coral habitat.

In March and April 2019 CariMar’s colleague Fabian Pina and his team of scientists conducted opportunistic surveys in Jardines de la Reina to gather coordinates of elkhorn patches with descriptions of the reef formation and health. A second cruise is planned for August 2019 during coral spawning season. Information from both cruises will be used to make a map of elkhorn coral in and near Jardines de la Reina to advocate for expansion of the protected area, to inform SCUBA tourism best practices, and to provide support for a future World Heritage application by the Cuban government. By conducting this large scale cruise during a spawning event, we are able to collect coral spawn for future restoration efforts. Your donation was critical in obtaining a $48,000 grant from Paul Angell Foundation in May 2019. This grant will fund the next expedition which is planned for August 10-17, 2019. CariMar has also begun conversations with the Center for Marine Research of the University of Havana to conduct a final cruise to Jardines in December 2019. We are working on having SY Acadia join us for this expedition. Initiative to Save Caribbean Sawfish The sawfishes (family Pristidae) are among the world’s most threatened marine fish. All five species of sawfish are endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. Incidental capture in nets is the primary threat to sawfish. Sawfish rostra are easily entangled in fishing gear and fishers are unaware of how to properly release them. Demand for their meat and rostra creates incentive to kill captured sawfish. In Cuba, the presence of sawfish has been documented in a 2011 study that interviewed 91 fishers and dive operators. Of those, 27% stated that they had seen sawfish in the past 10 years. Apart from this, no fisheries independent research has been conducted to date. Before any protective measures can be taken, it must be proven scientifically that they exist. 4 Another three sawfish were observed by fishers in 2018 at Cayo Levisa, Cayo Confites and Baracoa. While each of the three areas are located on Cuba’s northern coast, these sites are separated by about 400 miles, meaning more interviews must be conducted to pinpoint an ideal site to conduct tagging. A benefit of these interviews with isolated communities is that they allow for face-to-face outreach with community members to encourage sustainable fishing practices and report future sightings. CariMar is working with the University of Havana, Shark Advocates International, Havenworth Coastal Conservation, Dalhousie University, and Florida State University to document and protect sawfish in Cuba and the Bahamas, while setting the stage for a future phase of conservation in other parts of the Caribbean where they have been seen. The project involves scientific research, outreach, and policy and has the following objectives: • Study sawfish presence, movements, and range • Raise awareness of sawfish threats and protections in isolated fishing communities • Improve implementation of national and international legal protections for sawfish On July 5th we kicked off a three week long interview process along the north coast of Cuba to ground truth some of the 2018 reports and indentify those areas we are most likely to find sawfish. A tagging expedition is planned for the north coast in November 2019.

Financing Marine Protected Areas in Cuba While Cuba has a strong system of marine protected areas, adequate funding for running those areas remains a challenge. In February 2019, CariMar co-led a protected area finance workshop in Mexico City with Innovating Conservation and Fondo Mexicano to discuss financing strategies with Cuba’s Center for Protected Areas. During the workshop, participants conducted a needs assessment and identified next 5 steps for creating a funding mechanism in Cuba using examples from Fondo Mexicano and Mexico’s protected area network.

As a follow-up to the Mexico City workshop, CariMar Program Manager Katie Thompson attended the IUCN Conservation Finance Incubator Workshop at Sinal do Vale, Brazil in March 2019 to share sustainable finance strategies with other protected area representatives around the world. Sea Turtle Monitoring in Guanahacabibes Peninsula CariMar has collaborated on the Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Project since 1999 to study an important population of endangered green turtles in western Cuba and improve the livelihoods of remote fishing communities.

In the 2018 nesting season, the number of turtles that came to nest on the beaches was low at 229 sightings (210 green sea turtle and 19 loggerhead sea turtle). Of these, a 6 total of 148 nests were registered with 137 of them green turtle nests and 11 loggerhead nests. The reasons behind the low nesting numbers are uncertain, but 2018 was one of the worst years for sargussum in Guanahacabibes, which scientists believe had an impact on the number of nests. As sargassum washes ashore, it creates large barriers for sea turtles to climb over to make the nests and for hatchlings to reach the ocean when leaving the nests. Guanahacabibes also experienced damaging tropical storms in late summer 2018, which likely had an impact on the sea turtle nests.

The project provides a valuable opportunity for Cuban university students to volunteer and learn about sea turtle biology and conservation. Fifty-five volunteers participated in the 2018 nesting season. Volunteers return year after year and are enthusiastic to help. The project has been vital in training the next generation of sea turtle biologists in Cuba, a scientific community that is unfortunately shrinking due to lack of opportunities for Cuban sea turtle biologists. The data from this project over the past two decades speak volumes of the success of the effort and the encouraging signs for turtles in the eastern Gulf of Mexico region. From 1998-2008, the project counted an average of 17 loggerhead nests and 231 green nests annually. From 2009-2019, we had an average of 24 loggerhead and 425 green turtle nests annually. This significant increase in nesting loggerhead and green sea turtles over the past 20 years implies the improved conservation state of both species. While loggerheads make up less than 5% of total nesting we have witnessed a remarkable 41% increase in the number of loggerhead nests which are a less common nesting species in Cuba. Sea Turtle Research Expedition to Cayo Largo In 2018, we added an exciting new project to our portfolio. In October 2018, we carried out our first sea turtle research expedition to Cayo Largo. This is part of an effort to relaunch a sea turtle monitoring program that began decades ago but has since faltered due to resource limitations at the Center for Fisheries Research which is historically responsible for sea turtle monitoring in Cuba. The expedition to Cayo Largo was led by our partner and director of the Guanahacabibes Sea Turtle Research and Conservation 7 Project, Dr. Julia Azanza, to document last year’s sea turtle nesting activity on the key. Dr. Azanza and her group of eight sea turtle scientists walked seven beaches looking for sea turtle tracks and evidence of nests. They documented 1,454 nests in total, which is actually below average for Cayo Largo. Of these nests, 1,247 were green turtle nests and 207 were loggerhead. The scientists analyzed 51 of those nests by digging them up to see how many of the turtles actually hatched and found that the hatching and emergence success rate was 74%, which is lower than seen on other Cuban nesting beaches. The research team believes the lower success rate is due to the flooding from Tropical Storm Michael that passed over Cuba in October. One interesting find was a nest with many albino embryos. This expedition helps us understand more about the sea turtle nesting in Cuba and allows us to plan a long-term monitoring program in Cayo Largo. We are already planning three expeditions during the 2019 nesting season. Read more about the expedition on our blog. This project is funded entirely by Lush Cosmetics, a Canadian company that donates proceeds from its sales to conservation efforts around the world.


Through its support of CariMar, you have contributed to a growing dialogue between Cuban, Mexican and American scientists while ensuring that the highest quality of science emerges from continued cooperation.

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