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The enchanted forest of Jardines de la Reina

In tropical and subtropical seas there are very few plants able to withstand high salinity, due to this very special condition, nature has created an ecosystem that fulfills important functions. Mangrove forests are true coffers of biodiversity, forming a transition zone between sea and land, they are subject to sudden changes, not only in salinity but also in temperature, humidity and mechanical stress.

All this is achieved thanks to its morph physiological (relation between form and function) features. They have very hard stems, very branched roots and stilts that provide great stability on soft substrate, a special active salt evacuation system and oxygenation system of parts under the mud, using roots that grow up to absorb oxygen from the atmosphere (decaying organic matter consumes all the oxygen).

Mangroves reduce considerably the processes of erosion by absorbing the energy arriving continuously at the waterfront (waves, tides, currents, winds, etc.). These plant communities are earth builders, and also natural filters for contaminants. According to studies, one hectare of red mangrove produces approximately 70 cubic meters of organic matter per year.

One hectare of red mangrove produces approximately 70 cubic meters of organic matter per year.

Especie de Mangle
Mangroves are earth builders, and also natural filters for contaminants.

Each species of mangrove is located in relation to its relative proximity to salt water. The closest is the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), followed by the black mangrove (Avicennia germinans), then white or patabán (Laguncularia racemosa), and further inside the land there is “Yana” (Conocarpus erectus). This zonation is not always rigid, since it is very common to find Yana on our beaches, very close to the sea, and find red mangrove plants more than 15 miles from the sea up in a river, etc.

Raíces de Mangles
Mangrove forest, Mangles Altos

Mangroves can grow up to 50 meters, depending on several factors. When they grow in high salinity waters this process is delayed, and when it is in areas with better conditions of salinity and nutrients is much faster.

In Jardines de la Reina there is a wonderful mangrove forest, and very few know about its importance. It consists of plants over 20 meters high with very straight stems, the name of the area is Mangles Altos “High Mangrove”, located in the northern part of Cayo Caballones, at the entrance of the channel with the same name. This is the only place in all Jardines de la Reina that keeps these conditions, despite its distance from the mainland and its proximity to the end of the island shelf (less than two miles from the open sea). The height of this mangrove tells us first that it is favored by the currents that carry fresh water and nutrients at low tide, especially in the rainy season.

It is a well known fact that mangrove roots are home for a wide variety of fish, invertebrates, corals, jellyfish, sponges, lobsters, crocodiles, etc., being a true nursery area for juvenile fish. Many species of fish from our coral reefs survive the first years in the mangroves. The same applies to the birds, many of them nest in its branches. Mangroves are closely linked with all other nearby ecosystems, including seagrasses, the reef crest, and even deep seabed near the island shelf reefs. Especially the red mangrove produces a lot of seeds, some are already born while still floating vertically, and when they touch a substrate are ready to colonize.

Considering its size, the Cuban mangroves occupy the 9th place in the world and 1st in the Caribbean

The Jardines de la Reina, located south of the provinces of Ciego de Avila and Camagüey, in eastern Cuba, is composed of over a thousand cays and islands. For the most part, I would say, more than 90% consists of mangroves, forming shallow lagoons and channels. Although at first glance they may seem all equal, each channel and lagoon, is unique, especially from the biological point of view. A lifetime in not enough to explore in detail each channel and pond beneath its surface. Our experience tells us very clearly that these places are home to many species still unknown to science.

Only a few years ago, several scientific studies have demonstrated the great importance of mangroves, and they are protected by various laws, some of them international, such as RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands.

Jutías en los mangles
Mangroves are closely linked with all other nearby ecosystems.

Cuban mangroves cover more than two thirds of the island coasts, representing 4.8% of the national territory. Its economic and ecological importance is incalculable. Considering its size, the Cuban mangroves occupy the ninth place in the world and first in the Caribbean. These evergreen forests are also called energy forests for the amount of wood they have. Climate change, the growing in scale of hurricanes and coastal flooding, among other effects, can damage appreciably this wonderful and essential ecosystem.


Jutías en los mangles He was born on March 6, 1965 in Camaguey, Cuba. At age 18 he took his first steps in scuba diving. Since 1990 he works as a diving instructor in Cuba; has over 7500 dives; is a CMAS 3 star instructor. From 1998, is chief of Avalon Dive Center, in the gardens of the queen, with more than 12 years practicing underwater photography. He has several awards in different underwater photography events. He's also an underwater cameraman for television in Cuban and the Latin world with more than 50 images for Cuban documentaries about nature. He has two canon SLR cameras, with adapted housing from other models. Some of his other equipment is also homemade. He's also a Mechanical Engineer. Since childhood he had the dream of making images under water, and after many years of waiting, he finally managed to get the necessary equipment to begin this work. His best pictures are those that are yet to come.


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