Later today we embark on our first major international flagship project for Thunderbeard. We hope that this ambitious mission will set a high bar for the goals and achievements of our organization in future events. Our group arrives in Havana from three different countries Saturday and will begin a whirlwind road trip across western Cuba, through four UNESCO World Heritage sites and three National Parks.
Our first stop will be in Vinales Valley, to deliver safety equipment to local climbers. It is impossible for Cubans to outfit themselves with new, reliable gear and clothing unless these items are physically carried into the country by visitors and donated. The 40 pound bag of quickdraws and carabiners that we are dropping off will replace decades-old, rusted and worn sets that climbers trust with their lives.
From there we head to Playa Larga and the Bay of Pigs, where we will be meeting with park officials and a CITMA (Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment) director for Cienaga de Zapata National Park. Our focus in this region will be on the preservation of local endangered species (manatees and Cuban crocodiles), the control and eradication of invasive species (lionfish, catfish and melaleuca trees), and the preservation of this park on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status. We have organized a series of Dive Against Debris events on behalf of Project Aware, and on our dives will be conducting lionfish surveys on behalf of REEF.
Finally we will return to Havana to compile the results of our research and surveys to be submitted to the appropriate organizations and presented publicly. Our main goals on this project are to establish data points for reef and coastal conditions that precede the lifting of the American tourism embargo, and to create cooperative relationships connecting local tourism operators and government officials in Cuba, with environmental groups in the United States suited to assist them in the preservation of the land they live, work, and care for.
This trip has been 8 months in the making, to one of the most logistically challenging and bureaucratically dense places on the globe. We could not do it without the support of our family and friends, and we appreciate every like, share, dollar, and smile that have made this possible. Stay tuned for updates, project reports, pictures, and the greatest video montage you have seen in your life.