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Alert Diver is the dive industry’s leading publication. Featuring DAN’s core content of dive safety, research, education and medical information, each issue is a must-read reference, archived and shared by passionate scuba enthusiasts. In addition, Alert Diver showcases fascinating dive destinations and marine environmental topics through images from the world’s greatest underwater photographers and stories from the most experienced and eloquent dive journalists in the business.

JARDINES CUBA’S

JARDINES CUBA’S PRISTINE PARADISE [ TEXT AND PHOTOS BY STEPHEN FRINK [ DE LA REINA I had never known a trip to garner such demand. Every year we organize a couple of photo tours to distant and exotic destinations in the tropical diving universe. This year we arranged our first trip to Cuba — to the Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) — and it sold out in only two hours. I’ve heard of similar success from others in the dive travel business, too. There was tremendous pent-up demand for Cuba, it seemed, among North American divers. This was curious to me, because I’d dived Cuba before and was underwhelmed. UNDERWHELMED? “Underwhelming” is not a word you typically see used to describe diving in Cuba, but context is important to understand my experiential baseline. In the mid-1980s a popular strobe manufacturer of the day, Subsea, invited me and several other professional underwater photographers to teach a seminar to their best dive shop retailers, destination Cuba. We traveled to the Isle of Youth and enjoyed some relatively good diving on its walls and shipwrecks. The scenery was nice, especially the huge sponges against blue water backgrounds, but I was struck by how few fish I was seeing. This makes sense when you consider that the Isle of Youth is the seventh-largest island in the West Indies and has a population of 86,000. That many people can consume a lot of fish, so it’s no surprise the fishing pressure was discernible. This was 30 years ago, and Cuba’s initiative to develop marine protected areas 68 | FALL 2016

One of the highlights of a dive tour to the Gardens of the Queen is the chance to swim with a crocodile in a pristine mangrove and seagrass environment. Habituated to the proximity of snorkelers, these animals offer a unique and productive photo opportunity. (MPAs) was nascent, but I still found myself wondering in 2016 whether the Gardens of the Queen would be any different. Jardines de la Reina has a few things going for it. It’s situated 60 miles south of Cuba’s central coast near the village of Jucaro, which is itself a six-hour bus ride from Havana. (I’m no political science whiz, but it occurs to me that if for the past 50 years you didn’t want your citizens to drive their boats 90 miles to Key West you probably shouldn’t allow them to have enough fuel of go fishing somewhere that involves a 120-mile round trip.) Perhaps even more important, Jardines de la Reina was a favorite spearfishing and scuba diving spot for Fidel Castro, and he had no desire to see it get fished ALERTDIVER.COM | 69