Cuba and U.S. Scientists Joining Forces To Know Caribbean and Climate Change

Cuba’s coral reefs are among the most pristine in the Caribbean. In new and ongoing collaborations, NOAA and Cuban scientists will compare Cuban reefs with nearby U.S. reefs.

During President Obama’s history-making visit to Cuba this week, his trip will also highlight ongoing collaborations between U.S. scientists and researchers in the nation only 90 miles off Florida.

In particular, as the two nations work together, more will be learned about coral reefs and marine environments.

“Ocean currents know no boundaries,” noted Billy Causey of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries’ Southeast Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean region. “They’re a conveyor belt, moving important marine life between our countries. Working together will help us better preserve these natural resources to benefit people in both our countries.”

Late in 2015, the collaboration began when NOAA, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) and Cuba’s National Center for Protected Areas made an agreement to share scientific research so that the two nations could join efforts on ecologically significant resources in the Caribbean.

Their focus will be on five areas: Cuba’s Guanahacabibes National Park, which includes coral reefs located offshore at Banco de San Antonio; Flower Garden Banks and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries (both with NOAA); and the NPS’s Dry Tortugas and Biscayne national parks.

Cuban coral reefs are known to be among some of the region’s most pristine. The one at Banco de San Antonio hosts an incredible array of 100 fish species, 15 coral species, 40 types of sponges, sea turtles and other marine life. We also know that all is fluid in the oceans and the health of the two countries’ reefs are intertwined. For that reason, NOAA scientists will compare the other nation’s reefs with nearby ones in our waters. This will provide learnings on the ways climate change and (other) human effects are having an impact on these ecosystems.

There will also be collaborative fisheries and joined oceanographic research. As early as 2015, marine scientists from Cuba went with NOAA fisheries biologists and oceanographers on the NOAA ship Nancy Foster to survey for two months for fish larvae in the coastal waters of Cuba.

In part, they were continuing a long-term study of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a valued commercial species and threatened fish. In the continuation of this study in the spring, researchers will help to better the tuna stock assessments for the Gulf of Mexico and western Caribbean.

“We’re going to learn a great deal from Cuban marine scientists and be able to share with them what we know about the region,” noted Jim Hendee at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. “Adding environmental information from these habitats is like finding the missing piece of a puzzle. It will help both countries improve our decisions about the management of the larger marine ecosystem.”

By Catherine Arnold – http://www.hngn.com

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