A new approach on the environment
By Raimundo Espinoza
After decades of non-existent diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, President Obama forever changed things in December, 2014, by stating that “America extends a hand of friendship” to the Cuban people, and began charting a new course for re-establishing diplomatic relations.
As the relationship between the two countries is starting to change, there is an unlikely leader helping turn the tide between the U.S. and Cuba: the environmental conservation community.
Many people may not realize that conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy have been working in Cuba to help protect the island’s environment for more than 20 years.
Since President Obama’s historic declaration, the two countries started to work together even more closely. Last October, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that negotiations between the two governments were already underway about the creation of a sister marine protected areas arrangement.
After that, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Park Service entered into an agreement with Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment to further help advance science, stewardship, and effective management of protected areas.
In late January, another groundbreaking advancement took place when a Cuban government delegation traveled to Florida to participate in a week-long exchange on Invasive Exotic Species and Fire Management with the U.S. National Park Service, which was facilitated and funded by The Nature Conservancy.
This meeting included representatives from the Cuban delegation as well as from US agencies like National Park Service, Office of Everglades Restoration Initiatives, USDA, U.S. Geological Survey, South Florida Water Management District, University of Florida, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Cuba hosts the highest diversity of ecosystems in the Caribbean with plentiful natural resources, many of which, like commercial fish species, travel to US waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic where they enter our domestic fish stocks. This diversity is at risk of being impacted by invasive exotic species, which endanger the lands and waters that native plants and animals need to survive. The estimated damage from invasive species globally totals over $1 trillion, so if not controlled, they will continue to hurt economies and threaten human well-being.
After days of presentations and conversations, it became clear that both countries have similar common threats to their local ecosystems and similar strategies to handle them, so both countries benefit from an open dialogue and sharing strategies. By coming together to learn from each other and collaborate on improved management of natural resources, both countries benefit by better protecting our shared environment for the people that depend on it.
Raimundo Espinoza is the Cuba Program Manager for The Nature Conservancy.