Two WCS-supported Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) – Cuba’s Parque Nacional Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) and Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park in Kenya – have been designated as Blue Parks, a prestigious recognition for their global importance, as well as the exceptional quality of the science-based conservation and management standards in place to protect them. 

Jardines de la Reina National Park, a 2170 km2 area protecting 161 km2 of land and 2010 km2 of ocean, encompasses an archipelago of 661 cays off the southwest coast of Cuba, protecting some of the most well-preserved and climate-resilient coral reefs in all of the Caribbean. The MPA’s vibrant mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, coral reefs, and coastal lagoons and estuaries host the highest levels of fish biomass in the inner Caribbean as well as an abundance of species like Caribbean reef sharks, critically endangered elkhorn coral, and American crocodiles.

In Jardines, WCS teams have supported shark and ray protection for over a decade, partnering with exceptional local researchers on science-based conservation work that has resulted in the largest density of sharks in Cuba. WCS, alongside other partners, has supported key elements of management and compliance in the MPA, including developing a sustainable financing plan for the Park, allowing it to gain and maintain its international standing as one of the “jewels of the Caribbean”.

“Jardines de la Reina allows you to go back in time and experience marine biodiversity at its natural levels – from Goliath groupers, to thriving silky and Caribbean reefs sharks, to abundant hawksbills sea turtles, to American crocodiles, and much more. This place will transport you and give you hope. This area is also a key refuge for so many threatened corals. We see high levels of recovery after shocks such as coral bleaching or hurricanes,” said Natalia Rossi, WCS Cuba Country Director. “Creating and maintaining this unique MPA has only been possible due to strong partnerships among multiple actors, including the park’s managers, researchers, communities, funders and a responsible ecotourism industry.”

The 39 km2 Kisite Mpunguti Marine Protected Area (KMMPA) shelters some of the healthiest and most biodiverse coastal ecosystems in Africa, including sprawling coral reefs and mangrove forests that are critical foraging and breeding habitat for rare seabirds, sea turtles, and mammals like the Indian Ocean humpback dolphin. These ecosystems and the abundance of fish that flourish in them have enormous ecological and economic value as a primary source of food and livelihoods for communities up and down Kenya’s coast.

“We have been supporting this MPA for three decades by contributing to monitoring and management efforts,” said Dr Tim McClanahan, a WCS Senior Conservation Zoologist based in Kenya. “The information we have collected has proven the rarity of this location, and has shown us that we are protecting one of the most diverse and resilient ecosystems along the African coastline.  This is an area that could persist in the face of climate change, if the larger seascape can be better managed and if the global human community can reduce the rate of climate warming.”

“Over the last two years, WCS has supported the Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park and Reserve by training staff in marine monitoring, developing management action plans, and engaging communities in MPA decision making,” said Jennifer O’Leary, Regional Marine Program Coordinator for WCS. “Next, we’re working on a financial sustainability strategy for the MPA, which will help Kisite ensure sustainability of its operations into the future.”

Park Warden of Kisite-Mpunguti, Paul Wambi, celebrated news of the award, “We are delighted that Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Park and Reserve has been designated a Blue Park. As Kenya Wildlife Service, we would like to thank all of our dedicated staff, local community, and partners for making Kisite-Mpunguti a beacon of hope for marine conservation. This award only serves as motivation for us to work even harder to make Kisite-Mpunguti a sustainable MPA that benefits both nature and humanity.”

The Blue Parks initiative of the Marine Conservation Institute aims to assemble a global network that effectively protects at least 30 percent of the oceans in ecologically representative and connected places. WCS’s contributions to these Blue Park MPAs have been generously supported by Oceans 5, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Blue Action Fund, USAID-funded Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish, The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, and donors to the WCS MPA Fund. WCS is committed to working long-term with the managers and local communities of these and other MPAs to establish effective conservation management.

WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission.

Through research, educational outreach, policy development and capacity building, the WCS Cuba and Kenya Programs works in close collaboration with local communities, institutions and the government to protect threatened marine wildlife and a healthy ocean supporting healthy people.

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