Amazing! was the common description for COI’s Cuba Expedition in January 2017. Warm people invited us to share their homes and lives and welcomed our efforts to improve ocean health by reducing plastic pollution locally on a global scale.
11 educators, students and passionate volunteers spent 10 days on the road in a wild collection of antique automobiles running on hope, ingenuity and constant attention. Studying beaches, currents and culture to comprehend the state of plastic pollution in a country isolated from westernized consumer culture for 60 years, Team COI Cuba 2017 represented themselves professionally and politely. We are proud to be invited to return to work with ocean advocates and academics with permission and participation from Cuban Government representatives.
The 2017 expedition to Cuba was the 4th such adventure since summer of 2014 in Alaska. Some participants were generally academically inclined, two professors, one retired professor, three environmental science students from UC Santa Cruz and Berkeley and Evergreen College in Washington. Other participants were consistent volunteers, three of which work for Southwest Airlines. The Executive Director for Clean Oceans International set a general goal for each leg of the trip and the daily agenda evolved as situations changed. I think that is adventure defined.
The highlight of any travel is making new friends through common cause. We experienced an incredible outpouring of welcome and appreciation when we explained about plastic pollution and had open conversation about sources, reasons and responses. The concept of converting plastic waste into diesel fuel was warmly embraced. Diesel is incredibly important to Cubans.
We were fortunate to be hosted at the National Aquarium of Cuba by Angela Corvea, a legendary Cuban Marine Life educator. Over the past 13 years her “Aqualina” Characters have met every child in the country during school. She has created a culture of respect for the ocean.
Our general conclusion was that Cuba is in a good position to halt and reverse the great bulk of the plastic pollution relatively quickly and easily. The introduction of plastic to fuel technology would be a valuable tool to motivate the populace to increase management of plastic waste. Coupled with an increase in the plastic awareness by Cuba’s next generations through Aqualina the country is poised to return to a more pristine state and healthier future.
COI is proud of our International Ambassadors for Ocean Health. Our guides and hosts were consistent in their praise of our team’s friendliness and outstanding respect and consideration for them and their culture. We were invited to return by every single person we interacted with.