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UA Researcher Studies Cuba’s Coastal Forests in Anticipation of Tourism Increase

UA Researcher Studies Cuba’s Coastal Forests in Anticipation of
May 3, 2016

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — With the 1960 trade on Cuba expected to be
weakened if not lifted – Barack Obama called for the embargo’s
end at his final State of the Union address – the large Caribbean island
is preparing for an influx of American tourists.

There’s little doubt that a surge of U.S. tourists would benefit the
island economically, but there is some concern about the potential
impact that an inpouring of people would have on the island’s ecosystems.

In October 2015, Dr. Michael Steinberg, a of Alabama
associate professor in New College and geography, visited the island as
part of the College of Arts and Sciences Cuba Initiative. Steinberg
approached a Cuban Park official, whom he had met two years earlier at a
scientific conference, and suggested they partner to examine and map the
coastal habitat of two of Cuba’s national parks — Parque Nacional
Ciénaga de and Jardines de la Reina Marine Park.

Steinberg had completed similar work in Belize and Florida’s Everglades
National Park, and he wanted to conduct a similar study in Cuba using
satellite images of the two parks from the past 20 years to determine
the extent and of coastal mangrove forests.

Mangroves are coastal trees that are found on the fringes – between land
and water – of most tropical coastlines. They can survive a high level
of salt water and their stilt-like tangle of roots provide natural
habitat for many species of aquatic fish, crabs and shrimp. They also
serve as winter homes for migratory birds and stabilize the coast from
waves, tides and storm surges. Without them, coastal erosion often occurs.

“Mangroves are a critical building block of a coastal ecosystem, both
from a structural and ecological standpoint,”Steinberg said. “Remove the
mangroves, and environmental degradation on various levels often ensues.”

Steinberg is working with Cuba’s Ministry of Fisheries, the National
Park Association in Cuba and geographer Reynaldo Estrada from the Nunez
Foundation, making the study the first truly cooperative
conservation-mapping project between Cuba and the U.S. since the
embargo. At the end of the project, all maps and data will be shared
with Cuban park and conservation officials so that their information can
be incorporated into future park management plans.

Steinberg has been to Cuba twice since he and geography graduate student
Jordan Cissell started working on the project. The first time was in
October 2015. His second trip took place in March in 2016. He hopes to
take a third trip next fall.

His research is being funded by UA’s College of Arts & Sciences.

“These national parks will likely be two of the most important
destination for sports fishing in Cuba,” Steinberg said. “They already
draw some anglers, many from Europe, but as the embargo is lifted, there
will be many more sports fishers from the U.S. who will come and fish
here. Healthy populations of tarpon, permit and bonefish will draw
growing numbers of anglers to the parks.

“It’s important to understand what the mangrove forest cover looks like
now before tourists flood into this area because there will, no doubt,
be more development and more impact on these coastal areas. Future
changes can then be measured and better understood based on our work.”

Steinberg said that understanding the past and present spatial dynamics
of mangrove forest cover will also provide important baseline habitat
information regarding the management of species such as the endangered
Cuban crocodile, American flamingo and the Antillean manatee. To this
end, they’re also creating a map that identifies and delineates the
range of various rare species that inhabit the parks.

“We’re using publicly available satellite imagery called Landsat to
measure forest cover changes over the past 20 years,” said Cissell, who
is using the project as his thesis for his master’s in geography. “We’ll
look for deforestation and ask ‘are there no longer trees in an area
that used to have mangroves? Dr. Estrada, from the Nunez Foundation, has
also shared with us recently taken, high-resolution images of the parks
that provide a great deal of detail.”

Steinberg said their hypothesis is to see more mangrove forests today
than in the past as shortly after the Cuban Revolution the mangrove
forests of Cuba became protected in national parks. But, there have been
some recent developments with the forests in the Garden of the Queens
area that are threatening to cut down mangrove numbers.

“There have been reports of some mangrove die-offs in isolated areas of
the Garden of the Queens, so we will examine and map that issue as
well,” he said.

Steinberg said the research should be complete by May 2017.

UA’s New College and geography department are part of the College of
Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest
liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won
numerous national awards including Rhodes and Goldwater scholarships.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is
experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality.
This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state’s
, is in keeping with UA’s vision to be the university of choice
for the best and brightest students. UA, the state’s flagship
university, is an academic community united in its commitment to
enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.

CONTACT: Jamon Smith, UA media relations, , 205/348-4956
SOURCE: Dr. Michael Steinberg, , 205/348-0349

Source: UA Researcher Studies Cuba’s Coastal Forests in Anticipation of
Tourism Increase – University of Alabama News –

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