The watershed moment came when the Philadelphia native attended Seacamp, a marine science camp in the Florida Keys. The trip was a birthday gift from his parents.“When I discovered there were serious threats to the ocean, even back in the seventies, it was a powerful shock and I found my cause for life,” he said.
From that moment on, Dr. Guggenheim has dedicated his life to oceanic conservation and research. In 2012 the marine scientist and conservation policy specialist founded Ocean Doctor, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Ocean Doctor’s mission is to protect and restore the world’s oceans through hands-on conservation. Dr. Guggenheim is also the former president & CEO of The Conservancy of Southwest Florida and co-chair of the Everglades Coalition.
Dr. Guggenheim was recently at the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve to kick off the reserve’s annual Tales From the Coast presentation series. His talk was titled “Coral Reef and Ocean Conservation in Cuba.”“When I came face-to-face with a coral reef, it changed me forever,” he said.
For nearly 18 years Dr. Guggenheim has collaborated with Cuba’s marine scientists, visiting the isolated country over 100 times. According to him, Cuba’s strict conservation laws combined with their lack of outside tourism and limited structural development has made the country extremely environmentally sustainable.
“The way I look at is if Cuba can do it, other places can do it,” Dr. Guggenheim said. “They have done it. I feel like this is a chance to create a model that others can follow.”
Cuba has thousands of miles of healthy coral reefs. The waters surrounding the Caribbean island are clean, and offshore fishing is heavily regulated. It’s theorized that Cuba’s strict environmental laws are a direct result from Fidel Castro’s friendly relationship with French scientist and conservationist Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
While Cuba is a leading example of sustainability and environmental conservation, the country’s relationship with the United States has been rocky at best.
“Environmental collaboration has been singled out and pointed to as one of the best areas of collaboration between Cuba and the United States,” Dr. Guggenheim said. “It’s also, fortunately, one of the most politically palatable.”
Over the years Dr. Guggenheim and the people of Cuba have worked together, arm in arm, in the name of science. They have produced hundreds of scientific papers and research. They know what it takes to keep the environment healthy, because they have seen it done.
Dr. Guggenheim went on to explain that coral reefs are vital when it comes to the sustainability of our natural coastlines; they can absorb up to 97 percent of wave energy. Mangroves are also a natural protector. Unfortunately both corals and mangroves are in danger. Ocean water that has become too warm due to high acidity levels and climate change can adversely affect otherwise healthy coral reefs. Currently all of the coral reefs in the entire world can fit into the state of Texas.
“If you want to protect your coastlines, you want to make sure your coral reefs are healthy,” he said.
Finally, when it comes to a sustainable, healthy environment Dr. Guggenheim believes that tourism has to be part of the solution. He spoke of the concept of environmental economics, the belief that the environment has economic value. If that value is considered when creating hotels and other tourist attractions, it could be beneficial not only for the surrounding ecosystem but also for the people who rely on tourism for their livelihood. He believes that small-scale tourism is the most environmentally efficient option for tropical travel destinations.
If you would like more information on Dr. David E. Guggenheim, Ph.D. and his work, visit oceandoctor.org. There he has tons of resources on the environment as well as some of his upcoming projects including the first ever Cuba Environmental Film Festival.
For more information on Rookery Bay’s Tales From the Coast presentation series visit rookerybay.org or call 239-530-5940.