Cuba and America have come together to help preserve the array of sharks that live between the Cuban coast and the Florida coast. After 50 years of threats, bad-mouthing and trade embargoes, a new era of political relations between the two former enemies has led to some great environmental news.
Under an agreement announced at an oceans conference in Valparaíso, Chile, the U.S. and Cuba will work together to map ocean life and create species inventories of sharks across the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Straits. The agreement also says that Cuban fishermen are to record and limit shark catches.
Scientists estimate 20% of the world’s 500 shark species can be found in Cuban waters, such as the longfin mako (Isurus paucus), the Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezii) and even great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias).
The plan is the product of two years of work between the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Cuban authorities. It was only made possible now the two countries are back on talking terms after their 50-year long ideological scrap appears to have been taken off the heat.
After the conclusion of the revolution in 1959, Cuba became politically isolated from much of the world and focused on agricultural development, while the rest of the world invested in industrial looting of the environment. This unique history has allowed unique biodiversity to develop in Cuba. The country has some of the world’s healthiest coral reefs and some of its most interesting marine life.
Even though the Cold War has eased since the '90s, tensions between the U.S. and Cuba meant it was hard to implement any cross-border environmental plans. However, since Obama pledged to engage with Cuba in 2008, the new cautious friendship has spawned a wealth of scientific collaborations between the two countries.
Jorge Angulo-Valdés, a marine researcher at the University of Havana and the University of Florida, told Nature: “It’s a big step forward for Cuba and the region. It’s time for us to get together, identify common goals in resource management and make them work.”
The move also hopes to encourage American investors and philanthropists to fund Cuban conservation efforts, who were previously concerned of the political stigma.