Healthy Stand of Elkhorn Coral in Cuba's Gardens of the Queen

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.

Healthy Stand of Elkhorn Coral in Cuba's Gardens of the Queen

A healthy stand of elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) in Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen. Elkhorn coral is now 95 percent extinct from the Caribbean and is listed on the U.S. Endangered Species List, but in Cuba it thrives. (Photo: David E. Guggenheim)

In my recent EcoWatch article, I reveal my reason for hope: Cuba. Just 90 miles away from the dying reefs of the Florida Keys, Cuba’s corals thrive. In Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen, off its southern coast, I’ve beheld coral reef ecosystems as healthy and vibrant as those I remember from my teens. It is the healthiest Caribbean marine ecosystem I have ever seen, including those I saw in my teen years, abundant with corals, sharks, goliath groupers, sea turtles and many other imperiled species.

In collaboration with our Cuban colleagues, we have assembled a team of international experts to study this living laboratory and unlock the mysteries of what is keeping the coral reef ecosystems in Gardens of the Queen so healthy and resilient. We hope to gain insights that can guide our hand to restore coral reef ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, and perhaps the world.

Please join our cause with your support to make this bold undertaking a reality and share in the new hope we now hold for the Caribbean, where we’re committed to stay. 



David E. Guggenheim, Ph.D.
Founder & President, Ocean Doctor


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