Habitats to Explore with M/V Oceans for Youth
& your Cuban marine scientist guides:
(sites included in each weekly itinerary my vary depending on tides and weather)
This deep mangrove channel is home to the giant Goliath grouper along with schools of large dog snappers and some cubera snappers. Big nurse sharks also frequent the channel. Crocodile resting areas can be found along the banks and the mangroves branches provide habitat for many species of water birds and mangrove warblers. The submerged mangrove roots are covered in brightly colored sponges, feathery hydrozoans, and colonies of translucent tunicates.
This shallow crest reef is dominated by a lush rise of dense purple, white, and yellow branching soft corals or gorgonians that sway in the gentle current. The expansive forest of corals and adjacent white sand bottom are home to abundant large snappers and feeding eagle and sting rays. The area is adjacent to a deeper cut in the reef which at about 30 ft. deep is perfect for two optional scuba dives.
This long, pristine, undeveloped white sand beach is a quick drift snorkel or boat ride from M/V Oceans for Youth's main anchorage. The unique island vegetation includes a rare palm tree found only on the coasts of Cuba. The shallow, clear waters are home to young sting rays, large queen chonch, and lobsters. Seasonally, it is also a nesting beach for endangered hawksbill sea turtles.
This series of beautiful, lush, sea-level mangrove cays and channels is called a "mountain" not because of its ground elevation but because of the spectacular canopy height that marks an area with some of the tallest mangrove trees the Caribbean marine realm. The trees provide habitat for many species of herons and other water birds. Long winding channels provide opportunities for fun, fast boat tours zipping through the narrow waterways.
Named by M/V Oceans for Youth's Cuban marine biologist, Dr. Fabián Pina Amargós, the area is his favorite spot for a relaxing sunset drift snorkel between the boat's anchorage and nearby Anclitas Beach; the sunlit, swaying seagrass beds are punctuated by small coral heads covered in young, colorful reef fish, lobsters out in the open and some large resident baracudas.
Within a hidden lagoon there is a secret area of solution holes in the shallow, rocky bottom. When the tide is right, the holes form visible whirlpools that are surrounded by seagrass. The habitat is perfect for young, feeding snappers of several species resulting in thousands of fish to snorkel with and small, spinning funnels of water to play with. This is a truly unique site and experience.
Finca de Pepe Reef
The deep reef crest here comes up to about 40 ft. in depth making it ideal for both snorkeling and scuba diving (2 optional scuba dives); the crest drops off to about 80 ft. where sharks can often be seen. A mix of soft and hard corals surround several swim-throughs, and cleaning stations host large black groupers. Seasonally, from April to July, tarpon aggregate over the sandy bottom and large schools of jacks often swim by. Caribbean reef sharks are also often seen here.
Queen of Miraflores Reef
This shallow reef is dominated by a beautiful, large stand of endangered and rare elkhorn coral; in the crystal clear water the branches seem to glow with health and vitality providing a home for young hawksbill turtles, reef sharks, large rainbow parrotfish and huge schools of snappers and grunts, along with several species of groupers.
Jutia & Iguana Beach
This picturesque, white sand beach is home to friendly, sunbathing iguanas and rare Cuban jutias -- an adorable species of small mammal found only in Cuba. They live in the trees and are highly social often approaching visitors and vocalizing in chirps and squeaks.
This reef provides an example of the endangered elkhorn coral recovery occuring in the Gardens of the Queen National Park; massive skeletons of old corals can be seen with growth of new coral spreading across the branches, and important grazers such as parrotfish and longspine sea urchins are abundant. Many species of reef fish and resting nurse sharks can also be found along the reef.
This unique reef is surrounded by and intertwined with lush seagrass growing out of a white sandy bottom giving the coral seascape a pastoral appearance. Fish life is abundant here given the two mixing habitats, seagrass and coral reef, including queen angelfish, midnight parrotfish, and pairs of butterflyfish. The seagrasses provide feeding opportunities for sting rays, eagle rays, and queen conch.