HAVANA, May 16 (Xinhua) -- Cuba is expanding its ecotourism activities, making the most of the natural attractions and wildlife of the Caribbean island's keys.
Tourism resort Cayo Largo, a long narrow key located just over 100 kilometers from Isla de la Juventud, or Isle of Youth, was recently re-launched as a leading haven of native flora and fauna.
The 25-kilometer-long, 3 kilometer-wide key offers national and international tourists endless white sand beaches that are home to seagulls, herons, hummingbirds and iguanas, among other wildlife.
Among its main attractions are Paraiso, Sirena and Linda Mar beaches, where diving to see the coral reefs and other water sports are the favorite pastimes.
But visitors are most captivated by Cayo Largo's pet project: protecting the different sea turtle species that nest along the beaches from May to September, lumbering ashore to lay their eggs in shallow pits they then cover with sand.
Protecting the offspring requires moving between 100 and 200 turtle nests each year from the shoreline to a safer, more quiet enclave that is less likely to be disturbed by tourism activity, according to biologist Gonzalo Nodarse, who is part of the environmental initiative.
"What we do is move the nests that are in front of the hotels, mainly where there are beaches, to other places, given that tourists passing by can compact the sand and keep newborn turtles from coming to the surface," Nodarse said.
Leonardo Rodriguez, another specialist taking part in the project, told Xinhua that the turtle protection initiative also aims to raise awareness among visitors of the importance of caring for the planet and its inhabitants amid the challenges posed by climate change.
"We organize nocturnal sighting activities so people learn more about the nesting of turtles," said Rodriguez.
Once the eggs hatch, the baby turtles "are usually released into the sea at the barrier reef," he added.
Cuba is stepping up its commitment to sustainable tourism, with legislators recently passing a new law to replace regulations dating from 1997 regarding natural resources management and environmental protection.
Cuba has more than 4,000 keys and islets, the most visited being Cayo Largo, Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo.
Excursions to Cayo Blanco, a small islet about 14 kilometers from the well-known resort of Varadero, have also gained popularity among international tourists.
In Cayo Blanco, visitors can interact or swim with dolphins and learn about what Cuba is doing to protect these marine mammals in the island's mangrove ecosystem.
The dolphinarium's top specialist, Geosle Alfonso, told Xinhua that a team of experts takes good care of the dolphins.
"This dolphinarium is very natural," he said, noting that local "flora and fauna coexist with our dolphins. That is what makes this place special."
Visitor numbers are not what they used to be, said Alfonso.
"We are working to be able to recover the levels of visitors that we had before the pandemic," Alfonso said.
In 2021, Cuba received just 390,000 international visitors, far below the more than 4 million annual visitors seen prior to the pandemic, according to the Tourism Ministry. But the government expects a slight recovery, forecasting 2.5 million foreigners will travel to Cuba in 2022.