October 28, 2009

Scientists To Collaborate On Gulf Of Mexico Research

Scientists in the United States, Mexico and Cuba have outlined plans to conduct joint research in the Gulf of Mexico, the body of water shared by the three nations but about which little collaborative research has been done.

The move is another indication of improving relations between the U.S. and Cuba, the communist-led island separated from the U.S. by just 90 miles of ocean.

The scientists, including 30 Americans, 30 Cubans and six Mexicans, met in Havana on Sunday and Monday ahead of an international meeting on ocean science set for later this week.  The participants reached an agreement on the top priorities for gathering information about the Gulf.

"This is a logical, low-risk area in which to begin discussions with Cuba. It is without question in our mutual interest to share science and ideas on our shared resources like the Gulf of Mexico," Environmental Defense Fund senior attorney Dan Whittle, who attended the meeting, told Reuters on Tuesday.

"We're starting now to enter a new era of collaboration," said David Guggenheim, a marine scientist who organized the meeting. 

Guggenheim also leads the Washington-based advocacy group 1planet1ocean.

The plan assumes that U.S.-Cuba relations will continue to improve under President Obama, who has said he wants to end half a century of hostile relations between the two nations.

The president has initiated discussions on migration and the resumption of postal service with Cuba, and has also allowed Cuban Americans to travel freely and send money back to their homeland.

Nevertheless, a general travel ban to Cuba remains in place for most Americans, as does the United States' 47-year-long trade embargo.

And travel restrictions for U.S. and Cuban academics between the two nations are also still in place, although they have eased a bit under Obama, Guggenheim told Reuters.

To ensure a "free flow of information" between Cuba and the U.S., president Obama must remove all obstacles for researchers, Whittle said.

The scientists' plan calls for shared projects to monitor marine animals, and to study the effects of pollutants and climate change on coral reefs.

Cuba has leased out a large portion of its offshore area for oil exploration, something that would raise the risk of oil spills that computer models show would ultimately flow north to Florida, Reuters reported.

"We need a dialogue to talk about coordinated emergency response. Everything points to the need for collaboration and communication, not continuation of a Cold War policy," said Guggenheim.


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