HRI and TAMU-CC partner with Cuban National Aquarium

Press Release
HRI and the Cuban national aquarium sign a partnership agreement

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A new partnership between the Cuban national aquarium and Texas marine scientists is opening doors in international Gulf of Mexico research.

The Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Acuario Nacional de Cuba, the national aquarium of Cuba, to work on a series of joint environmental initiatives to deepen our knowledge of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

“This agreement, likely the first of many, is a testament to the success of the efforts of HRI Executive Director Dr. Larry McKinney and his staff at HRI to make the Institute and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi key players in the growing academic and research alliances between Cuba and the U.S.,” said Dr. Luis Cifuentes, Vice President for Research, Commercialization and Outreach at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

One of the few academic institutions licensed to work in Cuba, HRI has been engaged with the Cuban marine science community since its inception in 2002.

“This agreement opens the door to working with not just the aquarium, which is an important institution in Cuba, but with Cuban environmental agencies and the government,” McKinney said. “Cuba has a wonderful group of very knowledgeable scientists but they’ve been isolated from the world. With this agreement we hope to partner, to conduct new research and better exchange knowledge between Gulf scientists.”

To help introduce Cuban researchers to modern marine research, one of HRI’s first initiatives will be bringing its expertise in marine genomics, the mapping and study of the DNA of ocean animals, to Cuban researchers and students.

In July, HRI is also hosting its Furgason Fellowship International Student Workshop in Cuba for the first time. The workshop is focused on the environmental impacts of tourism in Cuba as changes in U.S. travel restrictions are expected to bring new waves of visitors, putting increased pressure on the industry and coastal environment. Graduate students from the U.S., Mexico and Cuba were chosen to participate in hopes of building new international collaborative relationships.

HRI also plans to host workshops in coastal and ocean monitoring in Cuba to integrate Cuban researchers into the extensive monitoring and data-collecting networks that have been created in the Gulf.

Cuba, positioned between the Yucatan Peninsula and the tip of Florida, has been referred to as the key to the Gulf of Mexico, McKinney said, and that holds true for marine research.

“All of the water coming into and exiting the Gulf passes by Cuba, so what they do can affect all of us, and what we do can affect them. That interconnectedness is what makes agreements like this so important,” McKinney said.

HRI was a founding participant in the Trinational Initiative for Marine Science and Conservation in the Gulf of Mexico and Western Caribbean, a historic meeting organized with the goal of establishing a framework for collaboration between Cuba, Mexico and the United States for ongoing joint scientific research and to develop a regional plan of action designed to preserve and protect shared waters and marine habitats. McKinney and HRI Endowed Chair for Biodiversity and Conservation Science and TAMU-CC Professor Emeritus Dr. Wes Tunnell have given keynote addresses at the last three MarCuba scientific meetings, which attract Cuba’s leading marine scientists and some 500 participants from 30 countries.

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