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Cuban Embassy Opens in DC After 54 Years: Will Cuba Remain the ‘Green Jewel’ of the Caribbean?

20150720-IMG_4844-Guggenheim

The Cuban flag flying in Washington, DC for the first time in 54 years, signaling the reopening of the Cuban Embassy and normalization of relations with the U.S. (Photo: David E. Guggenheim)

With each tug of the rope by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, the Cuban flag inched upward, finding a slight breeze and proudly showed off its brilliant colors of red, white and blue to the 500 or so onlookers. The Cubans and Cuban-Americans—never known for their silence at public events—beamed with national pride and shouted with joy as the flag inched up, “Fidel, Fidel!” Countless eyes filled with tears. Many embraced. The world was changing before us. The Cuban flag flew in Washington, DC for the first time in 54 years, signaling the reopening of the Cuban Embassy and normalization of relations with the U.S.

Inside at the embassy at the reception that followed, we hoisted mojitos and exchanged congratulations. But a number of us have long anticipated this moment with both joy and worry, realizing that the U.S. could become a greater threat to Cuba as its friend than it ever was as its enemy.

Read the full post at EcoWatch.com

EcoWatch 

 

Why We Won’t Quit the Caribbean

Carysfort Reef 1975 to 2014

A dramatic time series of photos documenting the 95 percent loss of coral cover from Carysfort Reef, Key Largo, Florida since 1975. The photos capture the loss of a once thriving colony of elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata (Photos: Phil Dustan)

You wouldn’t know it from the colorful travel ads, but beneath the Caribbean’s sublime azure surface, the story of is one of utter mayhem.

A major report released earlier this year, the most comprehensive to date, puts it clearly and bluntly: Without swift and meaningful action, “Caribbean coral reefs and their associated resources will virtually disappear within just a few decades…” There has been an average decline of coral cover in the Caribbean of more than 50 percent since 1970.

The reefs I so delighted in as a teenager in the Florida Keys are today heartbreaking and unrecognizable. Live coral is estimated to be less than 20 percent of what it was in the early seventies when I first dove there. 

Statistics like these make it easy for one to abandon hope, and indeed, many have. The report states, “Concerns have mounted to the point that many NGOs [non-governmental organizations, nonprofit conservation organizations and funders] have given up on Caribbean reefs and moved their attentions elsewhere.” But Ocean Doctor hasn’t given up on the Caribbean — we’re in it for the long-haul, dedicated to restoring Caribbean coral reefs to their former glory. And we’ve found a new reason to be optimistic. Read more

OMG I Thought You Were Dead!

Carysfort Reef 1975 to 2014

A dramatic time series of photos documenting the 95 percent loss of coral cover from Carysfort Reef, Key Largo, Florida since 1975. The photos capture the loss of a once thriving colony of elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata (Photos: Phil Dustan)

I shouted with euphoric joy through my regulator, 20 feet underwater. I can only imagine how wide my eyes were. It must have been difficult to discern between an expression of delighted surprise and a textbook example of wide-eyed diver panic. My eyes were transfixed on an old friend with a funny name whom I hadn’t laid eyes on in years. I had heard he was dead – or at least gravely ill. But there in front of me, larger than life, vibrant and embracing the sun, my friend was very much alive and healthy, clearly enjoying the good life in Cuba.

Several years earlier, I joined an expedition to explore a corner of the Gulf of Mexico I had only heard about from colleagues: The magnificent coral reef ecosystem of Veracruz, Mexico. Seated inside the DeepRover submersible with great anticipation for a vibrant reef that lay below me, I was lowered from the deck of a Mexican Navy ship into the warm blue waters below and radioed the ship that I was going to begin my descent.

Read the full post at EcoWatch.com

EcoWatch 

 

What Becomes of Cuba After the Embargo is Lifted?

Goliath Grouper and Photographer

A Critically Endangered Goliath Grouper greets a tourist photographer in Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen National Park. Environmental economics demonstrated that conservation and ecotourism would result in more revenue than commercial fishing. (Photo: David E. Guggenheim)

When a foreigner sets foot in Cuba, it immediately becomes clear that this magical island is profoundly unique and has developed drastically differently than any other country in Latin America and the Caribbean. And for those who venture into its verdant mountains or below its aquamarine waves, a striking revelation awaits:  Just as the fifties-era Chevys and horse-drawn buggies portray an island seemingly frozen in time, so, too, do its exceptionally healthy and vibrant ecosystems illustrate that Cuba may have picked the perfect time in history not to follow the path of its neighbors. Indeed the past half century has seen a tragic and unprecedented decline in Caribbean coastal and marine ecosystems.

Read the full post at EcoWatch.com

EcoWatch

 

The Single Word I Taught First Graders in Cuba

Cuban countrysideAt a rural Cuban elementary school nestled in the verdant mountains west of Havana, I approached the front of the class and queued up my best Spanish. The first-graders looked at me with puzzled anticipation — they don’t see many Americans entering their classroom, let alone U.S. visitors who try to get up and teach. But as soon as it was clear we were going to talk about the oceans, its was all smiles and excited participation, as if salt water is the universal language we all share and treasure.

I told the students that our lesson was about a single word: Orgulloso. It means “proud.” I told the students that they should sentirse orgulloso” — feel proud, and then I showed them why. Carrying my laptop around the class, I showed recent videos I had taken in Cuba’s pristine ocean waters of healthy corals, sharks, goliath groupers, tarpon and, to especially loud shrieks of delight, sea turtles.

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VIDEO: What Columbus Might Have Seen

Gardens of the Queen MapI’ve just returned from Cuba and before my wetsuit has finished drying, I am packing my bags again. Before I return to Cuba, I wanted to take this opportunity to share a short video I shot during my recent trip at Cuba’s spectacular Gardens of the Queen National Park (Jardines de la Reina), the country’s first marine park and the largest fully-protected marine reserve in the Caribbean. It may also be the healthiest marine ecosystem in the Caribbean, our closest glimpse at the pristine reefs and islands Columbus saw and named for Spain’s Queen Isabella 500 years ago.

I hope you enjoy the video, but it’s much better in person and I hope to be able to show you personally! Learn more and book your trip!

[youtube EzfeuRiS61Q 560 340]

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ANNOUNCEMENT: Travel with Ocean Doctor to Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen!

Avalon Cuban Diving Centers
Cuba Conservancy
   

 Legal Educational Travel to Cuba for U.S. Citizens & Residents

For 13 years I have felt deeply privileged to spend much of my time in Cuba, working on research and conservation projects with some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met, among the most spectacularly healthy reefs I have ever beheld. One region in particular, Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen, is so staggeringly pristine and healthy – in stark contrast to many of the other coral reef ecosystems around the world – that the region was recently featured on an award-winning segment of the CBS news program, 60 Minutes, hosted by Anderson Cooper.

Gardens of the Queen MapIn a world where many of the ocean’s corals and fish populations are in decline, the marine life of Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen – the largest no-take marine reserve in the Caribbean – is thriving. The massive and strikingly beautiful Gardens of the Queen National Park is located 60 miles off the southern coast of Cuba, an archipelago comprising a chain of 250 virgin coral and mangrove islands extending along 75 miles of turquoise waters.

Due to the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, it has been virtually impossible for Americans to legally visit Cuba and the Gardens of the Queen for more than 50 years.

VIDEO: 60 Minutes – Anderson Cooper and David E. Guggenheim Explore Cuba’s Coral Reefs

(CBS News) 60 Minutes cameras take you on an underwater adventure off the Cuban coast to one of the world’s most pristine and vibrant coral reefs, known as the Gardens of the Queen. Anderson Cooper scuba dives with marine biologist David Guggenheim, dodging giant groupers and sharks, to explore this increasingly rare oasis. Scientists estimate that 25 percent of the world’s reefs have died off and much of what’s left is at risk.

Watch on YouTube

 


 

Learn About Our Work in Cuba
 Cuba Conservancy - an Ocean Doctor Program
Green Speaker, Dr. David E. Guggenheim

National Geographic’s Newest Explorer

The Ocean Doctor on WebTalkRadio.net
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August 1, 2011: We visit National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, DC to meet the newest National Geographic “Explorer in Residence,” Dr. Enric Sala and his important work on the “Pristine Seas” program with expeditions to the last remaining pristine areas in the ocean. We also hear the incredible story of a humpback whale, rescued at the brink of death, that said “thank you” to its human rescuers. And we hear the tragic story of the loss of one of our colleagues in Cuba.

The Ocean Doctor airs weekly on WebTalkRadio.net. Want to listen on your iPod, iPhone or mp3 player? Download the mp3 file or subscribe on iTunes and don’t miss a single episode. Or listen to us on your iPhone, Android phone, WebOS phone, BlackBerry or tablet, including the iPad, with the free Stitcher SmartRadio app. See the complete list of episodes. Follow The Ocean Doctor on TwitterBecome a Fan on Facebook! Submit a question and I’ll try to answer it on the air. Even better, record your question or comment on our special message line and I might play it on the air. Call: (805) 619-9194. You can also leave questions and comments for this episode below. Like the show? Learn how to become a sponsor. Read more

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