International Study: Nature Conservation and Sustainability in Cuba

Environmental Science and Policy &
Center for Advanced Governmental Studies

420.678 Nature Conservation and Sustainability in Cuba
Winter Intensive: January 6-14, 2019




This course is open to all JHU graduate students, and undergraduates that are EPS or GECS majors in their Junior or Senior year. Note: This course counts toward the ESP residency requirement.

The course is open to alumni as well.

Viñales National Park

Viñales National Park


The purpose of the course is to explore the environmental ecosystems of Cuba as we are immersed in Cuban culture. Cuba contains some of the most environmentally pristine areas in close proximity to the United States. According to the Nature Conservancy, the coral reefs of Cuba are healthier than most of the others in the Caribbean. Cuba’s political isolation has most likely helped to protect its natural ecosystems. In addition to these environmental aspects, culturally Cuba is also known for its vibrant art and musical social scene. We would like our students not only be able to study healthy reefs and tropical terrestrial ecosystems but to see how art, music, and politics relate to the stewardship of the planet.

Course Description

This cultural and scientific emersion program will investigate Cuba’s agroecology, tropical marine, and terrestrial ecosystems as well as the countries unique geology. As wildlife and habitat have faded from the tropics, Cuba’s importance as an ecological bastion has risen. The island has the largest tracts of the untouched rain forest, unspoiled reefs and intact wetlands in the Caribbean islands. Cuba also is home to many unique, or endemic, species, including the solenodon, and the bee hummingbird. In this course, students will have the opportunity to learn about the marine ecology through the first-hand investigation of the reefs off the shores of Cuba, and learn about rainforest ecology through observations of Cuban forests. The course will also examine the interplay between geology, ecology, evolution, and adaptation in areas such as coastal xeromorphic vegetation, swamp ecosystems, and Viñales National Park.

Maria LaGorda Reef

Maria LaGorda Reef


By the end of this course, the student will have developed an in-depth understanding of the island’s unique terrestrial and marine habitats, plus the restoration efforts and resource management practices needed to preserve this paradise while appreciating cross-national science policy information transfer between the US and Cuba.

There will be three parts to this class:
 1) Students will meet online by Adobe Connect or in Washington DC for one session on December 17th from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm, for a pre-departure overview of the course, class syllabus, readings, and logistics. We will include an Adobe Connect or Call-In Option for students at a distance.
 2) The in-country portion of the class, which takes place Jan 6-14 in Cuba.
 3) A post-trip debrief in by Adobe Connect in Washington DC, on Jan 22nd, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm.  Again, remote access will be provided for students not in D.C.  Students will be required to share a 5-slide (maximum), a 6-minute presentation summarizing the lessons learned from the exchange that links to the core science/policy transfer themes of their case study.
The syllabus will contain a list of selected readings from books, journals, and homepages relevant to each of the class meetings and site visits that each student is required to read prior to the start of the trip. These readings will be available via e-reserves in the course Blackboard site.
Course Themes
  • Tropical Biology
  • Coral Reef Ecology
  • Cuban Cultural Mores (Art, Music)
  • Agroecology
  • Climate Change
  • Biodiversity
  • Resource Management
  • Social Inclusion
  • Mass Extinction
  • Plate Tectonics
  • Edaphic Ecosystems
  • Understanding the Challenge of Cuba: Political Overview of Cuban-American Relations
Assignments and Grading
Assignments and Grading
70% Readings, Attendance, and Participation
30% Final Report of a Case Study

Attendance and Participation

Students should come on time and be well-prepared for the meetings and site visits in both the socio-political and science spheres.  Students are expected to be engaged and ready to ask questions and share thoughts and ideas about the readings as these relate to the meetings we will be having. As much as possible we will try to have a daily debriefed session to discuss what all we are being exposed to.

Case Study

Please pick any one of the other unique Island Ecosystems (Hawaii, Galapagos, Easter, Iceland, etc.) Please write a case study approximately 10 pages in length (double-spaced) that describes a particular aspect of that areas effects from climate change, agroecology, biodiversity preservation, energy needs vs green sustainability, geologic or tectonic origins, or environmental policy innovation observed during the class. The case study will be due midnight February 1.

Academic Honesty

It is expected that all wording and ideas presented in any written work handed in for this class are your own, unless you have explicitly credited your source/s. It is also assumed that any work turned in for this class was composed exclusively for this class. Please refer to the Johns Hopkins University Ethics Statement, which asserts that “The strength of the university depends on academic and personal integrity. In this course, you must be honest and truthful.  Ethical violations include cheating on exams, plagiarism, reuse of assignments, improper use of the Internet and electronic devices, unauthorized collaboration, alteration of graded assignments, forgery and falsification, lying, facilitating academic dishonesty, and unfair competition. Report any violations you witness to the instructor.”

Course Schedule
Notional Course Schedule
Jan. 5  Depart Washington D.C.
The trip is in cooperation with Global Exchange (With the Collaboration of Dr. Ernesto Mujica from Soroa Orchid Botanical Garden)
Day One,
Sunday, Jan. 6
 Arrival in Havana. Amistur guide and bus will meet you at the airport. Walking tour of Colonial Havana then check in hotel.
 Briefing with Global Exchange representative.
 Welcome lunch or dinner provided depending on arrival time.
 Evening free.
Day Two,
Monday, Jan. 7
 9:00 am. Visit the Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve. Meet with local specialists for an explanation.
 11:00 am. Visit the Soroa Orchid Botanical Garden/ Guided visit of the garden and detailed explanation of the objectives and principal results of this scientific institution.
 1:30 pm Lunch at Casa Odalys (12.00 CUC)
 Depart for Pinar del Río; check-in private homes or hotels.
 5:30 pm. Meeting with the Directors of the University of Pinar del Rio’s International Relations Department.
 Dinner on your own. Evening free in Pinar del Rio.
Day Three,
Tuesday,  Jan. 8
 8:00 am. Departure for Viñales National Park. Visit Valley Overlook and Visitors Center for a detailed explanation of the Valley.
 10:30 am. Visit the El Moncada Project and National Spelunkers School. Visit Santo Tomas Cave.
 1:00 pm. Lunch TBA.
 2:00 pm. Visit “Pan de Azúcar” Sugar Bread. Observe Fossil remains.
 5:00 pm. Dinner on your own. Evening free in Pinar del Rio.
Day Four,
Wednesday, Jan. 9
 8:00 am. Return to Viñales National Park.
 9:00 am. Specialized walking tour of the Maravillas de Viñales (Marvels of Vinales) trail deep in a semi-deciduous  dry forest (bird watching, orchids, bromeliads, and other tree species)
  11:00 am. Visit Indian Cave in a boat on an underground river.
 12:30 pm. Lunch at Agroecological Farm (12.00 CUC)
 2:00 pm. Visit La Jutía to observe paleological remains.
 5:00 pm. Dinner on your own, evening free in Pinar del Rio.
Day Five,
Thursday, Jan. 10
 8:00 am. Depart for Guanahacabibes National Park.
 11:00 am. Detailed explanation in Visitors Center.
 12:00 pm. Lunch TBA.
 1:00 pm Walking tour to the Cueva Las Perlas (Pearl Cave) trail.
 4:00 pm. Check-in Villas Maria la Gorda or private homes.
 Dinner on your own and evening free.
Day Six,
Friday, Jan. 11
 8:00 am. Depart for Cabo San Antonio. Visit Poza Redonda, (Round Well) Coastal xeromorphic vegetation, El CatauroTrail (bird watching, Ghost Orchid in flower, this orchid is present only in Cuba and South Florida), Caleta Larga Lagoon (swamp ecosystem with crocodile observation)
 12:30 pm. Lunch in Villa Cabo San Antonio.
 3:00 pm.  Dive in Maria La Gorda’s Coral reef.
 Dinner on your own and evening free.
Day Seven,
Saturday, Jan. 12
 8:00 am. Departure for Lugones Lagoon, swamp ecosystem.
 1:30 pm. Check-out.
 2:00 pm. Lunch TBA.
 4:00 pm. Swim at Uvero  Beach.
•  6:00 pm. Depart for Pinar del Río; check in private homes or hotels.
Day Eight,
Sunday, Jan. 13
 9:00 am. Departure to Havana, Amistur guide, tour to the Colonial Havana.
 1:00 pm. Lunch on your own.
 Free in the city.
 Farewell Dinner and cultural activity (Dance Club or Jazz Club)
Day Nine,
Monday, Jan. 14
 Return to the USA 
Course Tuition and Costs
Tuition and Costs
Tuition $3,819 (Subject to change)
Trip Fee
Price includes:
 •   All confirmations in the program
 •   Double room accommodations in 3-star hotels or home stays
 •   Breakfast and one other meal daily except for arrival and departure days
 •   Transportation by private, air-conditioned motorcoach as well as transfers for the group as appropriate
 •   English speaking, tour guide(s) to accompany the group throughout the touring period
 •   Preparatory reading materials
 •   Admission and fees to museums and program activities
 •   Honoraria for speakers
 •    2 bottles of water daily, except arrival and departure days
 •   The assistance of a conservation professional in Pinar del Rio Province
Travel Cost
Transportation from student home to Cuba is student responsibility but will be mediated and advised by Global Exchange so that we all are on the same flight from Miami to Cuba.
Viñales Flora

Viñales Flora


Although the United States Government does not permit free travel to Cuba, faculty, staff, and students of accredited U.S. graduate and undergraduate degree-granting institutions, if it is part of a structured educational program as part of a course offered for credit, may travel to Cuba for educational purposes. We can only use specially licensed travel agencies that are permitted by the federal government to arrange visits. We will be using the Global Exchange.

Though students are responsible for flights, our educational travel agency can arrange the group air travel so that we all arrive together and it will include the Visa and the mandatory Cuban health insurance. Flights to Cuba are typically from Miami, Ft. Lauderdale or Atlanta.

Santo Tomas Cave

Santo Tomas Cave



Registration for the course will open on July 15 and close on September 7. Students will register for this course in SIS. Payment of Tuition and Course Fee is due at the time of registration. If a student decides to drop this course before September 7, 2018, $500 of the fee is non-refundable and also the course fee is non-refundable, regardless of a student’s payment method (financial aid, employer assistance, tuition remission, etc.). Please note: This course does not follow the regular tuition refund schedule and all tuition and fees for the course are non-refundable after the course closes on September 7.

The course needs 15 people to run. Refunds will be made if there are not enough people to register to run the course. Registration will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Do not purchase travel or make other investments in your trip until you hear from Dr. Hill or Dr. Burgess that there are enough participants to run the course. This will be determined by October 2nd or possibly earlier.

Student Emergency Contact Information

Students must update their emergency contact information in SIS by following these instructions:

  1. Log in to
  2. Hover over the “Personal Information” tab
  3. Select “Emergency Contact”
  4. Complete “Emergency Contact” information

Global Exchange Registration

After registering in SIS, students must also register via our educational sponsor to ensure a smooth transition. Global Exchange is an international human rights organization and will be coordinating our field course. Please use this link.

Health and Travel Insurance

Health and Travel Insurance

Well before departure, check with your doctor to see if you need any immunizations or medications before traveling. Immunization information can also be found at the sites for the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization International Travel and Health. Click here for the Johns Hopkins University Travel Resources.

Participants should make sure their health insurance and accident insurance covers them while traveling abroad. Additional coverage can be purchased through a variety of travel insurance options. To compare policies and for further information, visit a travel insurance comparison site such as Insure My Trip or Square Mouth.

HX Global, Inc.

Johns Hopkins is a member of HX Global, Inc., which covers JHU students while participating in international courses. HX Global, Inc. is medical and emergency evacuation assistance, it is NOT health insurance. Students are encouraged to review HX Global, Inc. benefits/information by going to MyJH, selecting Travel, then Travel Program. If you cannot access it through JHU’s website go directly to the HX Global website. First-time users will need to register and enter the Policy Number JH18492. Members can use the site to access medical and travel safety information.

For more travel information please visit the AAP Student Travel page.

Important Forms for the Course

Important Forms for the Course

Note: For the International Travel Registry, you will need to log-in using your JHED ID. Click on the “My Travel Profile” in the upper left-hand corner. Please complete the “My Travel Profile” form in its entirety.

These forms all need to be completed by September 14, 2018.

Each student must have a valid, signed, US passport, one that has an expiration date that is at least 6 months beyond the date of arrival in Cuba, carried on their person, in order to enter and leave the country.

Note: Emergency Contact Information in Cuba will be provided before departure.

Cuban Solenodon

Cuban Solenodon