Chapter 1

The Environment

Geopolitics has divided the U.S. and Cuba for half a century, but nature knows no such boundaries. We share the deep waters of the Florida Straits and iconic wildlife such as manatee, sea turtles and bonefish. We have in common a similar, yet changing climate – prone to the extremes of back-to-back hurricanes one year, drought the next. Florida and Cuba have both preserved the largest wetland ecosystems of their kind in our hemisphere, the Everglades and Zapata swamp on Cuba’s southern coast.

  • Yet, as much as we can celebrate these connections and the scientists who’ve overcome significant barriers to study them, it’s also crucial to understand that Cuba’s environmental challenges are different from ours.

    In Cuba, freshwater scarcity does not mean lawn-watering restrictions, but rationing by the bucket and boiling every drop you’ll drink. Protection of endangered species takes on a whole new meaning when some people still poach manatees to feed their families.

  • Cuba’s environment is also influenced considerably by wealthier nations and travelers: Illegal tortoiseshell goods are still sold in some markets, endangered crocodile in some restaurants, because some international tourists still demand them.

    Most profoundly, while Cuba contributes little to the causes of climate change, its coastline and people are among the most vulnerable anywhere to a warming world.

As we share a sea, wild creatures and the atmosphere that surrounds us, so we can find common solutions to protect them and ultimately, ourselves. Here are our stories from that intersection of nature and people:


Waiting for Water

Cuba seems like a water-rich country, with abundant rainfall, rivers crisscrossing the island and groundwater that bubbles up in turquoise springs. But it has always struggled to provide enough fresh water for its people. » READ MORE


Imperiled Souvenirs

Despite a government crackdown, trade in illegal tortoiseshell souvenirs appears to be ongoing in Cuba. Wildlife advocates say illegal hunting and sales of hawkbills – and other endangered species – are related to poverty. Can shoppers help save them?  » READ MORE

waves along the Malecon


Rising Seas

While the United States has rolled back climate policy under President Donald Trump and some American politicians still question the science of climate change, the issue is not in question in Cuba – for either the government or the people. » READ MORE