Ola! Me llamo Yasmina. I am a Master’s student in Marine and Lacustrine science at the University in Ghent (Belgium). As part of my graduate program I had to do a professional internship. With a passion for sea turtles, an interest in Cuba’s rich history and traveling and exploring different cultures, I was convinced that working for CMRC was going to be perfect for me.
From the moment I set foot in Cuba I realized that this was going to be a challenge. From my overestimated Spanish to not being able to get cash, having limited Internet access and paying with double currency: everything seemed to be very complicated.
After spending a few days in Havana I got into a small van heading towards Guanahacabibes National Park with five Cuban university students who like me were embarking on a career in marine science. Talking to them made me realize that I would not only gain scientific experience but also really get to know everything about how Cubans live (or as they say it: sobrevivir which means literally to “survive”) in a country full of contradictions.
The beaches where we monitored the sea turtle nests were not exactly 5-star hotels but this desolate, untouched environment was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. During the day we would check the nests for activity or dig out the ones that had hatched. But most of the activity happened during the night where we would have shifts in teams of two volunteers patrolling the beaches for females or nests that were hatching. I remember the first time I saw a nest hatch, watching all these brave little turtles struggling and crawling, facing this immense challenge of getting to the water. I will admit to shedding a few tears and it made me forget all about the mosquitos or the fastidious jejenes (sandflies).
One of the things that struck me most during my stay was the hospitality of the guardabosques or park rangers, who would bring us food and take us on a ride with their mule and carriage. I cannot say our communication was fluent but I was happy I had a bottle of rum with me I could generously pour as a sign of my gratitude.
It was not until day 18 in Guanahacabibes, when we were patrolling the beach and decided to rest close to our tent and share our non-existing knowledge on constellations when all of a sudden I saw sand flying around. After a few minutes I realized what was happening: there was a female green turtle nesting right next to us. We sat there for more than two hours watching this amazing creature digging with such precision. When she finished digging and got into a trance we knew the eggs were coming. Cool as always, Randy, the University of Havana graduate student who was in charge of our beach who is doing his thesis on the monitoring program, handed me the gloves and said: “cuenta los huevos”. Even thinking about it now gives me goose bumps and I am eternally grateful to him for letting me have this amazing experience of counting eggs as they emerged from this enormous female turtle.
Leaving Guanahacabibes I already knew I wanted to go back soon. Being on the beach for 20 days living in such harmony with nature and being surrounded by wildlife and passionate young people was an experience like I have never had before. I knew this internship in Cuba would change me, but it’s the Cubans that changed me in more ways than I would have expected.
Ever dreamed of seeing Cuba? Wonder what keeps those old rat rod cars running? What about all the hype about Cuba’s well-preserved coastal habitats? This year The Ocean Foundation received its people to people license from the Department of Treasury, which allows us to bring US travelers to experience the island’s culture and natural resources first hand. The Ocean Foundation’s Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program has worked alongside Cuban scientists to study and preserve natural resources shared by both countries. These include coral reefs, fish, sea turtles and hundreds of species of migratory birds that stop in Cuba on their annual migration from American forests and pastures southward. CMRC is one of few US conservation programs that maintains active collaborative projects with Cuban marine science agencies. Established in 1998, our collaboration has served as the basis for the research theses of over 20 graduate students at the University of Havana. Together we are making new scientific discoveries such as a nesting population of approximately 2,000 green sea turtles in western Cuba that was previously unknown to science.
Our license allows any American, not just scientists, to travel to the island to see the work we do, meet our partners and engage in discussions with Cuban conservationists to develop solutions to shared environmental threats such as climate change, invasive species and sea level rise. But what if you could actually participate in research in Cuba? Imagine working alongside Cuban counterparts as a citizen scientist, gathering data that can help shape policy on both sides of the Florida straights.
The Ocean Foundation and Holbrook Travel are offering an opportunity to gather data about migratory coastal and shorebirds that call both countries home. You will join Dr. Rob Norton, who conceived of the Cuban Christmas Bird Count during a recent visit to Cuba. During your nine-day experience you will visit some of Cuba’s most stunning natural areas including Zapata Swamp, which in biodiversity and scope resembles the Everglades. This once in a lifetime trip to Cuba will take place from December 13-22nd, 2014. Not only will you be able to see Cuban ecological gems but you will be invited to participate first hand in the 2nd Annual Audubon Cuban Christmas Bird Count, an annual survey to estimate bird composition. By participating in the CBC, citizen scientists from the US to work alongside Cuban counterparts to study birds that make the US and Cuba home. And no prior bird watching experience is required.
Trip highlights include:
Encounters with local scientists and naturalists to learn about the island’s coastal ecosystems and to discuss ecotourism, sustainability, and conservation efforts that are in place.
Meet with representatives of the environmental NGO ProNaturaleza to learn about the program and its initiatives.
Be a part of helping to establish the CBC in Cuba and watch for endemic species like the Cuban Trogon, Fernandina’s Flicker, and the Bee Hummingbird.
Engage with local people in an important civic conservation effort.
Explore Old Havana, including the National Museum of Natural History.
Attend a special presentation by the Korimacao Community Project and discuss the program with the artists.
Eat at paladares, restaurants in private homes, for the chance to have intimate conversations with Cuban citizens.
We hope you can join The Ocean Foundation on this enjoyable learning experience. To receive more information or sign up please visit:
CMRC, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, University of Havana Partnership to Study Coral Reef Health is Off and AwayRead Now
In September 2014, scientists representing Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Centro de Investigaciones Marinas (CIM) of the University of Havana, Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program (CMRC), and University of Maryland (UMD) gathered in Havana and Zapata Swamp to discuss research objectives and plan research cruises that will take place in 2015 as part of Proyecto Tres Golfos (P3G). P3G is funded by a grant from the Dalio Explore Fund via WHOI with supplemental funding provided by CMRC. P3G will investigate microbial to macro-organismal diversity, functioning and status among Cuba’s three largest and most productive bodies of water. The second P3G research cruise will take place in January 2015 to the Gulf of Batabanó.
The P3G research plan combines basic research of patterns and processes with conservation targets such as ecosystem health, threats, education, and the enforcement and enhancement of marine protected areas. Special emphasis will be given on Cuban scientists are being trained in cutting edge protocols introduced by CMRC, WHOI and UMD, further building the capacity of Cuban scientists. WHOI and UMD’s objective to study water column and coral-associated microbial communities is an important new component of P3G.
Participatingin the workshop were Dr. Jorge Angulo, Dr. Maickel Armenteros and Dr. Patricia González (CIM), Fernando Bretos and Dr. Daria Siciliano (CMRC/The Ocean Foundation), Dr. Amy Apprill (WHOI), Dr. Alyson Santoro (UMD).
CMRC is excited to get started on what will be new research in Cuban waters that will help build capacity for Cuban scientists.