Cuba: The Accidental Eden

Cuba may have been restricted politically and economically for the past 50 years, but its borders have remained open to wildlife for which Cuba’s undeveloped islands are an irresistible draw.  While many islands in the Caribbean have poisoned or paved over their ecological riches on land and in the sea in pursuit of a growing tourist industry, Cuba’s wild landscapes have remained virtually untouched, creating a safe haven for rare and intriguing indigenous animals, as well as for hundreds of species of migrating birds and marine creatures.  Coral reefs have benefited, too.  Independent research has shown that Cuba’s corals are doing much better than others both in the Caribbean and around the world.

Scientific research in Cuba on creatures such as the notoriously aggressive “jumping” crocodile, and the famous painted snails, paired with long-term ecological efforts on behalf of sea turtles, has been conducted primarily by devoted local experts.  Conservation and research in Cuba can be a constant struggle for scientists who earn little for their work.  But their work is their passion, and no less important than that of those collecting larger salaries.  NATURE follows these scientists as they explore the crocodile population of Zapata swamp, the birth of baby sea turtles, and the mysteries of evolution demonstrated by creatures that travel no more than 60 yards in a lifetime.

As the possibility of an end to the U.S. trade embargo looms, Cuba’s wildlife hangs in the balance.  Most experts predict that the end of the embargo could have devastating results.  Tourism could double, and the economic development associated with tourism and other industries could change the face of what was once a nearly pristine ecosystem.  Or Cuba could set an example for development and conservation around the world, defining a new era of sustainability well beyond Cuba’s borders.

Cuba: The Accidental Eden premieres Sunday, September 26, 2010 on PBS (check local listings).

  • Rick

    The quote about making $25 a month is misleading. $25 in Cuba goes much further than it does, say, in the States. Also, people in Cuba don’t have to pay for things like health care, education, you get the idea.

    I do hope this show features more than what’s shown here. More wildlife, less people stuff please.

  • Billy

    Hi, i am billy, can you tell me how many snakes is in a cuba. I like them snakes. And also too, how many dinisors use to live there. I wish they didnot die cuase they would be funner to see.

  • Carmen

    @rick. You are absolutely wrong about how far $25 will go in Cuba. YOu clearly do not have family there. And more wildlife less people stuff? Really? You are an idiot…and a cynical one at that.

  • Malaki

    @carmen. Where do you get off calling people idiots? This isnt Frontline, its an animal show, & frankly I dont want to hear about Castro when I am trying to learn about the wild life in Cuba. Yes there is a lot of suffrage there but I dont want to hear about that when I am trying to see the wildlife. Get a clue!

    Thanks to PBS for all its in-depth programing.

  • Elizabeth

    It’s a nice thought that you could actually profit & build on a positive industry like an Ecostry.

  • brian

    this isnt the same episode as wild island of teh craibbean, is it?

  • Jose M Fernandez

    Making $25 in Cuba is actually making $20CUC Rick, which is one of official currencies in Cuba . It’s true we have what you call “free health care”, but it comes at a price of liberty and freedom, which to me is priceless. It is also true that we have “free education”, which also come at the price of making $20 CUC a month for your entire life and the restrictions of choosing for whom and where to exercise your profession. Now Rick, DO YOU REALLY GET THE POINT HERE…? On the “More wildlife, less people stuff please” comment….. if you don’t understand or don’t want to understand the CUBAN DRAMA…. just show respect for those who struggle everyday of their lives to reach their dreams of freedom and equality in our country.

  • Guiliermo Gee

    Raise your hands: How many people have ever seen “Nature”? Now, of those who’ve seen it, is it (a) a program about ‘nature, e.g. bugs, wild animals, things we don’t usually have inside our homes?; (b) a program about politics, e.g. dictators, electoral systems?; (c) a program about business, e.g. the stock market or the banking system in a nation?; or (d) a program about religion and spirituality, e.g. Buddists, Hebrews, Muslims, Christians, or other spiritual believers?

    Please don’t create drama in this blog regarding issues which are not even part of “Nature.”

    Oh, and the answer is ‘a.’

  • Michael Boone

    Funny, each time there is an intended positive consequence from a planned Socialist political model the resulting benefit is always “accidental.” However, the complete and utter environmental destruction and the resulting human misery that appears throughout the world has nothing to do with the inherent failures and short comings of the dominate capitalist model.

    Regardless of the amount of Natural Beauty that remains, Cuba should be very careful in “selling it” in the hopes of easing some of the economic stress on it’s citizens. The social, economic, physic and global benefit of intact ecosystems are rarely calculated fairly, scientifically or with anything approaching a “long-term” view.

    To me even terming a healthy ecosystem “Eden” smells of the western Christian mind set that often justifies it’s dominance and exploitation. Cuba’s relatively healthy natural landscape and functioning environmental systems are simply a result of a part of the world that has not been exploited by the capitalist economic model and has been restricted from large numbers of tourist seeking to “enjoy” it.

    Everywhere “we” go we mess things up – intended or not. We remain the only species with ZERO symbiotic relation to our environment. In truth, the best way to preserve any unspoiled place still remaining is to restrict human contact or for purely logical reasons, just stay home in the first place.

    All that said I bet this will be a quality PBS production – educational, well researched and with good intent…mb

  • Nelson Gonzalez

    Michael, it was the “Western Christian mind set” under a “capitalist economic model” that the internet was created so you can be posting dilutional messages such as this one with a comunist agenda and with out the fear of being arrested. As I always tell people like you, if you like Solialism so much why don’t you move to Cuba or North Korea so you can enjoy that “part of the world that has not been exploited by the capitalist economic model”. Have fun.

  • Jorge

    “Why can’t we all get along?” Why do we, lately, have to politicize every subject? Why when someone expresses an opinion which we don’t agree with we have to tell them to go to Cuba, North Korea, and, sometimes even, Kenya?

  • Mike

    Interesting! I hope that everyone’s Sunday was great and I hope that they have a great week!

  • george comptis

    Well said Guillermo! Still, let’s hope that once Cuba joins the rest of the world, the enviroment survives.
    Thank you PBS for all yoour quality programs.

  • Greg

    First, you simply cannot separate the land from the people. They go hand in hand, and so goes the conservation of resources there.

    Without claiming to know much about the true situation there, it appears to me that there is an opportunity for Cuba to become a model of ecotourism and just sustainability around the world.

  • Josh

    I’m going to have to agree with more wildlife less people. The show is called Nature after all not People. If this show ends up being about the people of cuba I’m going to be very annoyed.

  • aldo lopez

    Agree with the pro-nature group here. I’m going to focus on the natural content of the program. Even the longest-lasting regime in the world has caused THE ACCIDENTAL EDEN …EDEN!! I’ll be enjoying it while the other group that’ll be busy digging up pseudo-facts and adding to the (never win-win) political fire.

    Also I’d like to pledge that at least I’ll think of start doing something to preserve it.
    Anyone else?

  • Steve

    Dang it. I wish I hadn’t read any of these comments. Episode looks beautiful. Looking forward to it.

  • Lester

    This is about Cuba ’s ecosystems; not politics.

  • Jeanie Sinclair-Smith

    Amigos: When the Queen asked him what he thought about Cuba, Columbus put it quite descriptively: “A thousand tongues cannot reveal her beauty!”. I’m in my upper-eighties, and I want to see it before I die; so, I do everything I can (including studying Spanish at MCC) to have a hand in destroying the U.S. Trade Embargo to the island country! Gracias, in advance,to Channel 56 for the presentation! Buena suerte!

  • Catherine

    Any U.S. program featuring Cuba is bound to rile people up on both sides of the embargo, as I can see in these comments. I’m very excited to watch what promises to be a beautiful show, and I know it must have taken Herculean efforts for the filmmakers and biologists to pull this program together.

    Of course I can’t resist tossing in my two cents: I bristle at the name of the program, “Accidental Eden.” Cuba has shown tremendous initiative and foresight in its conservation efforts, from massive reforestation campaigns, to the creation of wildlife refuges, ecological preserves, and national parks, to a complete overhaul of the agricultural system with an eye toward sustainability. I know ecologists who have devoted their life to the preservation of biodiversity in Cuba, and the word “accidental” seems to dismiss their efforts.

    The embargo isn’t the only thing keeping Cuba an “Eden”. I really do hate to hear the phrase “frozen in time” in reference to this island. True, most of us here can’t imagine the daily struggles that a Cuban must overcome. But please, let’s not think of Cuba as a mystical pocket of the past. It has grown, changed, and survived as a nation in ways we couldn’t begin to imagine.

  • Miguel

    Unfortunately, you cannot divorce anything in Cuba from politics, and the fundamental issue in Cuba is the preservation of the status quo. The current regime is neither socialist nor capitalist. It is a sui generis dynastic dictatorship that will do anything to stay in power. Sure, it has delivered universal health care and education but at a frightful social cost. There are probably more doctors per inhabitant in Cuba than anywhere else in the world but, for the average, non-privileged Cuban it is hard tp find an aspirin. Everybody can read and write but Cuba has the strictest censorship and there is only one newspaper to all intents and purposes.

    This has nothing to do with the embargo but with the inherent irrationality and unproductivity of a system that simply does not work , where individual initiative is crushed, dissent ruthlessly repressed and deciisons taken not on behalf of the general good but for the benefit of a ruling clique.

    Twenty years ago those of us with an interest in urban affairs rejoiced at the fact that, because of Cuba’s arrested development under Castro, cities like Havana had managed to retain their monumentality and integrity. Unlike many cities in the capitalist west, Havana was spared the high rises, the high volume of traffic, the noise and bustle of development that degraded so many Latin Americna cities from Mexico, DF to Sao Paulo to Caracas.

    In other words. but for the revolution Havana today would look more like Miami–God forbid! That did not happen. Twenty years later, however, Havana is literally crumbling, falling apart due to neglect, overuse and collapsing infrastructure. The regime’s inability to produce economic development brought about the marvel of Havana surviving the twentieth century bit its continuing existence is rapidly cancelling out that–yes, accidental –achievement.

    The same applies to nature. Cuba’s preservation of so many pristine environments is the unintended consequence of economic backwardness and lack of development. But have you no doubt: if the fate of the Cuban turtle population ever came in conflict with the survival of the regime, kiss the little critters goodbye. You can bet that Fidel and Raul would sell every turtle and crocodile in Cuba for steak if their preservation of power demands it.

    Cuban nature remains an accidental Eden in much the same way that the Havana of a few years ago was an accidental marvel. Unless there is fundamental change in Cuba, however, nature will go the way of Havana in a remarkably short time

  • Darryl

    I have been there and studied the situation ever since. Can any of you other commentators make such a claim? Sure, their system failed. But why is the U.S. the only country in the world boycotting that timy island—and continuing to do business with Communist China, Communist Vietnam, (formerly Communist) USSR, even some with Communist North Korea, and other countries that violate the hell out of human rights. C’mon.

  • Izziart

    I like looking at the whole package: people • environment • creatures and knowing the trade off’s involved for ”free” medicine and education is a real eye opener for me — I like seeing the total picture and the contrasts make what’s left so much more valuable. Who could not love the Cuban people, and frankly for me, all the island peoples of the caribbean and pacific. Notta problem at all. I don’t know the politics everyone is talking about here, the implications behind why things are the way they are, except to say that people can accept this is God’s world or not. For those who do not, they get to go without the protection, blessings, renewal of the mind, forgiveness, guidance — so God’s pretty confident and gives every one a choice to believe or not. Can’t blame God for all this confusion if a person(s) choose to turn their back on God. I just like to keep things simple, otherwise the fragile joy slips right on by. Life’s too short not to take that gift of joy off the shelf. After all, God has that present there for each of us. So seeing films like this, well they just reaffirm to me God’s perfect creativity and wonderful plan. Sure would make things simple, but then….

  • Dolores

    Jeanie Sincalir.You are wrong .Christopher Columbus said “This is the must beautiful land eyes will ever see”.Believe me. I’m Cuban and lived there for the first 24 years of my life and after 50 years out of Cuba still cry for my land because once a Cuban always a Cuban, no matter how well off you are or where you are…..

  • Sophie

    to Malaki

    Suffrage: is the right to vote

    ’suffering’ is the word you need.

  • jim

    i have a feeling, cuba will reemerge again as a greatly appreciated treasure of the caribbean…

  • Christopher

    Wonderful program, Cuba is truly a precious gem.

  • francisco rodriguez

    Who should be blame for what happened to the Cuban people? Remember General Fulgencio Batista? Maybe not since that was years before some of you were born. Remember the shoeless people on the streets of Havana, when the country made a lot of money making shoes? Remember the Casinos, the beggars at the church steps and doors?
    The sad thing was that the Revolution like all the Revolutions of the world do not improve the life of those who live under these regimes, that is the meaning of revolution: comeback to what was before or even worse.
    Did getting rid of the Somoza’s dynasty improve anything in Nicaragua? Is Nicaragua better off today with Daniel Ortega?
    Sad thing that the beautiful program like Nature is being politicized, whose intention has never had to do with that but like the person that said that (a) was the answer. Its true that if the animals of Cuba protested to the Government they would also be repressed, like the ones that are in the prison cells.

  • Joe

    To Rick with love.
    According with your opinion, if you feel that Cuba is the paradise, that you mention, you shouldn’t be here at all.
    What in the name of God, you living out your home land, without the protection of your “cagalitroso father”Fidel.
    The medicine in Cuba like anything else, went down the drain long ago. the only people who are receiving these benefits, are the “Big Wheels” and not accesible to the regular people.
    You are talking “PURE MANURE”……go back where you belong my friend…..we don’t need people like you.

  • Ariel Alko

    Thank you PBS for taking your time and dedication to Cuba’s ecosystem. Its a shame that people prefer to argue about politics, instead of talking about the message you provide, of making sure the conservation of Cuba’s Flora and Fauna is going to stay protected as it is now.


  • Sarah Boucas neto

    Great program! It reminded me of the other Nature show on Cuba several years ago.

    I would have liked to have seen more on the Bee Hummingbird and the Cuban Tody

  • Luis Saltiel

    I find it hilarious that some people in the US only see the rest of the world in terms of their country’s relationship with it. Cuba is under a dictatorship, plain and simple. Everything is geared to keeping the ruling family in power. If showing some sensitivity to the environment will win Raúl and Fidel any favors with whomever, they will preach conservation and hug trees. If anyone offers enough money to start a crocodile leather tannery, they’ll round up every croc left in Zapata in ten minutes. The free-health-care-and-education mantra has been one of the most successful marketing coups in History. Just bring your own sheets and syringes to the hospital -a little disinfectant can’t hurt- and if your relatives in exile can send you the needed funding, they’ll fill out most of your prescription. And now that you can read, make sure that you are not caught with “subversive material”.

    Interestingly, a good subject for Nature, would be the huge marabú plague that has spread over most of the formerly farming areas, with no efforts whatsoever to control it. This has turned most of the island’s agricultural resources into wastelands. Look up marabú in Google (it is a parasitic shrub).

  • Bob

    How many of these rabid kooks on here are Cubans in Floria as opposed to Cubans that live, oh I don’t know, IN FREAKIN’ CUBA? People have to understand that a lot of the wealthy Cubans left or were forced to leave by Castro’s revolution and they’re very bitter about losing their riches.

  • jo an

    Just returned from a week in Cuba…sanctioned by the State Dept. I’ve never seen such creativity! Those people work at everything…they have all those old US fifties cars running and beautiful. The spirit of Cuba is thriving. Let’s hope when the embargo is lifted that the good that Castro did, and there is much good, remains. The US has much good too. Why can’t we combine what works in both country and not focus on what doesn’t work. I did not see any homeless…no ‘over weights’. The medical system works! Not enough drugs but lots on prevention.. Cuba is the best example of Eckhart Tolle’s NOW…those people know how to live in the moment. The school children were the greatest. They don’t have all the toys and perks our children do, so they enjoy each other. No T V!! No computers!! So much of Cuba is like the world our parents grew up in…Go to Cuba now and see for yourself…

  • Angel

    Natural and conservation is responsability of everyone who reside in this planet. With or without Castro is an obligation. About this matter at least this kind of landscape including water is totally amazing. Imagine, Cuba shores maintain alive a kind of coral that do not exist in any place of this planet. Look how they handle tourism.
    Involving children and rest of people in animal conservation. About turtles, that is an excelent job.
    What can we do with black water in the lakes, and all kind of pollution.; And we don’t have a Castro.

  • Diana Ruelens

    When the traveling restrictions are lifted, I can only hope we do not love CUBA to death. Like we do so many coastal areas.

  • Mark

    Boy, am I glad Americans aren’t allowed to travel to Cuba, Mark in Canada…..

  • AFM

    What a beautiful episode of Nature showing people doing wonderful things with so little. It gave me hope in people again. How can get in touch with the Snails lady-researcher? I would like to support her work. Any ideas?

  • SM

    To AFM

    Here’s her name: Emma Palacios Lemagne
    and her photo is under the right link – Cuba’s Natural Diversity

    Also, you might write to the Thirteen staff who produced it (under Production Credits link).

  • Darren

    Enjoyed this show. Thanks! My hopes are with life on Cuba, and that it isn’t wrecked by industry and consumerism

  • Francesca

    So glad I caught this show. I’ve just returned from another Cuban trip. I’ve now been to all the coasts and several of the small Cayos including twice to Cayo Largo and Cayo Santa Maria, even Cayo Blanco on the southwest side. I’m having a love affair with this wonderful place and the equally wonderful people and now realize why. There is a kind of innocence in Cuba. It’s actually difficult to decide where in Cuba to travel to next since there’s not yet been a place I wouldn’t return to there. Above and below the water, It really is an Eden.

  • StlScientist

    How can someone support or offer aid to a scientist in Cuba? Links please…

  • Lee

    God Bless Cuba and God bless all the Cuban people and the wildlife and keep those scientist heathy and safe ♥ I Love Cuba and love the Cuban people been there a few time and will go back againa and again ♥

  • italian lady

    Cuba is a beautiful country with amazing people. Nature is their renewable resource. I wish to live there someday. Blessings to the island!

  • Michael

    I love Cuba.
    Cuba ismagic

  • Giubbotti Moncler

    Burberry shoes is highly acclaimed and accepted by the people around the world

  • Dorthy Gilkerson

    I don’t think that you can replace the enjoyment of learning live poker seeing the doubts and faces of your competitors, though online poker is a much better way to hone your skills

  • Ranthambore National Park

    Cuba: The Accidental Eden, One of the nice title and nice history of Cuba. Boundary history is very interesting and cool and mindly hearted. This nice post can enhance visitors skills. Take a look at here

  • Michael Westerviller

    I have visited Cuba a few times in the past 20 years and I can honestly say there is no more a beautiful place not only from it’s reefs and geography but it’s people, art music etc. I have lived throughout the Caribbean, South America and Central America to name just a few places. I just hate to see what Cuba does with it’s charm and beauty when it opens up to US americans who can turn anything into a …

  • in gia re, in cuc re, in sieu re, in offset gia re, in ky thuat so gia re

    I have fun with, lead to I discovered just what I was having a look for. You’ve ended my 4 day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

  • Ryan

    Cuba is one of the few countries left with such natural uninhabited landscapes. I especially enjoy the Vista Alegre, Holguin region.

  • Luis sigler

    Great show! I enjoyed a lot. Fantastic to see my good friend Toby Ramos talking about his work for decads with the cuban crocs. I love that island.

  • marco

    cuba is magic. i appreciate the fact that it doesnt belong to the us backyard anymore. cuba is independent and has the moral standard like so many latin american countrys to withstand the us dictatorship which was opressed upon for way to long. cuba si!

Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2014 THIRTEEN Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.