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Cuba and the Keys teaming up for marine-resource protection

Cuba and the Keys teaming up for marine-resource protection

First environmental agreement since December diplomatic breakthrough
The two nations will work together on research and
BY KEVIN WADLOW

Waters of the Florida Keys earned a co-starring role in the first major
environmental pact between the United States and Cuba since tensions
began easing in December.

Under the plan unsealed Oct. 5 at an international oceans conference in
, Cuba and the United States agree to work together on research and
education to safeguard the region’s biodiversity and marine protected
areas in the Keys and Cuba.

“This is the first agreement to cooperate on environmental issues since
the rapprochement in December,” Dan Whittle, senior director of the
Environmental Defense Fund’s Cuba program, said Oct. 7 from Chile.

Under the pact, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary — which marks
25 years in November — and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine
Sanctuary in the northwest Gulf of Mexico will become sister sanctuaries
with Guanahacabibes National Park and other Cuban marine protected areas.

“The idea is to take the broad ecosystem approach to try to really
capitalize on all the connections we have,” said Billy Causey, the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine sanctuaries
director for the Southeast Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean region.

“Ocean currents clearly connect the United States to Cuba and vice
versa,” Causey said. “There are threats to corals and fisheries both our
countries are experiencing, so we’ll work together over time to address
these things.”

For six decades, most federal agencies were barred from cooperating with
their Cuban counterparts. As a non-governmental organization, the
Environmental Defense Fund helped lay the groundwork for the oceans
agreement signed Oct. 5.

“This is the first time in my lifetime that these [U.S. and Cuban
environmental] agencies have formally talked together,” Whittle said.
Obama declared in December that the U.S. was ending its
“outdated approach” of isolating Cuba, and the two countries have each
opened an embassy in the other’s country.

“When that happened,” Whittle said, “we were ready to go.”

Causey previously briefed Cuban park managers on the Keys sanctuary
system while on a 2011 mission arranged by the EDF. American and Cuban
marine managers and scientists have met informally at international
conferences over the past seven years, Causey said.

“Our Cuban colleagues have the same concerns we do and ask the same
questions,” Causey said. “We cannot be in a discussion for more than
five minutes before people start asking: What are going to do about
lionfish?”

Mooring buoys in Cuban marine parks copy a design pioneered by in the
Keys by retired NOAA scientist John Halas of Key Largo. “John taught it
to Mexican parks, and they took it to Cuba,” Causey said.

“So many aspects of our marine environment are similar, from corals to
migratory fish species,” he said. “There are so many exciting things to
look at.”

Cuba has set a goal of setting aside a quarter of its nearshore waters
as marine reserves, Whittle said. “That’s an astoundingly large area
specifically to protect coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves,” he said.

“The Cubans are taking lessons learned from Florida, Mexico and the
Caribbean,” Whittle said. “Places that have not paid attention to these
special habitats have paid the price.”

Source: Cuba and the Keys teaming up for marine-resource protection |
Miami Herald –
www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/florida-keys/article39096687.html

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