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Jardines de la Reina: Thrilling Dives with Sharks

Also published in the Indonesian language: Penyelam Indonesia Pertama di Jadines de la Reina (Kuba)

Located in the southern part of Cuba, Jardines de la Reina (Queen’s Garden), without a doubt, is the most adventurous Archipelago in Cuba for scuba diving. The area is profoundly protected by the Cuban government where the commercial fishing and industries are prohibited, and the only certain number of tourists allowed. Fidel Castro, who used to be a scuba diver, decided to preserve the area in 1990-ish and pointed out an Italian company, Avalon, to manage the tourism industry in the archipelago. The company allowed to bringing of maximum 750 scuba divers and 500 fly fishermen annually. These full protection measures deliver impressive marine condition to date. Since then the fish population increased between 30 to 50 percent and the coral reefs recovered easily against the bleaching (CBS 60 Minutes, December 2011).  Dr. David Guggenheim, a marine biologist, in CBS 60 minutes’ documentary stated that the coral reef in Jardines de la Reina as a “living time machine”, a healthy coral reef ecosystem in the Caribbean used to be: abundant fishes and large predators such as sharks and groupers, healthy coral reefs and sea water free from marine debris and industrial chemical.

I was one of 750 scuba divers visiting the archipelago for a week this year, and perhaps, the first Indonesian scuba diver ever dives in the area – as pointed out by Avalon staff who has been working there for decades. It took us six hours driving from Havana to Jucaro port then another 90 minutes by boat to reach the floating hotel Tortuga, a steel houseboat anchored to the bottom of the shallow sea in the middle of mangrove area.

The mangrove area in Jardines de la Reina is home to birds, fishes, and American saltwater crocodile. This endangered crocodile has an average life span of 70 years with the size of around two meters. And one of them was frequently visiting us in Tortuga. Franco, as the staff in Tortuga named him, would wait under the deck of Tortuga until one of the staff or guests fed him with chicken meat pinned by fishing twine. He played around a bit before finally swallowing the meat. It looked as if he enjoyed our company on the deck who were amused by this close encounter.

One thing to guarantee while diving in Jardines de la Reina is, almost in every dive site you will come across groups of Silky sharks and Caribbean reef sharks.  Occasionally you can also expect to bump into Lemon and Nurse Sharks.  Most of the sharks are about two to three meters long, and yes, they are huge! Before diving, our dive masters who have long experience diving with sharks briefed us that sharks in the Caribbean waters are not aggressive unless when they feel threatened. We were advised to keep our hands close to our bodies otherwise the sharks could assume the hands as small fish to catch.

Our first encounter with around 20 sharks was in a dive site called Black Coral Two. Similar sights could also be found in dive sites Boca de Piedra, Caves o de la Qera, Cabeso de la Ralla, and Los Moqotes. They were cruising around the scuba divers; it felt like they were investigating us as new weird species that produced bubbles. And they kept following us until we were ascending to our boat when finally they were swimming circling our boat. The scene reminded me of Jaws movies, only then my experience showed me otherwise: no one was attacked by the sharks.

Shark – Jardines de la Reina

In addition to sharks, we also encountered Nassau and Goliath groupers. These species were considered endangered due to severe over-fishing. The groupers were relatively huge; we predicted their weights were about 80 to 90 kilograms.  After several days diving with the sharks and groupers, I concluded that I should be more on guard towards the groupers rather than the sharks. Groupers are solitary fish, and they defend their territory against other fish or other groupers. Therefore, their curiosity could mean that they feel their territory was threatened.

 Other dive sites such as Frallon, Anclitas, and Montana Russa have beautiful landscape featuring underwater canyon with tunnels and caves along with gorgonian fans and sponges. In these dive sites, scuba divers can easily spot the morays, barracudas, stingrays and tarpons. Unfortunately, numbers of common lionfish, which is not the native of Caribbean waters, could also be seen. The war against the common lionfish has been ongoing in the Caribbean countries for years already, as there were no lionfish predators while lionfish eats the juveniles and potentially threatening the Caribbean marine ecosystem. Our dive guides tried to feed dead lionfish to the sharks, hoping in the future the shark will hunt the lionfish themselves.

After all, Jardines de la Reina is living proof that absolute marine protection could result amazingly. It is a place worth to visit for scuba divers to enjoy a pristine area and to feel that there is a small part on this planet where our ocean, sharks, and other endangered species get fully protected.

Also submitted to Monday Escapes



    • Terimakasih…:-D rasanya luarbiasa sekali..ketagihan juga jadinya…haha..jadi merasa bagian dari mereka dan mgkn mereka jg mengira penyelam jenis ikan baru yg mengeluarkan bubble..:-D

  1. I give you a like even if I don’t like when you are diving with sharks. You never now. We have several fatal attacks in WA. Be careful Indah.

    • Oh Erwin, thank you so much for your concern! I will and I promise you that I will study the type of sharks before any dives, I’d prefer not to dive with aggressive type of sharks like white sharks..

  2. Oh thanks god – then I can sleep well this night Indah. 🙂 … and good feeding before you go into the water may help too. But what is it what makes it so interesting to dive with sharks? I can see only the adrenaline rush.

    • 🙂 Personally I care so much about sharks, their current situation that near to extinction and most of all I do hate the shark finning practices (my apology for strong word but I can’t help it to feel this way, some group of people are too greedy and like to eat everything!). Aside to that there are so many different species of sharks that is far from being aggressive type but majority people only know Jaws shark as in the movie. I usually dive with the sharks species that known to be not aggressive and only eat small fishes; it’s not for adrenaline rush actually, but more curiosity and I’d like to share that not all sharks are killer thus they could be killed in cruelty way like finning…

      • This is nice that you are caring about sharks Indah and I agree totally with you that the shark finning is one of the most brutal ways to put a delicates for a certain group of people on the table. In only one or two country, as far as I know, it’s allowed and sharks are unprotected.
        Maybe you heard about our big debate and controversy we have in Australia, especially Western Australia with sharks. We had in the last years many fatal and near fatal shark attacks. One and the same man was even attacked twice, in two separate locations. Luck he is still alive! Around Perth we had during summer time very often the beaches closed because of shark sighting near the shore. Now our government had the brilliant idea (must be brilliant if not he would not be PM) (sorry now I’m getting political)) to put drum lines out and catch the sharks. In total 172 sharks including a 4.5 meter tiger shark, but not a single great white have been caught, some of them have been killed, the rest released and some of them died by them self. See the link. The only good thing is that 90 sharks were tagged. I agree totally, this is unhuman, and of course the whole action is executed by professional fisher on a quite brutal way. I remember well few years ago we had the debate to tag sharks with tracker for research in the same way they are doing it in Florida. The same government has denied this, with the reason: The method of catch tag and release is too stressful for the animal!
        I think we just don’t know enough about this species and there has to be done a lot more of research. They are since several years protected because they are near to extinction. Maybe, and this is my personal opinion, they are not anymore in danger, could reproduce them and are now in higher numbers as we think. Oceans are more and more fished out and this gives an imbalance in the food source. This brings the sharks closer to shore where they attack what they think is eatable. I know they don’t like surfboards or humans for food but if they are hungry and think we are something to eat they try.
        You know I’m leaving close to the ocean, and friends always ask me if I go down to the beach for fishing. It’s a good fishing beach. Here you are an outsider if you don’t fish. But I never could see the point to go and catch a fish. We, as intelligent species are tricking a little or (big) fish, fighting with it and maybe kill it for eating or release it again. Yes I like to eat fish, but I would never go and kill one as long as I’m able to buy it. Sorry Indah, this is a very long post but maybe you can write in this attached blog more fundamental and open some eyes.

        • Thank you Erwin! I don’t mind at all with your comment, it is very enlightening! I agree with your analysis that “oceans are more and more fished out and this gives an imbalance in the food source. This brings the sharks closer to shore where they attack what they think is eatable.” Sadly, that is most likely what happens nowadays.. 😦

  3. Jardines de la Reina: Thrilling Dives with Sharks | indahs: travel story & photography

  4. You are a far, far, FAR braver person than me to get into any body of water where something bigger and nastier than you can consider you lunch.

    • 🙂 Thank you! Honestly I was not so scared anymore after knowing that there are several types of sharks..and the ones that I encountered in Cuba were not the aggressive ones and actually they were quite respecting us underwater. They were just swimming next to us, maybe they thought we were another type of sharks with bubbles..

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