As human contributions to climate change and U.S. relations with Cuba continue to divide the country, the Florida Aquarium is pushing ahead with a project that cuts across both issues.
President and chief executive Roger Germann visited in Havana on Tuesday to sign a new memorandum of understanding with Cuba’s National Aquarium enabling them to continue working together on restoring the coral reefs in Caribbean waters.
A memorandum first signed in 2015 has expired. The new one runs through 2023.
"Every five years we can make adjustments as needed," Germann said during a Wednesday news conference at the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa. "The world is changing, the climate is changing, the Gulf of Mexico is changing."
Both aquariums agree that one reason behind the demise of the reefs is climate change, Germann said.
"Climate change is affected by human interaction. The reality is our science shows that we do have an effect."
As for working with communist Cuba, Germann said, "The countries may have some odds at times, but this memorandum of understanding is really critical to the benefit of Florida, to the benefit of both countries."
Florida Aquarium remains the only U.S. institution of its kind that boasts a partnership with a Cuban aquarium.
The new memorandum calls for discussions on other collaborations in the years to come but coral will remain the focus.
Since the 1970s, half of the coral cover in Caribbean waters has died, according to a study by the International Coral Reef Initiative. But Cuba’s coral remains mostly pristine, Germann said.
"We can learn from how they protect and how they care for" their reefs, he said. "We will bring that knowledge back to the Florida Aquarium to help rebuild and restore our coral reefs."
The Florida Aquarium is a leader in the efforts to regrow coral in captivity for replanting on dying reefs. The research is done in partnership with the National Aquarium.
In June, scientists from the Florida Aquarium built an underwater coral nursery off Cuba’s westernmost point, the coast of the Guanahacabibes Peninsula. The coral grown there will aid in the research.
Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.