President Trump will head for Miami Friday where he’s expected to roll back some of the Obama administration’s initiatives to improve relations with Cuba, apparently siding with those who oppose détente and putting aside calls from U.S. businesses that see Cuba as a lucrative future market.
Aside from impacting any potential business for our industry, there are other reasons to examine carefully what’s announced. Hopefully no policy changes will be advocated that might slow down or even stop ongoing cooperation and partnership between Cuban and American entities. Here are two examples that should concern us in boating:
It’s likely not widely known, but Cuba is expected to initiate oil drilling operations as close as 45 miles to Key West, Fla. Moreover, Cuba’s drilling equipment is known to be technologically second-rate at best. Does the potential for a major oil spill that would likely hit both the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts cross your mind?
The Deepwater Horizon disaster notwithstanding, we know that U.S. oil field equipment is generally state of the art. It makes Cuban rigs look like Beetle Bailey designs. But Cuba can’t get this gear because we currently restrict the transfer of any such equipment containing more than 25 percent U.S. content. Perhaps all oil drilling equipment should be exempted by the U.S. Treasury Department (it reportedly has the authority) from this rule, said Lee Hunt, an oil drilling consultant, at a recent meeting in Tampa to examine the challenges of responding to oil spills in the Caribbean region.
A sensible bilateral accord with Cuba that would enable both nations to work together if an oil spill in one nation’s waters threatened the other’s has been worked on, but never finalized. Will a sound idea like that remain possible after Friday’s announcement?
On another subject, scientists from the University of South Florida Marine Sciences Department took their research vessel to Cuban waters for the first time last month to establish key baseline measurements of existing conditions. Such baseline data on the Gulf was lacking prior to the BP Deepwater Horizon spill. The research team paid particular attention to conditions in the Florida Straits because that’s the “in and outs” of water flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.
On still another front, there is genuine recognition that the world is losing its coral reefs. It should not be viewed by our industry as some distant problem. Simply put, we need to be concerned because these reefs are crucial incubators of the ocean’s ecosystem, providing food, breeding and nursery for a quarter of all marine species. And there’s a positive American-Cuban connection ongoing in this arena right now.
The Florida Aquarium essentially made history last summer when it partnered with the National Aquarium of Cuba in Havana on coral reef research. It was the first-ever such collaboration and finally recognized there are serious common interests here. It involves sharing their individual research with a goal of improving the health of coral reefs.
It also involves designing a coral greenhouse and building a coral nursery in Cuba. In this effort, scientists from both aquariums met last August in Key Largo, Fla., to collect staghorn coral spawn to be used in ongoing research on replenishing dying reefs. A goal was to learn if cryogenically frozen coral semen, when thawed, could still fertilize an egg. This would allow the aquariums to use banked sperm to programs to repopulate the Caribbean.
In mid-December, it was thawed and swam. While the Smithsonian Institution had already demonstrated this could be accomplished with other types of coral, no one had done it with staghorn, which is recognized as the most important reef-building coral in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean region includes Florida where our nation’s largest coral reef stretches about 360 miles from west of the Florida Keys to Martin County on the east coast. These reefs are important to fishing for hundreds of species, like grouper, snapper, spiny lobster and many more.
Finally, more than half of the Caribbean coral reefs, which are collectively known homes to an estimated 4,000 species of fish and plants, have died since 1970 according to the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network. Reason enough to hope that any changes announced in U.S. policy regarding Cuba doesn’t cripple or prevent these kinds of important partnerships from flourishing.