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The expedition studying the seabed of the Guanahacabibes peninsula in Cuba's far western Pinar del Rio province, found more than 10 new species thanks to a project that receives cooperation from Canadian specialists.

Twice a year this research project is carried out, centering its interest on mollusks, because according to scientists, they are the best way to diagnose the state of ecosystems.

The area is well-preserved and far removed from any urban or industrial areas, thus providing the ideal setting for such findings.

All along the southern coast of the Guanahacabibes National Park is a Protected Marine Area designated by the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers in 2001.

The research project is carried out under the guidance and supervision of the Office for the Integrated Development of the extreme western area of Cuba, with the participation of several institutions including Geocuba and the Institute of Oceanology.

Guillermo Baena of the Office for the Integrated Development said the project is centered on three main topics. One concerns updating the geographical information system; another deals with environment related issues, and the third is linked to environmental education. Baena said the research will provide very important data for the decision making process related to the sustainable development of the area.

Dr. Jesus Ortea, professor of the University of Oviedo and associate professor of the Institute of Oceanology, said a marine reserve is justified if there is a rich fauna, and the possibility that in the event of a catastrophe in the area, there is a flow of larvae to other affected areas, contributing to its recovery.

In case of a catastrophe in the Florida coasts or in the Yucatan peninsula, Guanahacabibes, -strategically located in the Caribbean and the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico and with its surrounding water circulation- can provide fauna in a natural way to help recovery.

According to the scientist, the aim of the project is to make an inventory of a focal point that already exceeds 700 species. At the same time it seeks to register the rest of the fauna, in order to define the strategic value, its richness and be able to quantify the importance of the peninsula. These results could have a wide reaching scope, because half of the marine fauna of the nation may be represented there.

If a marine reserve system is developed in Cuba, where one hundred percent of the species are fully protected, then the survival of the fauna will be protected against any catastrophe, said the scientist.

According to Dr. Jose Espinosa Ph.D. from the Institute of Oceanology and one of the participants of the expedition from 2002 to 2005, 27 species new to science have been found, as well as 37 new registers for Cuba.

Now the fauna in caves is under research for the first time and provides significant information and perhaps even new species, he stated.

Although about 90 percent of the species in the peninsula also have a presence all over the western and insular Caribbean (they can be found in the majority of the Cuban coasts) there are many species that are of direct development, meaning that they are endemic to the zone.

Of those, so far there are 12 that we believe are exclusive here, identified in the areas of Cape San Antonio and Maria La Gorda, said Espinosa. He added that there is a large area to carry out research in the North of the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, where the coast has many inlets and the ecosystems show a great complexity.

Espinosa had the opportunity to do a scuba diving exploration just a week after the extremely powerful hurricane Ivan had struck the area in 2004.

"Everything was very scrambled, but we knew that the potentials of tropical ecosystems are very high," he said. "Ever since the peninsula has existed it has suffered the effects of many cyclones, and these phenomena may be, to a certain extent, beneficial, because while they can temporarily cause damage, they later remodel new sea bottoms, and provide an opportunity so that life may make a more intense comeback. This is what we are finding here," he affirmed.

For the first time ever, an inventory of the algae of this area is also underway. Institute of Oceanology technician Macario Esquivel considers it of great importance because the algae provide oxygen, provide food and shelter to different species and contribute esthetically as an element of the landscape.

It wasn't by chance that a group of tourists just returning from a morning diving tour at the international scuba diving center of Maria la Gorda described what they had seen as marvelous, stupendous and incredible...


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