Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Florida Aquarium leaders visit Cuba

Florida Aquarium leaders visit Cuba
By Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff
Published: October 20, 2014

TAMPA — Leaders from Tampa's Florida Aquarium visited Cuba over the
weekend to discuss a possible partnership with the island nation's
National Aquarium in Havana.

No official agreement was signed but those representing The Florida
Aquarium on the trip believe that day is coming.

It would mark the first time such a deal is struck between Cuban and
U.S. aquariums since the U.S. travel and trade embargo was imposed over
five decades ago.

"The trips and the talks exceeded my expectations," said Margo McKnight,
vice president of biological resources at the Florida Aquarium. "We
spent a lot of time sharing information with their aquarium's officials
and agreed that working together makes sense. Now we need to talk it
over with the overall leadership at The Florida Aquarium and move from

A return trip to Cuba has not been planned. Nor has bringing officials
from the National Aquarium of Cuba to Tampa.

While the two sides discussed a variety of ways they could collaborate,
McKnight said, the primary focus was on coral reef restoration research.

Scientists predict that by 2050, all the world's coral reefs will be
threatened by pollution and changes in water temperature. Florida's
coral reefs already are dying at an alarming rate, McKnight said.

Coral reefs protect coasts by reducing wave energy from storms and
hurricanes. And as home to more than 4,000 species of fish and countless
species of plants, some support up to 25 percent of all known marine life.

The Florida Aquarium, McKnight said, is actively searching for ways to
reverse the decline.

Cuba, she added, has the most pristine coral reef in the world — one yet
to feel the effects of the changing marine environment.

Called "Gardens of the Queen," the reef is in southern waters off the
provinces of Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila.

"Just 90 miles off Florida's coast is a look back into time at what a
reef should be like," McKnight said. "We want to study it to understand
why its ecosystem is so healthy and learn if we can extract any lessons
from it that we can apply."

Under the preliminary talks, the Florida Aquarium would get access to
the Gardens of the Queen. In return, the Florida Aquarium would keep the
National Aquarium of Cuba up-to-date in its research on restoring coral

"This would be their way of proactively protecting their reefs,"
McKnight said. "They don't have a problem now but they want to be
prepared in case it is threatened in the future."

McKnight was unsure if this would be the first collaboration between a
U.S. and Cuban aquarium since the embargo was put in place. But last
week, Jeffrey Boutwell, board member with the Latin America Working
Group Education Fund in Washington, D.C., told the Tribune it would be.

Boutwell's organization carries on the work of author Ernest Hemingway
on a shared U.S.-Cuba approach to maritime resources. He recently met
with the National Aquarium of Cuba to discuss such collaboration with
the National Aquarium in Baltimore. He has no connection to The Florida
Aquarium or the delegation that traveled to Cuba.

Tampa has been part of a historic maritime alliance between the U.S. and
Cuba before.

In March, an international oil spill agreement was signed by five
nations with Caribbean shorelines — Mexico, the Bahamas, Jamaica, the
United States and Cuba. The agreement circumvents the U.S. travel and
trade embargo, which would have slowed the process of sharing resources
to clean up a spill in Cuban waters that could reach Florida shores.

Albert A. Fox Jr., founder of the Tampa-based Alliance for Responsible
Cuba Policy Foundation, introduced U.S. oil and environmental leaders
from the private sector to members of the Cuban government in 2010.
These people later successfully lobbied the U.S. government to work with
Cuba on the cleanup and containment protocol.

In a similar way, David Guggenheim, director of the Washington,
D.C.-based Cuba Conservatory, said he believes a partnership between the
two aquariums could help persuade the U.S. government to support
collaborative research on coral reefs between U.S. and Cuban scientists.

"If enough research partnerships are happening between private U.S.
organizations and the Cuban government, the U.S. government may take
notice and get involved sooner," Guggenheim said.

Guggenheim helped establish the Tri-National Workshops — meetings
between researchers from the U.S., Cuba and Mexico on issues affecting
turtles, sharks, dolphins, fisheries, coral reefs and protected marine

Sarasota-based Mote Marine Laboratory is among the private research
institutes that regularly attends the annual meetings, held since 2007.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has sent
representatives to observe the meetings, Guggenheim said, while Mexico
and Cuba send government representatives who actively participate.

Guggenheim said he is talking to members of the U.S. State Department
about increasing federal involvement.

He welcomed news of talks between the two aquariums.

"Collaborations like that one could kick what we are doing to a new level."

The future of the marine ecosystem shared by Cuba and Florida depends
upon college students from both nations studying the waters without
concern for politics, Guggenheim said.

"Marine life does not know borders," he said. "The students need to be
trained as leaders who work together. Ultimately, they will inherit this

The Florida Aquarium has an internship program, but it is too early to
discuss sending those students to Cuba, McKnight said.

If that day does arrive, it may be the only opportunity for students
from the University of South Florida to study Cuban waters.

Under Florida law, money that flows through a state university cannot be
used for travel to a nation on the U.S. list of state sponsors of
terrorism. Cuba is on that list.

"I realize nothing is ever easy to do between these two countries,"
McKnight said.

"But ultimately I think everyone will agree this is not about politics
but about doing what is best for the environment. Cuba offers us an
amazing opportunity for our research here."


Source: Florida Aquarium leaders visit Cuba | TBO.com, The Tampa Tribune
and The Tampa Times -

No comments:

Post a Comment