Our man in Havana
Meet Dan Whittle
Dan Whittle, EDF’s Cuba program director, was always drawn to the sea, even as a kid growing up on a cattle farm in western Kentucky. But he never thought he’d make a living probing tidal pools, or shuttling back and forth to Cuba conducting environmental diplomacy.
Whittle worked as a wilderness guide in Alaska before law school. But it was at the Senate Office of Technology Assessment in Washington where he honed his skills as a negotiator. After a stint at the governor’s office in North Carolina, he accepted a job at EDF’s Raleigh office in 1997.
“Dan has an uncanny knack of finding and nurturing the relationships that are most critical to our work,” says EDF chief oceans scientist Doug Rader. “He understands that such relationships must be honest and two-way to endure.”
That’s especially important in Cuba, whose half-century-old political and economic struggle with the United States poses special challenges.
For the last decade, Whittle has been collaborating with Cuban fishermen, scientists and environmental officials on ways to protect shared resources like fish and marine mammals. Operating under a special license from the U.S Treasury Department, he’s also working to ensure that the right safeguards are in place for projected oil development off Cuba’s northwest coast.
“Americans don’t realize it, but the Cubans identify more with the United States than any other country,” Whittle says in his soft Kentucky drawl. “The animosity has really been between the governments.”
Whatever the difficulties of his work, Whittle, an avid scuba diver and ardent advocate for marine protection, isn’t complaining. Perhaps that’s because the rewards include activities like diving amidst 200-pound giant grouper in the Gardens of the Queen, one of the world’s most pristine coral reefs.
I’ll never forget my first trip to Havana. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I’ve been in awe of the place.Dan Whittle Cuba program director
He’s been back more than 50 times.
Today, Cuba is opening up to the world, a process that will determine it future – and to some degree ours. “I’m excited to be part of it,” Whittle says.
Take a tour of Cuba
Follow EDF senior writer, Rod Griffin, on a ten day journey through Cuba's underwater Eden.
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Our work in Cuba
Finding common ground on preparedness for offshore oil and gas