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American, Cuban, Mexican scientists will meet to study Gulf of Mexico

Whether flowing past the shores of the United States, Cuba or Mexico, the life that teems in the Gulf of Mexico knows no political or geographical boundaries.

The same can't be said for the humans who study them.

Scientists from those three nations are at the mercy of the political climates in their own country and the others, too.

Many hope this month's meeting of American, Cuban and Mexican scientists at Sarasota's Mote Marine Laboratory is a sign that things are starting to change.

They'll be discussing ways all three nations can work together to study and preserve the Gulf of Mexico and deal with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Professor Frank Muller-Karger, an oceanographer at the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science, said it's hard for scientists to understand their own corner of the gulf without knowing what the other scientists have learned about their corners.

"We miss out on a lot of what's going on and how the Gulf of Mexico works," he said. "I'm interested in working with them so that we can understand how the water moves and how it affects underwater life in that part of the world and how it's connected.

"We know so little about what's going on in their waves and vice versa."

Kumar Mahadevan, president and chief executive of Mote Marine Lab Inc., said part of the conference will be dedicated to the oil spill disaster in the gulf. American scientists can share what they've learned about the Deepwater Horizon spill, and Mexican scientists can share what they learned after the Ixtoc I oil spill.

"Mexico had that terrible spill in 1979 and now we have the Deepwater Horizon spill in our waters," Mahadevan said. "Cuba is getting ready to drill for oil off their coast, so I think they can really benefit from the experience that the U.S. and Mexican scientists have had to prevent the same kind of issues."

This will be the fourth meeting of the Tri-National Initiative for Marine Science and Conservation of the Gulf of Mexico and Western Caribbean, set for Sept. 27-29.

Delegates from Cuba's Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología y Medio Ambiente (Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment), the Acuario Nacional de Cuba (the National Aquarium of Cuba) and the Instituto de Oceanologia (Institute of Oceanology) have been invited.

Their visas to visit the U.S., though, have not yet been issued. The Environmental Defense Fund is helping obtain them. The U.S. embargo has frustrated scientists in the past, said the fund's senior attorney, Daniel Whittle. He hopes this will be different.

Visas for 120 Cuban scientists were canceled on the eve of a Las Vegas conference in 2003, Whittle said. The next meetings were held overseas, in Cancún in 2007 and Havana in 2009. But last year the U.S. approved visits by four Cuban officials to Washington, D.C.

Muller-Karger complained that at one point the scientific exchange between the U.S. and Cuba "almost ground to a halt." This conference can't change things overnight, he said. But it can help.

"It's a small step," he said. "But every small step is a big deal."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

American, Cuban, Mexican scientists will meet to study Gulf of Mexico 09/14/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 10:26pm]
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