Discover Your Island

Harte Research Institute Leadership Explores Expanding Role in Cuba

December 22, 2015

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas —The Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is moving forward with a number of cooperative endeavors with Cuban scientists and students this spring as the United States government moves to reestablish diplomatic ties with the island nation with an eye towards environmental protection initiatives.

As one of the few academic institutions licensed to work in Cuba, HRI has been engaged with the Cuban marine science community since its inception in 2002.

“Our first years working in Cuba we really focused on getting scientists together to discuss the issues and come up with small-scale projects,” said HRI Executive Director Larry McKinney said. “Now, as the country opens up, that’s beginning to change and we’re really shifting our focus to look at larger-scale projects that we can begin to move forward. Our staff is not new to Cuba or the region, and our Institute’s mission is to support a more sustainable future for the entire tri-national Gulf region.”

This spring, HRI will be moving forward with two initiatives in Cuba:

  • A two-day coastal and ocean monitoring and conservation research and integration workshop in Havana, Cuba, aimed at advancing coastal and ocean monitoring in the nation through research and network development and integration activities. Gathering data on environmental change in Cuba has been identified by the scientific community as one of the biggest opportunities for U.S.-Cuban collaborative science, and can provide the key information to understanding a wide range of marine and coastal issues in the Gulf, like water quality and salinity, habitat change, climate/temperature variability, sea level rise and ocean acidification.
  •  An International Workshop on Governance for the Gulf of Mexico aimed at providing students with an integrated understanding of national and international resource management and conservation policies in the Gulf of Mexico region through an educational and cultural experience. This year’s experience will take place in Cuba, with students from the U.S., Mexico and Cuba coming together to contribute their perspectives on the social, economic, political and environmental issues to develop better management strategies for sustainable management of Gulf of Mexico resources.

In November, HRI leadership traveled to Cuba to attend major conferences in marine science and policy, including MarCuba, where McKinney delivered a keynote address, and the Trinational Initiative for Marine Science and Conservation in the Gulf of Mexico and Western Caribbean.

McKinney and Dr. Wes Tunnell have given keynote addresses at the last three MarCuba scientific meetings, which attract Cuba’s leading marine scientists and some 500 participants from 30 countries.

HRI was a founding participant in the Trinational Initiative, a historic meeting organized with the goal of establishing a framework for collaboration between Cuba, Mexico and the United States for ongoing joint scientific research and to develop a regional plan of action designed to preserve and protect shared waters and marine habitats.

Cuba is home to important Gulf resources and talented scientists, McKinney said. But due to the U.S. embargo, Cuban researchers have lacked basic access to things we take for granted at home, like state-of-the-art computers, scientific equipment, the Internet and the vast library of scientific literature it can access.

The United States recently signed a Joint Statement on Cooperative Environment Protection with Cuba, aimed at collaborating on environmental protection initiatives in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. In light of these expanding opportunities, McKinney said HRI is exploring possibilities for other collaborative work in Cuba, including a project that would map the island nation’s sea grasses. Some of the most well-known work internationally has focused on mapping coral reefs, but McKinney said that it’s the sea grasses that actually provide vital habitat for the nation’s fishery. The institute also is exploring collaborative work with Cuba in the area of ecosystems services, which helps to understand both monetary and non-monetary value that residents derive from their natural resources. This will allow the nation to better understand the value of its natural resources as it opens itself up to expanding tourism, and make better decisions about which portions of the island to develop, and which to preserve.

“Our institute’s mission is to promote excellence in conservation, research and innovative public policy in the Gulf of Mexico through a tri-national relationship between scientists from the United States, Mexico and Cuba,” McKinney said. “Up until this point, we’ve had more progress in Mexico due to the official barriers in Cuba, but those barriers are dropping now and I’m really excited to see what we can accomplish as we move forward.”