Cuba and U.S. Announce Cooperation on Marine Conservation

Cuba-US Cooperation Marine ConservationHAVANA, CUBA – Today the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Park Service (NPS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment (CITMA)  to faciliate collaboration in marine science, stewardship, and management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The MOU also aims to promote education and outreach initiatives in both countries..

Initially the effort will focus on Guanahacabibes National Park in Cuba, a Biosphere Reserve, including the waters of Banco San Antonio that lie off Cuba’s northwestern coast, and the Flower Garden Banks and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries, and the Dry Tortugas and Biscayne national parks.

The MOU builds upon the work led by a number of U.S. nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including Ocean Doctor, Center for International Policy and Environmental Defense Fund, which have worked for more than 15 years to elevate collaboration in marine science and conservation in Cuba during a period with no diplomatic relations and limited government-to-government dialogue. Marine conservation is recognized as one of the most successful areas of collaboration between Cuba and the U.S. during the years without formal diplomatic relations.

Ocean Doctor president, Dr. David E. Guggenheim, co-led a decade of research expeditions with the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research to create the first ecosystem maps of Cuba’s northwestern coast, until then its most unexplored waters. Banco San Antonio, the key Cuban component of today’s agreement, was part of those expeditions. In the process, this research helped train the next generation of Cuban marine scientists who today are in positions of leadership in Cuba.

Today, Ocean Doctor work in Cuba, housed by its Cuba Conservancy Program, has advanced beyond basic scientific research to comprehensive conservation efforts, including:

  • Coral Reef Health & Resilience: Ocean Doctor is leading research efforts focused on the health and resilience of Cuba’s coral reefs along Cuba’s southwestern coast, including the Isle of Youth. This research will help ensure the ongoing protection of these reefs and may help provide insights to protecting coral reefs throughout the Caribbean.

  • CUSP – The Cuba-U.S. Sustainability Partnership: In collaboration with the Center for International Policy, CUSP was announced earlier this year in order to help Cuba prepare for the immense wave of tourism and foreign investment from the U.S. and to prevent it from following the path of other regions in the Caribbean that have lost their culture and natural ecosystems, such as Cancún.

  • Valuing Cuba’s Ecosystems: In collaboration with World Resources Institute, University of Colorado, Boulder, the Cuban Center for Coastal Ecosystem Research and other partners, Ocean Doctor is working to apply the tools of environmental economics to Cuba’s natural ecosystems to support sound decision making. Initially, this effort is focused on a proposal to expand the protection of one of Cuba’s most important marine protected areas.

  • Cuba Environmental Film Festival: In partnership with the Antonio Nuñez Jimenez Foundation for Humanity and Nature and the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (Dominican Republic), Ocean Doctor is leading efforts to launch Cuba’s first environmental film festival in October 2016. The festival will feature renowned filmmakers and environmentalists from around the world as well as Cuba, and through film presentations and round tables, will serve to foster dialogue in Cuban communities about environmental issues.

Read the NOAA Press Release

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.

Read the full post at



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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