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Conservation benefit: Increased protection of the offshore marine environment

Community benefit: Alternative livelihoods: ecotourism, reef monitoring training and equipment

Date Approved: 06.2016


This project protects ocean ecosystems, making coastal communities more economically and physically secure in the face of climate change.

Cocodrilo is a pristine, isolated community of 400 people on the coast of Cuba’s Isle of Youth. Fishing has always been the principal livelihood. Despite the island’s beautiful beaches, there is almost no tourism.

The area is home to coral reefs, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds that support hundreds of fish species, marine turtles, manatees, and saltwater crocodiles. Illegal fishing, however, threatens the health of these ecosystems. Cuban and U.S. scientists have observed a striking lack of large fish (including grouper, snapper, and sharks) and other signs of overfishing.

Our project partner, Ocean Doctor, has worked with the community for several years and has helped organize a team of local young people dedicated to developing ecotourism. This will be one of Cuba’s first ecotourism projects, and could serve as a model for responsible development. The project has three main components:

  • Build ecotourism. Community members will receive training from people who have successfully developed ecotourism in Cuba and other Caribbean countries.
  • Provide training and equipment for reef monitoring. With the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research, Ocean Doctor will establish a reef monitoring program, run by local people. Once in place, the program should continue for years at very little cost.
  • Educate kids about the environment. The local group will bring environmental education to the local school and community center. They will also collect trash and post no-litter signs.

Project Updates

May 2020

Ocean Doctor had planned to highlight the project at a sustainable tourism conference in Cuba in May, but the conference was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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May 2019

Progress on this project has been stymied, primarily because of strained relations between the U.S. and Cuban governments. Our nonprofit partner, Ocean Doctor, is hoping to get the project moving by working with the University of Havana’s Department of Tourism.

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May 2018

Ocean Doctor is still waiting for final approval of the project from the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment. Meanwhile, Ocean Doctor is continuing its planning work and will discuss Cocodrilo at an environmental economics workshop in Havana this summer, focusing attention on it as a model project.

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January 2018

The vice minister of the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (CITMA) has approved the project, and Ocean Doctor expects final approval soon. Meanwhile, Ocean Doctor has assembled a project team of scientists and economists. They have been unable to visit Cocodrilo recently but expect access to be much easier once the project is approved.

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