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

Cubans and Americans display the flags of both nations following a historic 2-day meeting in Cancún, México on collaboration in marine science & conservation

CANCÚN, México — In a historic meeting co-organized and led by the Washington, DC-based Center for International Policy and the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, a group of 15 Cubans and 15 Americans met in Cancún, Mexico to develop a plan for taking joint marine research and conservation activities between the U.S. and Cuba to a new level. Collaboration between U.S. and Cuban scientists has been exceedingly difficult because of the decades-old U.S. embargo, even though research is a permitted activity and U.S. scientists are allowed to travel to Cuba. Complicated logistics and ever-changing politics have prevented all but a few U.S. institutions from successful collaborative projects in Cuba.

1planet1ocean president Dr. David E. Guggenheim, HRI Advisory Council member and manager of its Cuba Program, organized and led the November 1-2 meeting along with Dr. Wayne Smith of the Center for International Policy. The conference was conceived of in recognition of the critical need for more scientific research in the Gulf of Mexico and Western Caribbean, and the key role that Cuban waters play in the ecosystem. The Cancún meeting brought together major institutions from both countries to establish research priorities and to chart a way forward toward stronger and more comprehensive collaborative activities.

At the end of the two-day meeting, a framework plan of action was established with the following priorities: Research and conservation of coral reefs, sharks, sea turtles and dolphins, improved management and conservation of fish resources, and strengthening of marine protected areas. The proceedings of the meeting are currently being drafted. Working groups — each headed by one Cuban and one American — are leading continuing dialogue on each of the priority areas. A follow-up meeting is scheduled in 6-12 months and will include the participation of México. Over the past few years, HRI and its partner, University of Havana’s Centro de Investigaciones Marinas (Center for Marine Research), have conducted a number of research expeditions and related research efforts along Cuba’s Gulf of Mexico, the 320 km expanse along its northwest coast, in a project called Proyecto Costa Noroccidental (Project of the Northwest Coast).

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