Rare col­lab­o­ra­tion

Marine bi­ol­ogy brings US and Cuban re­searchers to­gether.

Gulf Times Community - - FRONT PAGE - By Mimi White­field

There are no bor­ders that sep­a­rate the water, reefs and marine life off the coasts of Cuba and Florida, and that’s why sci­en­tists in both coun­tries say they need to get along and col­lab­o­rate.

Dur­ing the re­cent MarCuba con­fer­ence in Ha­vana, US sci­en­tific in­sti­tu­tions were well rep­re­sented and re­searchers also used the con­fer­ence to high­light re­search col­lab­o­ra­tions and a mile­stone edi­tion of the Bul­letin of Marine Science, a re­spected marine science jour­nal pub­lished by the Uni­ver­sity of Mi­ami’s Rosen­stiel School of Marine and At­mo­spheric Science.

The Bul­letin de­voted its en­tire spring is­sue to marine science re­search in Cuba, car­ried out by US and Cuban sci­en­tists.

“Science plays an ex­cel­lent role in diplo­macy,” said Joe Ro­man, a con­ser­va­tion bi­ol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­sity of Ver­mont and the guest ed­i­tor of the spe­cial Cuba edi­tion. What bet­ter area for col­lab­o­ra­tion than one with shared ocean sys­tems, fish­eries and con­ser­va­tion ef­forts, he said.

What bet­ter area for col­lab­o­ra­tion than one with shared ocean sys­tems, fish­eries and con­ser­va­tion ef­forts — Joe Ro­man, US con­ser­va­tion bi­ol­o­gist

The re­cent Cuba edi­tion of the Bul­letin of Marine Science was his­toric be­cause for years the jour­nal’s edi­tors be­lieved the em­bargo pre­vented them from pub­lish­ing the re­search pa­pers of Cuban sci­en­tists

In a Bul­letin ed­i­to­rial, Ro­man wrote that the Cuba edi­tion “cel­e­brates Cuban marine science and con­ser­va­tion ef­forts, while recog­nis­ing that im­proved re­la­tions and in­creased tourism and trade could put some nat­u­ral ar­eas at risk. Joint re­search shows prom­ise that Cuba, the US, and other coun­tries can work to­gether on re­gional con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.”

“It’s time for Cuban re­searchers to reach a wider au­di­ence,” Ro­man said.

“This re­search 90 miles to the south is rel­e­vant to Florida’s ecosys­tems too; we’re con­nected,” said Dan Whit­tle, an at­tor­ney who heads the Cuba pro­gramme at the En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense Fund.

Among the top­ics the pa­pers ex­plore are: how fish­ing, pol­lu­tion and cli­mate change have af­fected the coral reefs off Ha­vana; con­ser­va­tion of marine tur­tles and man­a­tees, marine pro­tected ar­eas in Cuba, com­mer­cial fish­eries in Cuba, the move­ments of fe­male silky sharks, and how Cuban land use and con­ser­va­tion ef­forts have af­fected coral reefs.

By ne­ces­sity, be­cause fer­tilis­ers and other chem­i­cals haven’t been read­ily avail­able, agri­cul­tural has be­come more or­ganic in Cuba. That means less chem­i­cal runoff and “this has had a good ef­fect on the coral reef,” said Ro­man.

Cuban corals also seem to be more re­silient to warm­ing wa­ters than those off the Florida coast.

One of the high­lights of the Cuban edi­tion was a Cuban fish­eries re­port that used new sci­en­tific tools that al­low ac­cess to fish pop­u­la­tions when not much data is avail­able. “The au­thors reached the con­clu­sion that a num­ber of species are highly sus­cep­ti­ble to over fish­ing,” said Whit­tle.

The re­cent Cuba edi­tion of the Bul­letin of Marine Science was his­toric be­cause for years the jour­nal’s edi­tors be­lieved the em­bargo pre­vented them from pub­lish­ing the re­search pa­pers of Cuban sci­en­tists.

Af­ter the 1996 Helms-Bur­ton Act strength­ened the em­bargo, the uni­ver­sity’s gen­eral coun­sel de­ferred to an in­ter­pre­ta­tion by Trea­sury’s Of­fice of For­eign As­sets Con­trol that schol­arly pub­li­ca­tion of work by au­thors from sanc­tioned na­tions, in­clud­ing Cuba, was pro­hib­ited, said Ge­of­frey S. Shideler, as­sis­tant ed­i­tor of the Bul­letin of Marine Science.

The hang-up was that the edit­ing and other ser­vices as­so­ci­ated with get­ting an ar­ti­cle by a Cuban re­searcher ready for a peer-re­viewed pub­li­ca­tion could be in­ter­preted as adding value or an eco­nomic ben­e­fit to the work, po­ten­tially run afoul of the em­bargo, Whit­tle said.

Even­tu­ally, he said, the reg­u­la­tions were changed so that such peer-re­viewed publi­ca­tions were per­mit­ted, pro­vided that those pro­duc­ing the con­tent were not Cuban gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. In Cuba, that’s a hazy area be­cause pretty much ev­ery­one, ex­cept self-em­ployed work­ers, are on gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ment rolls.

“Some Amer­i­can jour­nals

chose to ig­nore that (restric­tion) and pub­lished Cuban re­search. Oth­ers did not and in­ter­preted the reg­u­la­tion quite con­ser­va­tively,” Whit­tle said.

That was the case with the

Bul­letin of Marine Science, which be­gan pub­lish­ing in 1951 as the

Bul­letin of Marine Science of the

Gulf and Car­ib­bean. “It was un­clear for many years,” Shideler said.

In 2014, while work­ing with stu­dents in Cuba, Ro­man said he was sur­prised to learn that Pa­tri­cia Gon­za­lez-Diaz, a Cuban col­league who is now di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Marine Re­search at the Uni­ver­sity of Ha­vana, had sub­mit­ted a pa­per to the Bul­letin and it had been re­jected with­out any re­view.

“I had no idea that there would be a prob­lem with Cuban pa­pers,” he said. That prompted Ro­man and some of his sci­en­tific col­leagues to be­gin look­ing over the US reg­u­la­tions. “We dis­cov­ered there was an ex­emp­tion in the reg­u­la­tions” for aca­demics and aca­demic pa­pers, he said.

A guid­ance pub­lished by the US Of­fice of For­eign As­sets Con­trol in Oc­to­ber 2016 fi­nally made that clear. It said that par­tic­i­pat­ing or col­lab­o­rat­ing with a US pub­lish­ing project is fine as long as an in­di­vid­ual is “not act­ing on be­half of the Cuban gov­ern­ment” and is “pub­lish­ing in his or her per­sonal ca­pac­ity.”

Fur­ther­more, it said “col­lab­o­rat­ing on the cre­ation and en­hance­ment of writ­ten publi­ca­tions” and the “sub­stan­tive edit­ing of writ­ten publi­ca­tions” is per­mit­ted.

Many jour­nals hadn’t no­ticed that clar­i­fi­ca­tion, said Ro­man. “When we ap­proached the ed­i­tor of the Bul­letin of Marine Science, he passed the in­for­ma­tion on to the gen­eral coun­sel and very quickly the pol­icy was over­turned,” he said.

Not only did the Bul­letin edi­tors agree to con­sider pub­lish­ing re­search by Cuban sci­en­tists but they de­cided to bring out the spe­cial Cuba edi­tion with Ro­man and Gon­za­lez-Diaz serv­ing as guest edi­tors.

Pub­lish­ing the spe­cial Cuba edi­tion was some­thing of a re­turn to the Bul­letin’s roots. In its early years marine re­search from Cuba had been part of the jour­nal and a re­searcher from Cuba sat on the first ed­i­to­rial board, said Shideler.

“With the pub­li­ca­tion of this spe­cial is­sue, we look for­ward to re­ceiv­ing high-qual­ity publi­ca­tions from re­searchers in the re­gion” and from all over the globe, he said.

Many of the au­thors who con­trib­uted to the Bul­letin of

Marine Science were at last month’s MarCuba con­fer­ence, and there was a panel on US-Cuba re­search co-op­er­a­tion and pre­sen­ta­tions on three dif­fer­ent Cuba-US marine re­search ex­pe­di­tions in Cuban wa­ters over the 18 months.

“It was a way to cel­e­brate the end of the aca­demic em­bargo,” Whit­tle said. —Mi­ami Her­ald/TNS

EX­PLO­RATION: A vol­un­teer diver prunes some staghorn coral to be re­planted by a group of vol­un­teers dur­ing a Uni­ver­sity of Mi­ami coral restora­tion pro­gramme out of Key Bis­cayne, Florida.

AZURE WA­TERS: A marine pro­tected area in Cuba.

LOVE’S LABOUR WON: The plan­ning took two years, but a team of US and Cuban sci­en­tists ex­plored Cuba’s coral reef, re­veal­ing a vi­brant zone awash in marine life and colours.

GROUP POSER: US del­e­gates with youth en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists at the Cuban Marine Science con­fer­ence.

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