Jardines De La Reina, Cuba

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Marine Sanctuaries The Queen's Gardens, are located 60 Miles off the southern coast of Cuba: this archipelago comprises a chain of 250 virgin coral and mangrove islands extending along 75 miles of turquoise waters.
The Jardines de la Reina was declared Marine Park in 1996, and with the support and management of Avalon together with the Cuban Sciences and Environment Ministry, this area has been preserved for future generations, as a complex network of untouched marine ecosystems that have been regarded by many knowledgeable scientists and organizations as a reference of what is the original status of a coral reef as it was found by Cristopher Colombus in the times of the discovery.The underwater paradise is all that comes into your mind when you first enter the water, imagine
the vertical walls covered with brightly hued sponges, huge Pilar Corals (Montastraea Annularis), black corals extending the branches in the contrasting blue water, many species of gorgonians, fragile laminar corals (Agaricia sp.) showing its beautiful shapes through crevices, canyons and caves built along thousands of years of invertebrates work, converting tons of calcium carbonate into architecture masterpieces. The mangroves providing an incredible nursery area for young fish populations, filtering the water that goes to the reef together with the seagrass beds (Thalassia Testudinum) and in return receiving protection from the open ocean wave energy, all interconnected in a very fragile net that here keeps its variety, richness and splendor.The biggest populations of adult fish in the Caribbean: Sharks, Snappers and Groupers, Jewfish up
to 400 Pounds are an everyday experience. Sharks are one of the main attractions and you can see them everywhere. You can easily dive with 6 different species: Silkies, Reef, Lemon, Black tip, King Hammerhead and nurse sharks. From July to November you have chances to swim with Whale Sharks. Avalon Diving Center is the only operation in the area, and hosts no more than 700 divers per year. Certainly one of the last virgin reefs known by man. Dive sites are well protected from the winds and sea currents. Visibility is more than 40 meters. There is a wide variety of fish and corals.

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Avalon is a group of people that share a passion for the oceans, running a "low-impact" operation in the Marine Park, with the utmost goal of showing customers this paradise while working on management plans and strategies to keep this wonderful place as untouched as if we?ve never been there.This obsession with marine life, environmentalism, safety and service is reflected in all that Avalon does, trying to minimize any negative impacts of diving activities. The Marine Park at Gardens of the Queen is a wonderful place, both in and out of the water; and Avalon Cuban Diving Centers loves it! It is a privilege to be there and is Avalon?s responsibility to keep it safe for future generations. This Marine Park is probably the most important group of islands in the Caribbean, composed of one million acres of wetlands. In addition, this Marine Park acts as a critical refuge for North American birds migrating along the route through Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to South America. This wildlife sanctuary hosts more than 68 species of migratory birds. Gardens of the Queen Project The Ocean Foundation has recently begun working with partners at?Jardines de la Reina Archipelago, one of the largest protected marine areas in the Caribbean, focusing on research, management and economic?issues about what could be considered the healthiest, most extensive coral?reefs in the Caribbean region. We are working closely with the Cuban Center?for Coastal Ecosystems and the Center for Marine Research of Cuba to better study the natural resources of?the region, while assessing its economic and social values. The Gardens?of the Queen Project is a comprehensive, aggressive, forward-looking program to research and protect the unique, pristine ecosystems of Jardines de la Reina, ensuring that this protection will endure in perpetuity, serving as a compelling model for protected marine areas worldwide, dramatically advancing human understanding as to how healthy coral reef ecosystems function and yielding critical insights to inform management decisions for the global protection of coral reefs. The first major expedition to Jardines de la Reina was completed during the summer of 2011, featured on the CBS news magazine, 60 MINUTES.

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