2/11/2010 - Biology professor completes ecological trip to Cuba
Biology Professor Completes Ecological Trip to Cuba
Judson College biology professor, Dr. Thomas Wilson, spent two weeks in Cuba last November with his brother, Ray, a retired dentist who lives in Heber Springs, Ark. and Steve Cox, the executive director of International Expeditions of Helena, Ala.
International Expeditions is a travel company that provides guided tours as well as ecotourism trips and projects.
Cox was in process of planning a nature tour of the Black Belt prairie area when he learned about Wilson's work with Perry Lakes Park, Donovan Lakes and Inn and the Cahaba River. Cox contacted Wilson and asked for help in planning a tour of the area designed primarily for students.
Cox was also planning a similar tour in Cuba and offered to sponsor Wilson as a natural resources consultant.
While in Cuba, Wilson spent time bird-watching and fishing in order to help design a humanitarian ecotourism project as well as a birding and freshwater fishing package for International Expeditions. Wilson also lectured at the Wetland Symposium at Zapata National Park, more commonly known as the "Bay of Pigs," the site of a failed liberation expedition during the Kennedy presidency.
Wilson spent the months prior to his trip studying books about native Cuban birds and memorizing the different species. He says the best time to go birding is at night and he was able to see many native birds on these nighttime expeditions.
"Cuba is a major World Heritage island with an assortment of ecosystems and natural areas," Wilson said. "I was amazed at the number of rivers and at the flow of water through the island as it rushed to the sea."
The three travelers fished Treasure Lake, the Gonzalo and Hatiguanico rivers for bass, tarpon and snook. They were the first people to fish Treasure Lake in three years and "fished hard ten hours with only one bite from a ten-ounce bass" Dr. Wilson recounts.
At one time, Treasure Lake was a prime location for bass fishing but the bass population has been decimated by the African catfish. This species was introduced to rivers and lakes in 1999 and in addition to gill netting, pollution and deforestation, has had a devastating effect on the native fish.
Wilson proposed that a hatchery be built in Cuba to culture the largemouth bass for restocking the lakes. He hopes to return this summer to follow-up the hatchery proposal and believes there will eventually be opportunities for student participation.
Despite the shrinking population of native fish, Wilson believes "the potential for ecotourism to Cuba is unlimited and the island may sink from the rush of people once the embargo is lifted!"
The Cubans he met hope the embargo will be lifted and the two countries will have friendly relations, Wilson said.
Wilson also enjoyed Cuban culture and was able to spend a day touring Havana.
"Havana is an interesting and strangely beautiful city inhabited by friendly and creative people," he said.
Wilson said he also appreciated Cuban art and brought many pieces back home, some of which are now displayed in Judson's science building.
Wilson called the United States' Cuban policy a disappointment and thinks now it's time to embrace the island nation in cultural exchange.
"Old line politics need to be buried," he said. "It's a new day."
* Article courtesy of the Judson College Public Relations Department.