Cuba at Risk from Gulf Oil Spill | ExpeditionDispatch from 1planet1ocean (Vol. 4 No. 1)

ExpeditionDispatch

17 May 2010 (Vol. 4 No. 1)


Cuba at Risk from Gulf Oil Spill

BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico Could Contaminate Cuban Waters and Coastlines

Cuba’s Northwestern Coast Along the Gulf of Mexico

Since its discovery of oil and natural gas reserves in the Florida straits, Cuba’s preparations for full-scale offshore oil and gas development has raised alarm among some in the United States, particularly in Florida where it is estimated that much of a catastrophic spill originating in Cuba would be swept by Gulf currents. Ironically, it is now Cuba that faces the threat of a massive oil spill by the United States. The disastrous oil spill from the BP Deepwater Horizon now threatens Cuba, the largest and most biologically diverse island in the Caribbean, due to those same Gulf currents. To make matters worse, the economic embargo imposed upon Cuba by the United States decades ago makes collaboration and coordination exceedingly difficult during this crisis.

For the past decade we have been working with our colleagues at the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas, CIM) to conduct research and conservation projects in Cuba’s coastal areas. Since 2002, our work has focused in Cuba’s Gulf of Mexico waters where CIM has been conducting the first-ever comprehensive studies of this little-known area. What we are learning is that this region is incredibly rich with healthy corals, fish and serves as critical habitat for imperiled species such as sea turtles, manatees and sharks.

Oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon threatens Cuba’s marine life and habitat. (AP Photo)

The catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from the BP Deepwater Horizon presents a potentially grave and unprecedented threat to Cuba’s marine life and coastal areas. Not only would this be devastating to Cuba’s marine life, but given the biological connections present in the Gulf of Mexico, such an impact could affect a myriad of species, including fish, sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, sharks, corals inhabiting the waters of the U.S., Mexico and beyond. Currents carry fish larvae from Cuba into U.S. waters, making protection of Cuba’s coastal ecosystems vital to the health of U.S. fish populations.

The primary risk to Cuba comes from the trajectory of the “Loop Current,” a prominent but very variable feature of the Gulf of Mexico. Should the oil become swept up by the swift Loop Current, it could end up in Cuban waters within a matter of days, impacting coastal areas still recovering from the impacts of 2008 hurricanes, Gustav and Ike.

In 2007, a tri-national collaboration was formed among the three countries bordering the Gulf of M?xico (Cuba, M?xico and the United States) to elevate collaboration in marine research and conservation to a new level. Sharing of information is central in this collaboration and since the scope of this disaster became evident, our collaboration has mobilized in order to provide our Cuban colleagues with the best information possible in order to plan for potential impacts and deal with them should they occur. A special page on the 1planet1ocean site has been set up for the purpose of sharing detailed information, including technical reports and satellite imagery and interpretation.

Learn More:

A Blueprint of Collaboration — and Friendship — With CubaExpedition to Cuba’s Gulf of Mexico

Historic Meeting Unites Cuba and the U.S., Taking Collaboration on Ocean Research & Conservation to a New Level

Blog Post: OMG, I Thought You Were Dead!

Blog Post: Cuba Loses Its Mother Ocean

Blog Post: Can Cuba’s Mysteries Help Save the World’s Coral Reefs?

YouTube Video: Cuba’s Unexplored Mysteries of the Gulf

Help Protect Cuba’s Ecosystems

from the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Cuba's beautiful and unspoiled Guanahacabibes Biosphere Reserve, a critical sea turtle nesting area

Please Contribute:

The Ocean Foundation’s Cuba Marine Research & Conservation Fund

We’re working around the clock to help our Cuban colleagues prepare for the possibility of an oil spill from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. None of this work was anticipated and there’s much to do, so we urgently need your help to fund our efforts and ensure that we’re prepared in advance should the worst occur.

Learn more about Cuba’s vulnerability to this catastrophic oil spill.


Sustainable Salmon Farming

New Developments and Promise for British Columbia

First Nations’ totem art in British Columbia depicting a man with salmon. Representatives from the Canadian First Nations participated in the Vancouver workshop toward the goal of developing a more sustainable salmon industry for the region.

Serious environmental problems from traditional forms of marine finfish aquaculture — especially salmon aquaculture — are well-documented. The use of “net pens” in coastal areas around the world have resulted in local pollution, spread of disease and parasites, and escapement of non-native species. These problems are especially evident in the fjords of British Columbia where dozens of large-scale Atlantic Salmon farms have led to public outcry following the publication of peer-reviewed scientific papers demonstrating that nearby wild salmon populations are becoming infected with “sea lice,” (small parasitic crustaceans) from the captive salmon.

On April 26 and 27, 2010, Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Coastal Studies partnered with Tides Canada and the SOS Marine Conservation Foundation to host a workshop to explore the viability of land-based closed-containment recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). Over 60 participants from industry, government, investors, academia, First Nations, and environmental and conservation foundations (including 1planet1ocean,
long an advocate for RAS or “next-generation” aquaculture systems ) came together to examine the current status closed-containment aquaculture, discuss potential barriers to creating this new growth industry in British Columbia (B.C.) and develop an action plan to aid in moving this industry forward. There is now consensus that it is time to explore this technology further as a mechanism to establish B.C. as a leader in creating a globally renowned, stable and viable aquaculture industry. Already, major Canada food retailer Overwaitea, a participant in the workshop, is sourcing salmon from a small closed-containment system for Coho Salmon in Washington State and indicated during the workshop that it would purchase much more if there were a supply.

A report just released by Canada’s SOS Marine Conservation Fund concludes that land-based, closed-containment RAS for growing salmon in B.C. would be profitable and could sustain an aquaculture industry that is both sustainable and profitable. RAS systems recirculate their water and have no contact with natural water bodies or wild fish populations and therefore do not create problems of disease, parasites (sea lice) or escapement typical of traditional in-water net pen fish farming. The report demonstrates that closed containment systems can be made even more profitable by growing hydroponic vegetables using excess nitrogen waste from the fish.

On June 7, 2010, Tides Canada, in collaboration with Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Coastal Studies, will be hosting an invitation-only educational workshop (see details below) designed for socially responsible investors to learn more about the technical and economic feasibility of land-based closed-containment salmon aquaculture, the opportunities and challenges, and the initiatives underway to demonstrate this new technology. In addition, input from the investment community is sought to better identify what is required to bring investors together to move this industry forward at a commercial scale.

Learn More:

SOS Marine Conservation Foundation Report: Technologies for Viable Salmon Aquaculture – An Examination of Land-Based Closed Containment Aquaculture by Dr. Andrew S. Wright

Vancouver Sun: Fish Farms Should Be On Land

CBC Radio (Audio) : Dr. Andrew Wright interviewed on BC Almanac (12 May 2010)

Next-Generation Aquaculture: The Future of Fishing on Planet Earth

Workshop Announcement

The Technical and Economic Feasibility of Closed-Containment Salmon Aquaculture:
An Educational Workshop for Socially-Responsible Investors

June 7, 2010

Vancouver, British Columbia

Cuba's beautiful and unspoiled Guanahacabibes Biosphere Reserve, a critical sea turtle nesting area

Request an Invitation and Meeting Agenda

Invest in Building British Columbia’s New Sustainable Aquaculture Industry

Tides Canada, in collaboration with Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Coastal Studies, is hosting an invitation-only educational workshop designed for socially-responsible investors to learn more about the technical and economic feasibility of land-based closed-containment salmon aquaculture, the opportunities and challenges, and the initiatives underway to demonstrate this new technology.

Contact Us for More Information



50 States Expedition Update

14 States, 48 Speeches, 42,000 Miles, 12,000 Students…

The Ocean Doctor’s “50 Years – 50 States – 50 Speeches” Expedition stopped in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the first U.S. Territory on the tour. Students from Wesleyan Academy on St. Thomas smile for the camera. (Photo: Nicolas Drayton)

In April, Ocean Doctor’s “50 Years – 50 States – 50 Speeches” Expedition touched down in its first visit to a U.S. Territory: The U.S. Virgin Islands. Dr. David Guggenheim, also known as the “Ocean Doctor,” was the first scientist to tour the Territory’s schools as part of a new “Celebrity Scientists Tour” sponsored by the Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (VI-EPSCoR) which promotes the development of the Territory’s science and technology resources through multi-disciplinary research and educational programs. With funding from the National Science Foundation, the objective of the Tour is to strengthen interest, research skills and intellectual development.

Well-known local, national and international scientists will visit schools in the U.S. Virgin Islands in hope of increasing students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math. The visiting scientists are experts in their field and each has committed to mentoring at least two students who show particular interest and potential in the scientists’ area of expertise. The scientists will provide networking opportunities, academic guidance, and information on workshops and conferences to their prot?g’s.

The “Ocean Doctor” and VI-EPSCoR Coordinator, Nicolas Drayton, provided presentations to the St. Croix Country Day School, St. Croix Educational Complex High School, St. Croix Central High School, and Wesleyan Academy on St. Thomas. There was also a community presentation hosted by Coral World and two radio appearances.

Please help the Ocean Doctor reach the remaining states in the coming months by making a tax-deductible donation to The Ocean Foundation:


A Word from the Ocean Doctor…

Waiting for the Oil

On July 18, 1975, the tanker Garbis spilled 1,500 to 3,000 barrels of crude oil into the warm, turquoise, coral-rich waters roughly 26 miles south-southwest of the Marquesas Keys, Florida. The oil was blown ashore along a 30-mile stretch of the Florida Keys, east of Key West. I was 16 and enjoying my second summer at Seacamp, a marine science camp on Big Pine Key. Rumors of the spill raced throughout the campus until finally, instructor James Smithson decided to find out for himself what menace might be approaching. He took a small away team aboard his 21-foot Mako, “Isurus,” and made haste south toward the reef tract. We waited impatiently for word back as the sun fell to the horizon and scattered its tranquil orange glow across the water.
What I saw next filled me with dread. The Isurus entered the harbor, its white hull stained with enormous swaths of dark brown oil. In that moment the menace was no longer abstract, and to my young mind, everything we treasured — the corals, the mangroves, the fish, the turtles –was on the brink of extermination.
On July 18, 1975, the tanker Garbis spilled 1,500 to 3,000 barrels of crude oil into the warm, turquoise, coral-rich waters roughly 26 miles south-southwest of the Marquesas Keys, Florida. The oil was blown ashore along a 30-mile stretch of the Florida Keys, east of Key West. I was 16 and enjoying my second summer at Seacamp, a marine science camp on Big Pine Key. Rumors of the spill raced throughout the campus until finally, instructor James Smithson decided to find out for himself what menace might be approaching. He took a small away team aboard his 21-foot Mako, “Isurus,” and made haste south toward the reef tract. We waited impatiently for word back as the sun fell to the horizon and scattered its tranquil orange glow across the water. What I saw next filled me with dread. The Isurus entered the harbor, its white hull stained with enormous swaths of dark brown oil. In that moment the menace was no longer abstract, and to my young mind, everything we treasured — the corals, the mangroves, the fish, the turtles –was on the brink of extermination.

More bad news: The tides were predicted to bring the oil in toward shore overnight. But what could we do — a bunch of unruly long-haired kids? Simple. Seacamp is a science camp, so we would do science. I was among the older students and felt lucky to be included in a group of students and instructors shuttled to the south side of the island to do transect studies along the south-facing shores and tidepools. With measuring tapes, pencils, clipboard, flashlights and bug spray — lots of bug spray — we’d carefully measure each and every critter in each and every crevice so that if the oil hit, we’d have both a before and after picture. We couldn’t protect our shores, but we could hopefully learn from them. We stayed out the entire evening — it was exhausting and exhilarating.

At morning’s light there was no sign of the oil. It never arrived. I never really learned where it ultimately went. In retrospect, it was the most glorious waste of time I ever spent. I had never felt so strongly focused and such a sense of camaraderie with any group before. We were off our collective asses doing something constructive in the face of a terrible situation, in hindsight a powerful lesson for a teenager. Years later I found a study that indicated that the oil had come ashore in some areas, and several habitats were affected, killing echinoderms, oysters and mangroves.

As I write this, respected scientists are scoffing at the 5,000 barrel per day figure that BP claims is gushing from the Deepwater Horizon spill, suggesting that the actual number is more than 10 times greater. This would mean that the spill is already 500 times greater than the Garbis spill ever was. The spill is already wreaking havoc along the marshes of the Gulf Coast and in the unseen stretches of the water column and the deep Gulf offshore, which teems with life. Now the vast, powerful Loop Current that snakes through the Gulf is beginning to draw the oil into it, posing a direct threat to points downstream, including Cuba’s northwestern coast and perhaps Florida.

During my “50-States” tour and my meetings with students around the country, I am gratified to see their love and concern for the oceans, even among students who have never seen an ocean before. But I’m also pained that after decades of arrogance, carelessness and treating the oceans more like it belongs to large corporations than as the public trust that it is, it seems that we’ve failed to learn our lessons and have burdened our children with an environmental disaster of historic proportions, the effects of which will no doubt still be felt when they’re raising kids of their own. But if my generation didn’t get it right, I’m still hopeful that the next one will. This is a whopper of a lesson to learn from and change will come from it. But most of all, I’m buoyed by the kids themselves, like the young student at Maine’s Blue Hill Consolidated School who raised her hand during our discussion of the oil spill and, pointing to her classmates, asked simply, “What can we do?”

David E. Guggenheim, Ph.D., the “Ocean Doctor”

President, 1planet1ocean; Senior Fellow, The Ocean Foundation

P.S. For my personal commentary from at sea or behind my desk, I invite you to read OceanDoctor’s Blog

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ExpeditionDispatch is the newsletter of 1planet1ocean,a project of The Ocean Foundation

? Copyright 2009 1planet1ocean. All Rights Reserved.

1planet1ocean, a project of The Ocean Foundation, is a nonprofit organization founded
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Expeditionary research to identify and map important marine ecosystems, especially coral
ecosystems, in order to inform strong conservation policies.

Sustainable aquaculture and the promotion of next-generation land-based recirculating
aquaculture systems in order to reduce pressure on wild fish stocks and
provide a sustainable alternative that supports local communities.

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