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Will New Relations With Cuba Impact Its Pristine Ocean Environment?

With the news yesterday from President Obama that his administration is moving to normalize relations with Cuba, many experts have argued that ending the embargo would be a boon for the island nation's economy. But whether it will be an entirely beneficial thing for Cuba's natural environment and surrounding oceans remains to be seen. In the environmental community, many organizations that have been working tirelessly on ocean conservation in the Caribbean hope that there can now be true cooperation between the U.S. and Cuba in the environmental realm.

Dr. David Guggenheim, founder of Ocean Doctor, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring our oceans through hands-on conservation, has legitimate concerns about the impacts of ending the embargo. In October, he joined Thom Hartmann on The Big Picture to talk about the potential environmental effects—good and bad—of ending the embargo.

Guggenheim readily admits the embargo was a "failed policy," but under the embargo, Cuba's environment—namely its pristine national parks and coral reefs—has thrived. He cites the fact that "Cuba has protected 25 percent of its marine waters compared to the worldwide average of one percent." So, the question going forward will be: Can Cuba maintain its pristine environment after it's opened up to the U.S. and the rest of the world?

In a five-part series on EcoWatch, Conor Kennedy explores the pristine coral reefs of the Gardens of the Queen after his visit to Cuba this summer with Ocean Doctor. In his piece, Cuba and the Embargo, Kennedy shares his hopes for normalized relations between Cuba and the U.S. that includes policies that will protect Cuba's pristine ocean ecosystem.

Cuba protects 25 percent of its marine waters compared to the worldwide average of 1 percent. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) would also like to see an end to the embargo because it will allow them to expand their work to promote an exchange and a dialog around critical conservation issues.

“With normalized relations come great opportunity, but also great challenges,” said Dan Whittle, director of EDF's Cuba Oceans Program and Senior Attorney.

“The doors are now open to U.S. travel and investment, and the rigor of Cuba’s environmental rules will be tested. As money begins to flow into Cuba, it is critical that we continue our work helping Cuba build upon its impressive environmental protections and double down. EDF believes the environment will fuel economic growth, but we cannot allow the environment to be sacrificed in the process.”

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