HAVANA TIMES — Recently, I fulfilled my wish to return to one of the coral paradises in Cuba my father would take me to during my childhood and teenage years. I was mostly interested in seeing what state the coral populations in Havana’s west-laying coasts were in.
One reaches El Salado via the highway leading to Mariel. I went in a collective cab, as the buses that used to go there are no longer in operation.
In the past, it was hard to access the coral colonies area because the water level at the coast was low and the shore was full of sea urchins. You had to swim for nearly 50 meters, with their spikes rubbing against your chest, to reach the more beautiful places there.
This time I was able to swim in easily because there was a high tide and I found the colonies in good health. The place is protected solely because it is far away and therefore less accessible. It is mostly visited on weekends by the inhabitants of the town of Caimito.
I was less sorry over the deterioration of buildings and sidewalks there than to realize the kind of unforgivable damage being done to the sea out of sheer ignorance. On the shore, I came across a man who had collected many fragments of coralline rock with a hammer, hitting these to drive the worms out and use these as bait.
Most of Havana’s coast – which should present exuberant life forms – looks as though it’s been razed to the ground by a bulldozer. This is coupled with the fact that, when the sea is choppy, many coral reefs are fractured.
At El Salado, I came across a coral colony made up of a species known as Acropora. Dish-shaped, it was over two meters in diameter, and the base had been fractured by the waves. That said, there are still places where coral reefs still look healthy, particularly those in hard-to-reach areas.
Sadly, there are very few places where human activity does not directly affect these in very negative ways. There are people who have no other livelihood than what they can sell from the sea.