About the Project

Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program (CubaMar), a project of The Ocean Foundation, will partner with For The Sea Productions and Cuban filmmakers to create a original film that celebrates a remote Cuban coastal community’s relation with the ocean, provides hands-on marine conservation experience to young Cubans, and situates Cuba in broader conversations about coastal habitat protection efforts. The film will focus on the isolated fishing community of Cocodrilo on Cuba’s Isla de la Juventud, or Isle of Youth. Cocodrilo is an isolated fishing town of 300 residents, which, like all of Cuba, is facing rapid change.

Cocodrilo is unique in Cuba in that its community members are developing a community-based marine conservation citizen science initiative. Youth are learning to assist in this project that involves protecting Cocodrilo’s local coral reef. The goal of Cocodrilo’s citizen science initiative is not only to protect Cocodrilo’s marine environments, but to also provide the youth of Cocodrilo with an alternative to fishing, which is the most common livelihood for local residents.

The film will capture the stories of Cocodrilo youth as they reflect on their connection to the ocean, and to the future of their local reefs and community. For the first time, Cocodrilo youth will get an intimate look at how they can interact with their local marine environment and at the same time be able to contribute to its protection in a meaningful way.

About CubaMar

CubaMar has worked in Cuba since 1998 to study and protect shared marine resources between Cuba and the United States. They collaborate closely with Cuban partners to conduct scientific research that advances and informs conservation policy efforts in Cuba and the Wider Caribbean. CubaMar is a three-person team made up of Fernando Bretos (Director), Dr. Daria Siciliano (Scientist) and Katie Thompson (Coordinator).

Some current CubaMar projects include:

  • Monitoring the sea turtle nesting beaches of Guanahacabibes National Park
  • Studying benthic connectivity between Cuba’s three largest gulfs (Golfo de Batabanó, Golfo de Ana María, and Golfo de Guanahacabibes) to gather a large-scale, comprehensive ecological picture of the region
  • Determining the impacts of the invasive lionfish in the western Caribbean • Studying coral core geochemistry to track historical land-use inputs and reconstruct climate variability in Cuban coral reefs
  • Promoting science diplomacy between the U.S., Cuba, and Mexico as part of the Trinational Initiative for Marine Science and Conservation in the Gulf of Mexico and Western Caribbean (
  • Involving Cuban fishers in sea turtle research and conservation efforts • Studying the migration routes, foraging grounds, and bycatch rates of sea turtles in Cuban waters
  • Supporting Cocodrilo’s annual sea turtle festival

About the Grantees

Fernando Bretos, Director

Fernando has worked in the Caribbean region over three decades on a wide variety of marine conservation projects. He oversees the Trinational Initiative for Marine Research and Conservation in the Gulf of Mexico and Western Caribbean a multinational effort to study coastal and marine resources shared by the three nations of the Gulf of Mexico: Cuba, Mexico and the United States. He also oversees joint research projects with the Center for Marine Research of the University of Havana on sea turtles, coral reef health and the engagement of remote coastal Cuban communities in protecting their natural resources. Fernando is Curator of Ecology at Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, Florida. He is responsible for developing marine and coastal science content for the Museum’s relocation to a new $300 million state-of-the-art science center and aquarium scheduled to finish construction in 2016 in downtown Miami At the Museum he also directs MuVE (Museum Volunteers for the Environment) a volunteer based urban restoration project. The Project empowers South Florida residents to restore urban coastal ecosystems such as mangrove wetlands and upland urban forests. To date thousands of South Florida volunteers have restored over 17 acres of coastal habitat. Prior to this work Fernando worked for five years at The Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit marine conservation advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. where he managed the organization’s conservation programs in the Wider Caribbean Basin. Mr. Bretos holds a Master’s degree in Marine Affairs and Policy from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Oberlin College. He is a Kinship Conservation Fellow and Toyota/Audubon Together Green Fellow.

Daria Siciliano, PhD., Lead Scientist

Daria is the Lead Scientist for the Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program of The Ocean Foundation, where she oversees all scientific initiatives and collaborations, working closely with partners in the US and Cuba at the Centro de Investigaciones Marinas (Marine Research Center) of the University of Havana, the agencies of the Cuban Ministry of Science Technology and Environment (CITMA), Acuario Nacional de Cuba, and Instituto de Oceanologia. Based in California, Daria is also a Research Associate at the Marine Science Institute of the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). With expertise in coral reef ecology, coral reef geochemistry, marine spatial planning, optical remote sensing, and marine science synthesis and communication, Dr. Siciliano was formerly the Director of Science at SeaWeb. She holds a PhD in Biological Oceanography from UCSC, a Bachelor of Science from the University of California Santa Barbara, was a NRC PostDoctoral Fellow of the National Academies, and a NASA Graduate Research Fellow. She has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in marine science at UCSC and the Naval Postgraduate School (Monterey, CA), where she also supervised Master of Science theses of U.S. Navy officers. Daria has extensive experience in coral reef biodiversity assessments in the Asia Pacific region (Fiji, the Line Islands, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands) and was a consultant with UNESCO's World Heritage Centre as a technical specialist for proposed marine natural heritage properties in the Pacific. She has worked extensively on coral reef accretion in Pacific atolls, particularly at Kure atoll, using a combination of in-situ biodiversity surveys, geochemical proxies, and benthic habitat mapping.

Katie Thompson, Program Coordinator 

Katie is the Program Coordinator at CubaMar, where she provides programmatic support for a range of CubaMar's projects. She oversees CubaMar's Trinational Initiative for Marine Research and Conservation in the Gulf of Mexico and Western Caribbean, the social media platform, and educational travel, and assists the sea turtle research project and general fundraising efforts. She also helps develop new programmatic initiatives for CubaMar, including expanding its work with coastal fishing communities in Cuba. Katie joined CubaMar in 2015 after graduating with a Master’s in Marine Affairs from University of Washington’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs. During graduate school, Katie focused on community-based marine conservation strategies and non-profit management. She conducted her thesis on fisheries learning exchanges, which bring fisheries stakeholders together to share resource management best practices.   Before graduate school, Katie was granted a Fulbright Fellowship in Costa Rica where she taught at the Universidad de Costa Rica and worked with sea turtle conservations organizations on the Caribbean coast. She holds a BA in Biology from Oberlin College.

Project Updates and Milestones

In June, Katie Thompson was busy in pre-production scouting filming locations in Cocodrilo and immersing herself in the community.  While there, Katie also attended the community sea turtle festival and got a closer look at the local reefs, as well as the community's efforts to protect those reefs. 

As of mid November the entire CubaMar team is wrapping up their production trip to Cuba.  Stay tuned for a production update!

**Photo Cred (coral, sea star, and Reefs of of Cocodrilo photos): Reinaldo Márquez Váldes

**Photo Cred (Cocodrilo landscape): Katie Thompson

**Photo Cred (Diving photo): Luke Elder, a volunteer from The Ocean Foundation

CubaMar: Island of Youth, Island of Change