After decades of isolation, the U.S. Naval Station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has become a de facto nature refuge. Many base environmental regulations are more stringent than the EPA's, the base's 45-square-mile footprint (half water) has never grown, construction is limited, and large swaths of the territory are off-limits to humans and kept as wilderness that is some of the most pristine in the Caribbean.
There are massive boas, alligators, sea turtles, banana rats, and iguanas blocking the golf course. Whereas, on the rest of the island, Cubans ate many indigenous species into near-extinction during the country's many economic nosedives. Underwater, the marine life looks like the Caribbean did 100 years ago, with coral clusters as large as VW Beetles. Or, as one coral biologist calls it: "Paradise lost."
A partnership between the Navy's environmental protection personnel and civilian scientists is pushing to study the base's environment to prove how unique—and in need of protection—the base's ecosystems are. With an eventual closing of the base's detention facilities on the horizon, what will this environmental heritage portend for the future of GTMO?