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Great Barrier Reef and Old Havana

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    Group D: Alieu Khan, Caroline Boulmé, Dominika Nosekova, Laurie Martinez, Myriam Gharet

    The Great Barrier Reef

    Widely believed to be the world’s largest living structure, the Great Barrier Reef stretches 2300 kilometres along the Queensland Coastline in Australia, with a breathtaking beauty of the world’s largest coral reef. It is composed of living coral growing on dead coral with a very long history dating as much as twenty million years back.  Although there is no adequate information on first human contact with the reef, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are believed to have fished and hunted in waters between the islands of the reef region. The Great Barrier Reef contains 400 types of coral, 1500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc. Besides being a major tourist attraction, it holds scientific interests. It is said to be one of the richest and most complex natural eco-systems and one of the most important biodiversity conservation on earth.

    The reef was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981 after its unique qualities were discovered. It is considered as a globally outstanding example of an ecosystem that has evolved over millennia. According to UNESCO’s brief synthesis, the Great Barrier Reef has been exposed and flooded by at least four glacial and interglacial cycles. Reefs have also grown on the continental shelf over the past 15,000 years. The Great Barrier Reef Barrier offers a variety of activities for tourists. One of the most popular includes day trips to experience the wonders of the reef. Small or mid-sized cruise ships are used to sail tourists along the reef’s picturesque coastline. It is also possible to have a proper view of the reef using an exhilarating hot air balloons or scenic flights. Sailing, white water rafting and diving are also common activities for tourists.


    The Great Barrier Reef is managed by The Marine Park Authority, the Australian Government Department of Sustainability and several Queensland government agencies. Several other stakeholders are also involved such as Reef communities, industries and research institutions (Australian Government, 2012). According to Australia Government (2015), The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is one of the best managed marine protected areas in the world since an ecosystem based approach is used, covering the entire park by a zoning plan that regulates the activities allowed and those forgotten in these areas.

    However, UNESCO organization has asserted that the barrier reef could be on the list of World Heritage in danger if no sustainable plan of improvements is created (Handwerk B., 2013). Indeed, there are lots of issues affecting the health of the reef, which concern climate changes, commercial and recreational fishing and collecting, declining water quality, loss of coastal habitats (Australian government, 2015). Many of these issues are due to human activities around the reef areas. Coastal urban and industrial activities are developing and some changes in land use are also occurring (Australian Government, 2012). According to Richard Leck, a member of WWF Australia (cited by Handwerk B., 2013), government is not helping to improve the situation. The pollution from farms has to be reduced and ports have not to be developed out of existing areas, but Australian government is not helping to do that. Management plans are too general and not focused enough on certain issues.

    Some improvements have been noticed, after the Reef Plan Report Card of 2012 and 2013created by the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee, calling for a better protection of the reef. It has been noticed an improvement of water quality, but unfortunately, it was not good enough compared to the goals the Senate wanted to reach in 2009. A lot of experts agree on the fact that biodiversity is in decline and unlikely to improve (ABC News, 2014). This improvement can only be successful with stabilized climatic conditions; it is not only dependent to the government management strategies.

    Regarding these issues, everyone from the communities, government to industries work all together to strengthen the management of the Reef in the New Reef 2050 Sustainability Plan.




    Old Havana and its Fortification System

    Old Havana Historical Centre is a sprawling metropolis of 2 million inhabitants established by the Spanish in 1519 as one of the first cities in the western hemisphere to be founded by Europeans. The history of Havana spans three basic periods: the Spanish colonial period from 1519 to 1898; the American neo-colonial period from 1898 to 1959; and the revolutionary period which began in 1960 (Montalvo, 2000).

    According to official  UNESCO documents (2015), Old Havana covers the area about 214 hectares including 3 370 spectacular buildings(Iglesia Catedral de La Habana), museums (Museo Nacional), palaces (Palacio del Segundo Cabo, Palacio de los Capitanes Generales), convents(Antiguo Convento de San Francisco de Asís), wrought-iron gates, internal courtyards, colonial mansions and old squares (Plaza Vieja), along with shops from browsing and cafés, restaurants(Paladares- family run restaurants) and bars (Fabulous Fifties) to relax in. The Historical Centre of Havana and its system of fortification hold the qualifications of National Monument (1978) and World Heritage Site (1982). Transport system is very well developed, tourists can use buses, legal and illegal taxis, horse drawn carriages, bicitaxi, or the cute yellow cocotaxi (UNESCO, 2012).

    There is wide range of activities offered to tourists in Havana.Foreigners walking through the streets getting hustled by jineteros, taking pictures or just having a (Cristal) beer.Gravette (2007) in his travel guide describes  the typical local products and services such as Centro Havana tours, Salsa lessons, Scuba diving, Cabaret spectacles, Havana casas (accommodation in inhabitants´ houses), Havana´s cigar factories, spectacles at theatres and galleries (Gran Teatro, Centro Cultural Habana) and nightlife with high number of bars, discotheques and nightclubs.


    Old Havana Historic City is managed by the Cuban government. The Master Plan is the so-called plan of revitalization and preservation of the historic part of the city. It was implemented under the authority of the state in the 1970s. Until now, it has been the tool for urban renewal and preservation of the cultural heritage in Old Havana. Regarding the restoration and preservation of the Old Havana, since 1993, the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana (OHC) is the entity in charge of coordinating all planning, land use, development, and investment activities within the historic district. It also has the ability to carry out construction projects. Even though this organization is independent, it is directly linked to the Council of State, the top governing body in Cuba.

    According to Emily Achtenberg (2013), the urban planning of the Old Havana is controversial. On the one hand, the process of restoration of the historic center is recognized worldwide as a model of sustainability and self-financing. It enabled the restoration of around 40% of the district’s deteriorated buildings. Over the past 15 years, the OHC generated more than $400 million in net revenues from its operations. It is also said that 45% of these revenues were reinvested in tourist-oriented businesses, 20% was returned to the central government, and 35% is used for housing renovations, community facilities, and social programs (last version of the Master Plan, 2011). Moreover, as mentioned in the UNESCO documents (2012) the work of refurbishment in Old Havana was recognized with 25 National and International Award by specialists of other countries. It is viewed as a best practice and this model of restoration has been extended to other areas of the city and to other countries.

    On the other hand, the restoration process brings the issue of gentrification in the old city center. Indeed, after refurbishment, the real estate prices are increasing every year and most of the local people can’t afford the cost of living. Among the Old Habana’s inhabitants, the OHC is criticized for furthering the social and economic inequalities in Cuban society.

    Unofficially, the Cuban government is having trouble in controlling its migration flows to Old Habana. This part of the city is kept as a tourist window and it is difficult for a Cuban coming from another area to get housing there (cited by Iván García y Laritza Diversent, 2010). Since 1997, an unconstitutional law prohibits the right to Cuban people from other areas of the country to settle down in La Habana without authorization from the government. There are many cases of families split to different cities of the country because of this law.

    Then, serious environmental issues in the Old Havana were pointed out (Oriental Consultants, 2010) such as proper solid waste disposal system or limited life span of the landfill sites that led to health risks among the residents.

    To solve these issues, the various stakeholders of the restoration process are trying to adapt: every five years, new objectives are decided as part of the Master Plan.






    Australian Government. 2015. Consulted on October 26, 2015. URL:

    Australian Government, How the reef is managed, 2015. Consulted on October 26, 2015. URL:

    Australian Government, Managing the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, 2012. URL:

    Ayleen Robainas Barcia. (?) Urban Strategies in Old Havana. URL:

    Direction of Dra. Arq. Patricia Rodríguez Alóma. PEDI : Plan Especial de Desarrollo Integral. 2011. URL:

    Gravette, A.2007. GlobetrotterTravel Guide to Cuba.London: New Holland Publishers.

    Handwerk B., National Geographic. [Online], (2013). “Great Barrier Reef: World Heritage in Danger?”,. Consulted on October 26, 2015. URL:

    Iván García y Laritza Diversent, El Mundo. “La Habana, ciudad prohibida para muchos Cubanos.”, 2010. URL:

    Montalvo et. al.2000. Havana: history and architecture of a romantic city.New York: Monacelli Press.

    Oriental Consultants.Study on Integrated Management Plan of Municipal Solid Waste in Havana City. 2010. URL:

    Travel Online. “Great Barrier Reef Tours & Activities’. [Online]. Consulted on October 27, 2015.  URL:

    UNESCO. ‘Great Barrier Reef’. Consulted on October 26, 2015. URL:

    UNESCO World Heritage Centre(2015). Old Havana and its Fortification System. Available online at: Consulted on October 27, 2015.

    UNESCO World Heritage Centre(2012). Old Havana and its Fortification System. Best practice. Paris: UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

    Unknown, Nacla. 2013, « Gentrification in Cuba ? The Contradictions of Old Havana. » URL :

    Unknown, ABC News. [Online], 2014. “Fact file: How healthy is the Great Barrier Reef?”. URL:


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    Comments (4)

    Viewing 4 of 4 comments: view all
    “The Great Barrier Reef" gives a very informative presentation. I learned about its beauty by the picture you portrayed and the impacts you outlined. But which group are you ... edited 12:19, 29 Oct 2015
    Posted 11:53, 29 Oct 2015
    I agree with the previous comment, although an actual picture of the site would have made it even better.
    It was interesting to find out how the Old Havana is seen as a best practice regarding restoration & preservation.
    Posted 12:21, 29 Oct 2015
    Agree with previous comments and would like to add it is a good job. Perhaps some more about the solutions rather than the issues, in both cases, and if there are some plans to use/increase the soft approach or hard approach, to control visitor’s movement for protecting the heritage sites. Natural and environment effects are harder to control and need a long term planning and joint other countries, but nothing is mentioned about that. Cuba will also face another challenge now when the embargo from USA is uplifted (Jan. 2015), what are the expectations by this and how will it effect.
    Posted 10:29, 3 Nov 2015
    Interesting pieces! Thank you!
    A few thoughts if I may...
    I was confused when you said that "The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is one of the best managed marine protected areas in the world" and then point out how badly it is actually managed and that the government is not doing anything about it...
    Also, I am curious do you know what the main objectives and plan of action is in the New Reef 2050 Sustainability Plan. edited 17:47, 7 Nov 2015
    Posted 19:08, 5 Nov 2015
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