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


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.

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Celebrating Cuba’s Scientists and Students Dedicated to the Ocean

Ocean Doctor's Ximena Escovar-Fadul (right) presents CIM Director, Patricia Gonzalez with a framed photo of CIM's research vessel, Felipe Poey to commemorate CIM's 45th anniversary

Ocean Doctor’s Ximena Escovar-Fadul (right) presents CIM Director, Patricia Gonzalez (left) with a framed photo of CIM’s research vessel, Felipe Poey to commemorate CIM’s 45th anniversary

For a Cuban who wants to become a marine biologist, there is only one choice: The University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas, CIM) is the only Cuban institution where marine biologists are accredited. Ocean Doctor’s collaboration with CIM began nearly 15 years ago and continues with bold new projects today. Ocean Doctor’s Project Scientist, Ximena Escovar-Fadul, participated in CIM’s 45th anniversary celebration held in Havana on March 9, 2015. Read more

Announcing Cuba’s First Environmental Film Festival!

Inspired by the success and impact of environmental film festivals around the world, including the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, Ocean Doctor is proud to announce that, with a number of Cuban partners, it will be launching Cuba’s first environmental film festival in 2016. Anticipating new environmental pressures in a post-embargo world, Ocean […]

Listen: Ocean Doctor on Science Friday: Conserving Cuba’s Coral Reefs

Ira Flatow, host of PRI's "Science Friday" and Ocean Doctor president, Dr. David E. Guggenheim, at the CUNY studios in New York

Ira Flatow (left), host of PRI’s “Science Friday” and Ocean Doctor president, Dr. David E. Guggenheim (right), at the CUNY studios in New York (Photo: Courtesy of PRI’s Science Friday)

Ocean Doctor president, David E. Guggenheim joined Science Friday host, Ira Flatow, to discuss Cuba’s coral reefs, their future, and how they may serve as a “living laboratory” to help us restore coral reefs in the Caribbean, where half of the coral reefs have been lost since 1970 according to a 2014 study.

Listen to the recording and visit Science Friday for more information.

Witnessing History in Havana: 12/17/2014

Video: Havana - Announcements December 17, 2014

My 2-minute video account of the dramatic events of December 17, 2014 while I was in Havana, Cuba. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO VIEW VIDEO or click here

The Cuban taxi driver informed  me that the world was about to change. Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama were going to deliver a major announcement at noon. He shook my hand in congratulations.

I stood stunned as the taxi pulled away. We had heard these rumors before, and with little Internet access, the rumor mill in Havana is especially rich. But this time, things seemed different.

At 11:25am we heard an announcement that Alan Gross, who had been imprisoned in Cuba for 5 years, was safely back in the United States. Something very big was happening.

The day before I had given a talk about U.S.-Cuba collaboration in marine science and conservation at Cuba’s Higher Institute for International Relations during a conference focused on the state of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. It has been gratifying to see that our work over the past 15 years with Cuban and American colleagues, focused on understanding and protecting the marine waters that we share, is considered among the most successful examples of Cuba-U.S. collaboration.

That morning our conference took an unexpected but welcomed turn as we watched the televised speeches together with the Institute’s students and learned that for the first time in more than half a century, Cuba and the U.S. would normalize relations.

Restoring diplomatic relations and removing Cuba from the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list will open a new chapter in our collaborative work with Cuba, allowing us to accomplish much more. As you can imagine, our already challenging work to save coral reefs is further complicated by layers of regulations and restrictions.

Later, several other Americans and I joined the Cuban students in the streets of Havana, blocking traffic and celebrating the good news. (Watch my 2-minute video account of these events.)

Although the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba remains in place for now (an act of Congress is required to lift it), there is growing concern about the environmental impact that millions of American tourists might have on Cuba’s healthy ecosystems. To this end we are working to help Cuba “future-proof” its strong environmental legacy against future economic pressures.

Happy New Year 2015 Ocean DoctorThree months ago we held Cuba’s first international environmental economics workshop to kick-off a multi-year effort to help Cuba develop the tools and information necessary to assess the economic value of their natural, healthy ecosystems. When inevitably faced with proposals to build hotels and golf courses, Cuban decisionmakers will find that their nation’s ecosystems have a value in the ledger.

This news comes at a time of great urgency for saving our coral reefs. A report issued earlier this year shows a 50 percent decline in coral cover in the Caribbean since 1970. But the remarkable health of Cuba’s coral reefs offers hope and we are working to study this “living laboratory” to unlock the mysteries of what is keeping Cuba’s coral reef ecosystems so healthy and resilient, and gain insights to guide restoration efforts in the Caribbean and beyond.

Now more than ever, your support will make an enormous difference. Please help us build a future with our neighbors in Cuba that recognizes the importance of strong collaboration to protect the treasured ecosystems that we share by making a donation today.

Meanwhile, please accept my warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year! 



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

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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