Jacques Cousteau, Fidel Castro and Cuba’s Undying Passion for the Sea

The Ocean Doctor on

December 6, 2010: Join The Ocean Doctor on a field trip to Havana to visit with Cuba’s next-generation of marine scientists at the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas). We visit with the Center’s new director, Dr. Jorge A. Angulo Vald’s. We also visit with Dr. Julia Azanza Ricardo who directs the Center’s unique sea turtle research and conservation program in the wilds of Guanahacabibes Biosphere Reserve on Cuba’s western tip. For these two and their colleagues, their passion for the sea runs deep, thanks in large part to two influential people in their lives: Jacques Cousteau and Fidel Castro.

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Cuba Loses its Mother Ocean

Dr. Maria Elena Ibarra Martin

Cuba has lost its Mother Ocean. Dr. María Elena Ibarra Martín, director of the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas, CIM) since 1981, passed away yesterday afternoon after a month-long struggle following heart surgery. CIM is the only academic institution in Cuba where marine biologists are trained, and her loss is mourned by hundreds of her students, many of whom grew up to become her colleagues — and friends. Her selfless, tireless dedication goes far beyond words, and the impact she has made on education, conservation, and her unique model of personal integrity will no doubt endure for centuries to come. When I last saw Doctora in February, she was as busy as ever, wrestling mountains of paperwork on her desk while never letting go of her visionary perspective about conservation and education. Nor did she ever let go of her special fondness for sea turtles and her love for and dedication to her students.

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Blogus interruptus

Guanahacabibes, Cuba Read any authority’s advice about blogs and you’ll see at the top of the list: “Blog regularly.” Even for someone who enjoys writing as much as I do, I don’t believe in writing for writing’s sake — I like to share original experiences and ideas, not just rehash stale news. Still, I’ve experienced quite a few blog-worthy adventures in the four months since my last post shortly after the Bering Sea Expedition, but haven’t written a single word. Read more

Exploring, Studying Cuba’s Gulf of Mexico

Proyecto Costa Noroccidental research team aboard Cuban research vessel Boca del Toro, second expedition

The Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (CIM) [Centro de Investigaciones Marinas] are leading a collaborative effort, Proyecto Costa Noroccidental [Project of the Northwest Coast], a comprehensive multi-year research and conservation program for Cuba’s Gulf of Mexico coast. Dr. David E. Guggenheim, president of 1planet1ocean, is a member of HRI’s Advisory Council and also serves as HRI’s Cuba Programs Manager and is co-principal investigator of the project with Dr. Gaspar González Sansón of CIM. Read more


Track the Cuba – Gulf of Mexico Expedition 2009

Mysteries of Cuba’s Gulf of Mexico Waters

Proyecto Costa Noroccidental (Project of the Northwest Coast) — a project of the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas: CIM) and The Ocean Foundation in Washington, DC — explores the most unknown corner of the Gulf of Mexico: Cuba’s northwest coastal waters. The next leg of the expedition is scheduled to depart Havana on September 5, 2009.
A green sea turtle hatchling at Cuba's westernmost point, Guanahacabibes
It is often said that those 90 miles of open water south of the Florida Keys — the Straits of Florida — separate Cuba and the USA. Like a hand-drawn blue borderline, the Straits are often invoked as a symbol of the 50-year-old Cold War that has frozen our two countries so tantalizingly close, yet so tragically far apart. But to the sea turtles, sharks, lobster, whales and other sea life, those same 90 miles of blue unite our countries with racing blue currents, unseen underwater pathways, and a web of colorful life that defies the perceptions of so many of the Gulf of Mexico, who know it only as a hot, muddy cauldron that spawns hurricanes and oil platforms. Cuba’s northwest coast – the verdant Pinar del Río province, home to Cuba’s legendary cigars — is the least-developed coastal region of Cuba. But as Cuba’s tourism trade continues to develop and as Cuba’s fledgling offshore oil development expands into the Gulf, it is hoped that the insights from this joint research will help to guide the hand of such development so that some of Cuba’s most precious assets, its coral reefs, will be spared the fate they have seen elsewhere in the Caribbean.

The majority of Cuba’s reefs are remarkably healthy, a fact made even more striking given that just 90 miles to the north, in the Florida Keys, nearly half the reef system has died. For that reason, and because of its unique history and geography, Cuba may hold important clues for coral reefs elsewhere in the Caribbean and perhaps around the world.

This project is providing the first-ever comprehensive study of Cuba’s northwestern waters and providing research opportunities for Cuba’s next generation of marine scientists — nearly 20 have based their Masters and Ph.D. research on this project.


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