Cuban Environmental Science


Grant Recipient: Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)
Project Support: Improving Environmental Science in Cuba for Healthy Marine Ecosystems
Term: 2012/2013

EDF’s work to protect important shared marine resources in the U.S. Southeast, the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean depends upon close working partnerships with world-class — but under-resourced and little-known — Cuban environmental scientists. A biodiversity hotspot, Cuba has regionally important marine and coastal ecosystems.  With connectivity to the United States, the window of opportunity is now to share our resources and to work together towards solutions.

Over the past 12 years, and with a special license from the U.S. Department of Treasury, EDF has built strong relationships with Cuban environmental institutions and Cuban environmental scientists, who are among the best educated and most experienced in the region. Cuban scientists’ rigorous research has informed important environmental policy initiatives, including the Cuban government’s decision to include 25% of the insular shelf in marine protected areas (MPAs). The current 108 MPAs represent the following:

     – 15% of the Cuban insular shelf          – 16 fish spawning  sites
     – 35% coral reefs                                      – 31% seagrass beds
     – 27% mangroves
However, because of inadequate funding and other constraints on research, field work in Cuba has been limited and much remains unknown about critical issues such as overfishing, the benefits of MPAs, and ecosystem vulnerability to changing ocean conditions. These gaps in knowledge hamper the development of sound environmental policy and effective fisheries management.

Project Goals

With support from the Waitt Foundation, EDF is launching a new initiative in 2013, led by Dan Whittle, to support collaborative field research with scientists from Cuba’s Center for Marine Research.  This initiative will enable teams of Cuban and American scientists to carry out a series of two- to four- week research cruises aboard the Cuban research vessel Felipe Poey and will support year-round port sampling of shark landings in at least four Cuban ports.

The overarching project goal is to generate scientific research that can inform sound policy to improve the performance of fisheries and MPA networks. Specific objectives are to:

cuba-marine-science.png1. Facilitate Cuban environmental scientists’ research and promote international awareness of Cuba’s high-quality marine science.

2. Collect biological and ecological data essential to the management of sharks and selected reef fish.

3. Assess the biological, ecological and socioeconomic performance of existing Cuban MPAs.

4. Characterize the socioeconomic contribution of fisheries and MPAs to the economy.

5. Use research results to inform conservation and management strategies.

Project Results

For more information on the expedition results, click here to view the full report, Improving Environmental Science in Cuba for Healthy Marine Ecosystems.

Field Expertise

Daniel Whittle directs EDF’s work to advance conservation of marine and coastal ecosystems in Cuba. He works with Cuban scientists, lawyers and resource managers to identify and implement collaborative strategies for fisheries management, coral reef conservation, and sustainable coastal development in Cuba and the region.

For the last decade, Whittle has been collaborating with Cuban fishermen, scientists and environmental officials on ways to protect shared resources like fish and marine mammals. Operating under a special license from the U.S Treasury Department, he’s also working to ensure that the right safeguards are in place for projected oil development off Cuba’s northwest coast.


EDF, Cuba Website
Cuba Marine Science Expedition
EDF’s Website

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