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Join Alex Mustard for diving adventure and an underwater photography workshop in Cuba, with giant goliath groupers, silky sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, crocodiles and some of the Caribbean’s richest coral reefs. This trip is fully available to all nationalities, including US citizens through the Cuba Travel Program. Alex says “I have long been excited about running a workshop in Cuba. Now with the launch of the Jardines Aggressor in summer 2016 there is an international quality liveaboard experience to match the diving.”

A pair of Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi) at the surface. Grand Bahama, Bahamas. Tropical West Atlantic Ocean.

Alex has not dived in Cuba (note that these photos are from else where in the Caribbean), but his huge experience of diving the nearby Cayman Islands is sure to uncover some hidden photographic gems and provide plenty of local subject insight on this workshop. “Although it will not be a main focus of the workshop, I have timed this trip to coincide with potential mass coral spawning for Cuba,” says Alex “As far as I know nobody has yet photographed annual coral spawning there, so it is worth trying for.”

A silhouette of elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) growing on a coral reef. East End, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. British West Indies. Caribbean Sea. For about the last two million years, branching elkhorn coral has been a dominant shallow reef building species across the Caribbean. Then about 35 years ago things changed. This once abundant species died off to such an extent that it is now rare or even extinct over much of its former range. US waters are the best studied, and there the coverage of this species declined by 98% during the 1980s. That’s pretty typical for the region and this species is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

The trip is 9 nights and includes two nights at the Iberostar Parque Central Hotel exploring Havana, followed by 7 nights on the Jardines Aggressor. In addition to the underwater photography workshop, we will also receive insight into Cuba’s marine conservation approach that maintains the Jardines de la Reina as some of the regions most pristine coral reefs.

GARDENS OF THE QUEEN
The famous Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) were declared a protected park in 1996, and are 60 miles from the port of Jucano, about a third of the way out to Little Cayman. Like Raja Ampat this a large, relatively untouched archipelago,  75 miles (120 km) long, contains 250 coral and mangrove islands, vast stretches of pristine coral reefs, caves, and steep walls and turquoise waters.

A busy reef scene with corals, sponges and fish. Bloody Bay Wall, Little Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies. Caribbean Sea.

“With relatively little fishing pressure, it is a chance to see Caribbean reefs in their natural state with lots of big fish. A curious biological trait of coral reefs is that they can actually support more big fish than small ones, when they are left untouched.” says Alex. The area is home to a number of different shark species, plentiful groupers, snappers, grunts and lots of Caribbean macro species, like secretary blennies and arrow blennies. The dive sites in the park are plentiful and varied, although many photographers travel for the chance to shoot reef sharks, silky sharks and the crocodiles in mangrove areas.

A portrait of a Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) swimming through gorgonians on a coral reef. Bloody Bay Wall, Little Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies. Caribbean Sea.

JARDINES AGGRESSOR
Launched in 2016, the Jardines Aggressor liveaboard is based in the port of Jucaro, Cuba and offers full-board accommodation, daily diving from the mother ship at various dive sites, all meals, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, and a range of local beer and wine. Like all of the boats in the Aggressor fleet, the Jardines Aggressor complies strictly with prevailing Eco-operator guidelines. Visits to several local towns and land-based sites of interest are also included, in the spirit of encouraging visitors to fully experience the Cuban culture.

The cabins are built and maintained to the highest standards. The Jardines Aggressor yacht is 110 feet long, and features ten staterooms that can accommodate up to 20 passengers. Divers can choose between eight deluxe staterooms, featuring side-by-side beds and ranging in size, and two master staterooms, each featuring a double bed in their roomier interiors.

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CUBA TRAVEL
The other advantage of working with the Aggressor Fleet is it is the exclusive reservation office for the Cuba Travel Program through the Oceans for Youth Foundation. This cooperation allows all US citizens (and everyone else) to travel to Cuba “to participate in a cultural experience in Cuba with a focus on ocean conservation and Cuba’s spectacular and highly protected Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) marine ecosystem”. This fully guided, 10-day educational itinerary begins and ends in Havana, and spreads over two nights at the Iberostar Parque Central Hotel, and seven nights aboard the Jardines Aggressor liveaboard. The tour includes all meals, accommodation, transportation, and a week of unforgettable scuba diving opportunities. The program is highlighted by a range of ongoing educational presentations, and interactive discussions with local marine biologists and other scientific experts.

In Havana, we will stay at the elegant 5-star Iberostar Parque Central Hotel is nestled in the heart of Havana, on Thursday and Friday nights. “Havana is a mecca for city and street photography. I can’t think of an underwater Cuba article that has been published without topside images from Havana,” says Alex. Travellers will admire beautiful city views from the charming French windows and doors of the hotel and enjoy the colourful nightlife. The hotel’s restaurant has some of the best international cuisine in Havana, but above all, the most impressive Cuban fare. The hotel is conveniently close (20 mins) from the airport.

A large shoal of Caesar grunts (Haemulon carbonarium) hug the edge of a coral bommie. Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands, British West Indies. Caribbean Sea.

ITINERARY
The Cuba Travel Program is available for everyone from 10 years of age and older.
Thursday 10th August. Arrive Havana. Transfers from Havana José Martí International Airport to Iberostar Parque Central Hotel in Havana.
Friday 11th. Meeting with Cuban scientists and biologists speaking on ocean conservation and research, visit to Fortress of El Morro, Habana Vieja, lunch and dinner at a local Cuban restaurant.
Saturday 12th transfer from Havana to Jucaro for boarding of the Jardines Aggressor liveaboard (note 5 – 6 hour drive, lunch included)
Sunday 13th to Friday 18th Diving Jardines de la Reina, Underwater Photography workshop with Dr Alex Mustard and meeting with Cuban biologists
Saturday 19th disembarkation and transfer to Havana International Airport (Arrival at the airport will be at approximately midday).
All meals are included in the Cuba Travel Program. Divers must be over 15 years old to dive in Cuba. The itinerary must be completed in full. Beer and Wine is included onboard, but not in Havana.

A diver has a dramatic close encounter with a speeding silky shark ( Carcharhinus falciformis). Cat Island, Bahamas. Tropical North Atlantic Ocean

RESERVATIONS
The cost of this full board 10 day/9 night land tour, liveaboard diving and workshop trip is USD $6180 for a deluxe cabin and $6480 for a master cabin.

Since the liveaboard operates in Dollars it was sensible to price this trip in Dollars, however, for those booking from the UK, Scuba Travel will give you a price in GBP.

Bookings for this trip are with Scuba Travel in the UK. For bookings, please email caroline@scubatravel.com, or Contact Scuba Travel. See workshop details on Scuba Travel website.

A deposit of $775 USD (or GBP equivalent for UK photographers) is required to secure your space.

Because this trip is less than a year away, an interim payment will be due shortly after the deposit is paid.

A red clingfish (Arcos rubiginosus) blends in with its host, a deepwater sea fan (Iciligorgia nodulifera). East End, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies. Caribbean Sea.
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