Students and Faculty from both the Tourism and Hospitality and Nursing Departments have returned from spending nearly three weeks “Navigating Change in Cuba”. During this six-credit course students and faculty lived onboard the 131-foot Harvey Gamage, a Maine-based Tall Ship which was built in Maine and home-ported in Cienfuegos harbor on Cuba’s southern coast.
From December 27, 2016- January 15, 2017 students traveled throughout various regions of Cuba ranging from the mountainous regions near El Nicho, the streets of Old Havana, and the historic city of Trinidad. Students also traveled through the Bay of Pigs, plus, sailed the Caribbean Ocean into the Garden of the Queens, an archipelago known for its pristine coral reefs, just south of the main island of Cuba.
“Navigating Change in Cuba”, a Winter Term offering in its first semester, focused on exploring the change the nation and people of Cuba are currently undergoing with a fundamental transformation in the context of the re-opening of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations. Students were able to explore this historic change from the unique perspective of maritime tourism development on a traditional sailing schooner, with a focus on responsible stewardship of our shared marine environment. While students learned basic crew skills as they sailed through Caribbean waters and snorkeled coral reefs, they also examined economic and environmental issues through the lens of tourism, which is poised to significantly rise in upcoming years.
The course grounded students in the fundamentals of sustainable community tourism development, maritime tourism, and marine trade skills through hands on engagement, practical application, and traditional classroom learning. Students completed tourism community assessments, asset analysis, and stakeholder interviews under the guidance of USM’s Dr. Tracy Michaud-stutzman. They attended classes on Cuban Maritime Tourism and its economic impacts, led by Tony Diaz from the University of Havana, as well as Cuban geology. Students were also fortunate to be guided through many areas of the country by Dr. Jeffrey Boutwell an expert on Cuba with experience leading back three decades. Dr. Boutwell, armed with extensive historical and cultural knowledge, guided students through many of Cuba’s tourism assets such as the Cienfuegos Botanical Gardens, Trinidad, Pepito Tey, Havana, and the beach and museum at Playa Giron in the Bay of Pigs. For the final week of the class Dr. Robert Steneck an expert on reef ecology from the Marine Sciences Department at the University of Maine led the students into the Garden of the Queens. Classes on the indigenous reef species of Cuba were held while travelling on the Caribbean in the Harvey Gamage, and included snorkeling near uninhabited tropical islands.
This is a unique moment in time as Cuba prepares for millions of American visitors. It will need to balance marine conservation and sustainable local development. The knowledge gained by the students regarding the island nation’s rich history, politics, and culture will lead to a better understanding of how Cuba can navigate tourism development in a society that is re-establishing official relations with its superpower neighbor to the north for the first time in more than 50 years. The academic foundation of “Navigating Change in Cuba”, the basic analysis of Cuba’s ocean resources, its biological diversity unique in our hemisphere, and the complex decisions that lay ahead for coastal management provided students the opportunity to experience first-hand Cuba’s centuries-long maritime heritage and to develop an idea of the work that lies ahead.