A report by Ian Reitz for WTSP.
It’s about a two-mile boat ride from a national park to the edge of a coral reef in Cuba. The team from Tampa and Havana will use PVC pipes to make what they call coral nursery trees. They’ll be placed underwater to grow coral.
“Coral reefs cover about 2-percent of ocean bottom, but they’re responsible for 25-percent of all life in the ocean. If you’re going to work on conservation in ocean good investment to get good return,” explains Margo McKnight is the Senior Vice President for Conservation, Research and Science at the Florida Aquarium.
The team has taken eight trips to Havana. It’s part of an historic partnership with the Cuba National Aquarium that’s flourishing.
“Underwater there’s no language barrier, so we work super underwater together. Our scientists and their scientists are an amazing and unstoppable when you put them underwater,” said McKnight.
The partnership to study the reefs is historic. It’s the first time the aquarium in Cuba has agreed to work with one in the United States.
Talks between the two aquariums started in 2014, more than 5 decades after the embargo went into place. In 2016, the US began to ease travel restrictions with Cuba. Then President Obama visited Havana, at the same time the Tampa Bay Rays traveled to Cuba to play an exhibition game with the Cuban National Team. It was the first such game in 17 years.
Today cruise ships leave from Port Tampa Bay bound for Cuba and there are flights from TIA to Havana. The National Aquarium’s partnership adds to this evolving relationship between Tampa and the island nation.
“It’s an isolated island that’s hoping now to be not isolated and we share the same ocean. So, although humans may draw some lines, coral doesn’t or the fish of sea turtles that swim back and forth. It’s an absolute artificial barrier. So, it’s fun. We’re breaking that barriers through important species of animals for benefit of both countries.”
McKnight explains that the coral they are growing is important to our waters because everything can live in that type of coral. Researchers hope this work helps them learn more about our shared resources and find ways to save and reproduce similar reefs in the Florida Keys.
“One of our research sites is 100 miles from theirs. But when you look at quality of the ecosystems and life there it’s like a world away. Best way to learn to restore to what you want is to look at a model at what’s similar. We learn so much spending time on their reef to see what we could have again,” said McKnight.