Category: Coral Reefs


Snorkeling in Cuba with

Before arriving  to Cuba, I had read about our forbidden neighbor’s  thriving coral reefs.  A country frozen in time, Cuba is a matrix of islands forming an archipelago, a mere 100 miles south of Key West.  Our  local marine biology professor,  Nicole Crane confirmed this hopeful news from her travels through Cuba.  As I dipped into the warm water  surrounding Punta Perdiz at Playa Giron, I felt like I was meeting the spry colleague of an elderly friend who had been terribly ill for many years.

In 1985, I began a career as a professional naturalist,  leading snorkeling trips to various destinations in the Caribbean. I first submerged into sparkling  crystal clear blue water as a junior in college in 1979.  Studying marine biology in Belize with a motley crew of college students would change my life. Coral reefs became a personal and professional passion.  After a month living  on a tiny Belizean Island,  my blood had turned blue and feathery gills replaced my lungs. I was deeply intrigued  by a mostly thriving coral reef  ecosystem. Sadly ,, by the late 80’s the integrity of  many Caribbean coral reefs had begun to decline.  The change has been rapid and heart wrenching. Corals are finicking and demanding creatures that sometimes respond more like a plant than animal. In fact, corals are fueled by the sun as the majority of their nutrients are obtained by zooxanthellae,  photosynthetic algae living within the coral  tissues.

Since reef building corals must photosynthesize  to flourish, they require clear, warm water that lacks sedimentation. As tropical forests and mangrove shorelines  are cleared for  development,  sediments pour into marine environments blocking sunlight and smothering corals. With increasing nutrients in the water, large fleshy algae thrive and out compete  corals.  As human populations grow and swell during tourist seasons, many Caribbean locations experience a high demand on local fisheries. Without proper fisheries management, the removal of  herbivores such as parrotfish  has devastating effects on a coral reef ecosystem. As grazers, these colorful reef fish keep a check on algae growth. Healthy populations of reef herbivores are critical to maintain a balanced and vibrant coral reef system. Cuba’s careful management of marine resources, organic farming practices, relatively slower tourism, controlled fisheries and slower coastal development are among the factors contributing to a thriving coral reef ecosystem just offshore at Punta Perdiz.



As I swam over the coral reefs at  Punta Perdiz, I was  thrilled to see an abundance of healthy Elkhorn Coral, Acropora palmata.  Listed as Critically Endangered by the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species,   Elkhorn Coral in the Caribbean basin has declined by 80% over a 30 year span  and is  virtually gone in the nearby Florida Keys. Rapid coastal development, high nutrient loads,  intense hurricanes, poor fisheries management and disease has led to the demise of Elkhorn Coral. However, at Punta Perdiz this  delicate  form  of branching coral was flourishing. Vibrant schools of blue tangs and parrotfish, keystone herbivores darted among the corals. Yellow tube sponges, feathery gorgonian corals, brilliant christmas tree worms and reef urchins were thriving among the  predominantly live Elkhorn Coral  branches. Peering into a tidy hole  nestled within the  Elkhorn Coral polyps,  miniature  claws of an old friend, the Elkhorn Coral Crab, Domecia acanthophora appeared.  Living as a commensal species associated wth Elkhorn Coral, these minuscule crabs will also disappear as Elkhorn Coral declines. However, at Cuba’s Punta Perdiz, even the spry and spindling Elkhorn Corals are ready for some salsa dancing!

Kim Powell is owner, operator and head naturalist at Blue Water Ventures in Santa Cruz, CA. Offering naturalist-led field trips for students and adventurous vacations designed to be relaxing with an educational component for women. Kim has been organizing single and multiple day excursions to extraordinarily beautiful places since 1985.



We were simply spellbound watching a reef squid feeding at night on our recent BVI Multi Sport Sailing Adventure! The video captures the pulsating chromatophore color cells and the lighter feeding tentacles waiting to strike. It happened so quickly that we missed capturing it on the video, but we’ will all remember the rapid strike and entanglement of a tiny fry fish, possibly a silverside.

The next morning, several of us encountered a school of over 60 reef squid watching us as we watched them! So many great moments in the Caribbean! Join us at
Join Blue Water Ventures as we travel the world teaching coral reef ecology in Belize, Baja, British Virgin Islands and beyond!

On our recent “scouting” trip to Oahu, we were just finishing up a kayak surf session off of Kailua Beach, when a Spanish Dancer stole the show! These flamboyant sea slugs are amazing swimmers that feed on toxic sponges. Their scientific name, Hexabranchus sanguineus literally means “six-gills blood-colored”. As a type of nudibranch, their gills are exposed on their dorsal side and they enjoy a hermaphroditic life style. Lurking within the velvety tissue of the Spanish Dancer lives The Emperor shrimp, Periclimenes imperator which earns its keep by cleaning the “naked gills” of this “nudibranch”.


Soon we are heading to the reefs, ruins and rainforests of Belize, Central America.

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