The Caribbean islands are not large but they have paradisaical surroundings with beaches and vegetation typical of the tropic, some of them with volcanoes. In Cuba, beaches and vegetation are richer and larger than in the rest of the small islands. They are different from each other, that is why they are divided into different groups: the Bahamas Islands, and the Greater and the Lesser Antilles. The first ones are mostly small, coralline, completely plain, without mountains or watercourses where the beaches and other sea features are the main attraction; the other two groups of Antillean Islands have, as their main attraction, its nature as well as the bird and marine biological variety, a fact that differentiates them from the Bahamas.
Even between these two groups of Antilles there are notorious differences. One of them is the presence of archipelagos. From the Greater Antilles, (Cuba, Jamaica, La Espanola and Puerto Rico), Cuba is the only one that has an archipelago so numerous. The same happens in the Lesser Antilles, among which Islas Virgenes (The Virgin Islands), the American as well as the British, are the most similar to Cuba in this aspect. The rest of the small islands have a few tiny islands around them, including Cayman Islands.
The Cuban archipelagos have remained almost intact since its discovery by the Spanish; this is due to the fact that they were never attractive for settlement except for the Island of Youth (formerly Island of Pine trees) and the Turiguano Island, where there was only a small village. In some other keys were only groups of fishermen who did not settled in, just stayed sometime. While the Caribbean Islands looked forward developing tourism, the Cuban archipelagos stayed almost unaltered.
There were interesting natural elements in these islands (known as keys in Cuba), some of them very attractive, such as the wild horse flock in Cayo Romano (the third largest Cuban island), but the economic conditions at that time were not favorable for the development of tourism.
It was not until the decade of the 70 'and the 80' of last century that these places were thought of as a tourist attraction because some of them had excellent beaches, were close to the Main Island (Cuba) and did not have dangerous animals that could harm visitors.
Studies were carried out about the possibility of exploiting these territories without affecting the environment or barely affecting it. Nowadays, man has influenced the area in several ways with different effects, the most important for the environment being fishing, tourism and the proclamation of protected areas.
Fishing is practiced with the widely accepted techniques in part of the area and supervised by competent authorities, without affecting the sea biological variety and closely watching the closed seasons. Harbors do not affect the preservation of the environment, they have been in the area for many years and their influence is checked by institutions of the Ministry of Sience, Technology and the Environment (CITMA), which also regulate everything regarding the protection of the environment all over the country in every production and service center.
During the last years the tourism industry has developed the exploitation of these small islands, mainly in three of the four Cuban archipelagos. This is the activity that has a major and varied influence on these islands. Hotels, marinas, airports and scuba diving centers have being built and tours to the reefs on small boats have been organized, all of which requires a motorized transportation infrastructure. Not only the four airports, two on the Northern coast (The King's Gardens Archipelago) and two on the Southern coast (Canarreos archipelago) are consistent with this effort, but also the "pedraplenes" (roads built to connect the main island with the small islands and the keys) of which we will be talking now.
Due to the fact that these islands are separated from the main island (Cuba) by not very deep waters and affected by sea streams, and taking into account such local factors as sediment flow and the sea fauna migrations, some roads similar to those existing in other countries with experience on this matter were built to facilitate communication between the small islands and the rest of Cuba; for instance, the road connecting the Florida keys.
Five of these roads, known in Cuba as "pedraplenes", have been built, all of them in the Northern coast: one in Los Colorados Archipelago (Jutia Key) and the rest (four) at Sabana-Camaguey or the King's Gardens Archipelago. We will describe each of them in further articles about the archipelagos.
The fact that these archipelagos are so isolated from the economic, political and social life from the rest of the country has enabled their natural elements to remain almost intact until now. That is why it is so necessary to preserve the most valuable ecosystems for the next generations, where we find representative specimens, taking steps in every archipelago to handle each situation correctly, with the main objective of maintaining their eco-systems as naturally as possible, with strict control of visits, and encouraging on visitors and neighbor communities the love and care for nature.
These measures make possible to regulate the number of visitors. In these areas you won't find tourist facilities or the comfort you find in specialized centers or hotels. Therefore, the entities in charge of safeguarding the protected areas, the National Center of Protected Areas (CNAP) and the National System of Protected Areas (SNAP) forming part of CITMA, are the promoters and guardians of these areas in Cuba.
At the archipelagos and Cuban coasts there are National Parks, Ecological Reserves, Flora Shelters, Fauna Shelters and Protected Natural Landscapes, categories included in the Cuban Constitution as well as others proposed by international organizations such as the Biosphera Reserve and the Ramsar Places, among others .
In next articles we will make a tour along the Cuban coasts, starting at the San Antonio Cape.