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The terraces of Maisí, in Cuba, among the first 100 world geological heritage sites

Terrazas-Maisi-1-IUGSThe marine and coral terraces of Maisí, in the far east of Cuba, have been included in the list of the First 100 Geological Heritage Sites on the planet, presented by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) during an event in which it celebrates its 60th anniversary between this Tuesday and Friday in Zumaia, a UNESCO global geopark on the Basque Coast, Spain.

The “top 100” list includes sites spread across 56 countries. Its publication begins an effort to designate geological sites around the world that are iconic and recognized by the entire geoscientific community by virtue of their impact on the understanding of the planet and its history.

The IUGS Executive Committee has endorsed these 100 sites as “the first and inspiring steps towards a broader program that will recognize those geosites with the highest scientific importance in the world.”

In the certificate of the International Union of Geological Sciences that includes the terraces of Maisí in the list of The First 100 Geological Heritage Sites of the IUGS, it is read that:

“An IUGS Geological Heritage Site is a key location with geological features and/or processes of international scientific relevance, used as a reference, and/or with a substantial contribution to the development of geological sciences throughout history.”

More than 200 specialists from almost 40 nations and 10 international organizations, representing different disciplines of Earth sciences, have participated in the selection.

As part of the process, 181 candidate sites in 56 countries were proposed, then evaluated by 33 international experts who defined the IUGS Top 100 Geological Heritage Sites list.

On the IUGS website, the Maisí terraces are presented as “one of the best preserved sequences of elevated marine and coral terraces in the world due to the interaction of the global sea level and tectonics.”

It is considered that they are “an important source of information to reveal the tectonics of the Greater Antilles within the Caribbean geological domain during the Quaternary period (…) The marine terraces in Cuba can be correlated with global changes in sea level in the Quaternary.

“In addition to being in an area regularly hit by hurricanes, this area is important for studying wave energy during those weather events.”

The Maisí terraces share space on the world list with iconic places such as the Grand Canyon or the Yellowstone volcanic and hydrothermal system (USA), the Perito Moreno glacier (Argentina), the Iguazú falls (Argentina-Brazil), Torres del Paine (Chile), the caldera of Santorini (Greece), the inselberg or mount island Mount Uluru (Australia), the sea of ​​sand in the Namib desert (Namibia), the Victoria Falls (Zambia-Zimbabwe) or the Shilin Stone Forest (China).

There are also sites with some of the oldest rocks on Earth (South Africa), traces of primitive life from Australia and China, some of the best dinosaur fossil remains from Canada, the earliest evidence of early hominin development from Tanzania and the sea rocks of the top of the world (Mount Everest).

IUGS Top 100 Geological Heritage Sites List:

Interglacial coralline and raised marine terraces of the Quaternary of Maisí

Geological period:


Main geological interest:

Geomorphology and active geological processes

Stratigraphy and sedimentology


Punta de Maisi, Guantanamo province, Cuba

20° 08′ 10” N, 074° 13′ 59” W

In a note signed by the Geology Directorate of the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Institute of Geology and Paleontology of Cuba, it is highlighted that “the recognition of the IUGS gives visibility to these sites, identifies them as of maximum scientific value.

“These are sites that served to develop the science of geology, especially its early history. They are the world’s best demonstrations of geological features and processes. They are the places of fabulous discoveries of the Earth and its history”.

It is also recalled that the scientific community has long called for the establishment of a world program with global standards for the recognition of sites of great international importance.

“The IUGS Geological Heritage Sites project, approved by IUGS and UNESCO, has created the right conditions for collaboration towards this great milestone, which will inspire the work of this ambitious program in the near future.”

They also point out that many of the “top 100″ are well protected in national parks, geoparks, geosites and nature reserves, “but many are not.”

They add that “recognition and visibility of the IUGS Top 100 Geological Heritage Sites can lead to their increased appreciation, their use as educational resources and, most importantly, their preservation.”

On the left, shaded relief superimposed on a satellite image showing the terraces. On the right, topographic profile showing the inner edge of each terrace level in the Maisí area. Image: IUGS.

Currently, Maisí is a protected natural area. In the future, considering its internationally recognized geological value, it could become a geopark, as part of a process that began in 2021 with the Viñales Geopark.

According to specialists, due to its remarkable geological diversity, there is potential in Cuba for the creation of around 20 geoparks.

According to reports from the Minem Geology Directorate, in the first quarter of 2023 the geological-morphological study will be completed to assess the creation of a geopark in La Gran Piedra (Santiago de Cuba). Likewise, next year a similar study will begin in the Sierra de Cubitas (Camagüey).

Another study, with a start date in the last quarter of 2022, will have the same objective in the Guamuhaya massif, in the center of the Island.

The International Union of Geological Sciences is one of the largest scientific organizations in the world, with 121 national members, including Cuba, bringing together more than a million geoscientists.

Some information about the terraces of Maisí:

-The marine and coral terraces are formed by coral limestones with abundant fossil remains, ranging from the Upper Pleistocene Jaimanitas formation (marine isotope stage 5e, 122 ± 6,000 years. In short: about 122,000 years) and older units within the Pleistocene.

-Some 28 levels of terraces are observed, with an elevation of up to 560 m.

-Most of the terraces are very well preserved. Fossil tidal niches, caverns, and other karst features are found. These represent approximately two million years’ worth of sea level fluctuations.

-The zone is tectonically linked to the Oriente transform fault zone in eastern Cuba, which is the boundary between the North American and Caribbean plates, where block uplifts of 0.33 mm/year are recorded.

-Geomorphologically, the area is a large ring about 75 km long that covers the eastern coastal zone of Cuba like a ladder that is narrow to the north and south, and wider in the eastern corner. The steps are cut by rivers that form gorges with large transverse outcrops. Due to tilting and folding, the same step changes altitude along the coast. The lower terrace has blocks overturned from the sea by hurricanes and features of landslides such as crowns are observed.

-This area of ​​Maisí, like other marine terraces on the coast of Cuba, is part of an international collaboration research project between the Institute of Geology and Paleontology (IGP) of Cuba and several French universities. Researchers take coral samples and carry out measurements in the field and analyzes in laboratories to determine in greater detail how and when the marine terraces of the archipelago formed.

(By: Deny Extremera San Martin/Cubadebate)

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