Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium Developing 5 Year Caribbean Conservation Plan

Sat, 11/14/2009 - 7:59 PM

By Hayley Rutger

Sarasota, FL - Mote Marine Laboratory researchers joined Cuban, Mexican and U.S. colleagues to craft a five-year plan for marine science and conservation in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea at a recent workshop in Cuba, setting the stage for long-term marine research collaborations among all three nations. This is the first time in nearly 50 years that scientists from the nations surrounding the Gulf have been able to come together to begin forming a comprehensive marine research plan.

At the Oct. 25-30 meeting in Havana, delegates set priorities for conservation-oriented studies of coral reefs, marine mammals, sea turtles, sharks, fish resources and protected areas, building on progress from earlier workshops co-organized by The Ocean Foundation, the Center for International Policy and the Harte Research Institute.

Successful conservation depends on knowing where marine species go and what threats they face in waters between the United States, Mexico and Cuba, but scientists are only beginning - or preparing, in some cases - to study the marine species in Cuban waters, many of which migrate to the United States and Mexico.

Long-term joint studies among the Gulf nations have been hindered by a 47-year trade embargo that severely restricts travel between the United States and Cuba. In an effort to reach across the water, Mote scientists have visited Cuba over the past five years - with legal approval from the U.S. Department of Treasury - to plan and conduct conservation-oriented marine research.

With October's three-nation workshop complete, Mote scientists and their international colleagues are ready to create a five-year blueprint to do much more.

"The workshop was an excellent example of international conservation planning - which is what the Gulf of Mexico has needed for decades," said Dr. Robert Hueter, director of Mote's Center for Shark Research. "Not only did we set priorities for expanding our current projects, such as Mote's surveys with the University of Havana for shark species in Cuban waters, but we also laid plans for several new lines of research that deserve immediate attention."

Delegates worked out the details of their five-year plans in working groups based on their areas of expertise, and produced a document describing priorities. Mote scientists participated in groups focused on:

Coral reefs
Delegates plan to compare healthier coral reefs near Cuba's south coast with more damaged ones near the United States and Mexico, studying how well corals in each location rebound from damage caused by pollution, climate change and other factors. Mote scientists are interested in learning whether elkhorn corals (Acropora palmata), considered threatened in U.S. waters, are more resilient near Cuba than near the United States and Mexico.

Marine mammals
Marine mammal researchers at the meeting worked on plans to obtain baseline health information about dolphins in Cuban and Mexican waters, to better assess risks to dolphin populations, including climate change effects. Scientists in the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program at Mote, the world's longest-running study of a wild bottlenose dolphin population, have done health checkups on Sarasota Bay dolphins since 1988. They hope to share their techniques with colleagues in Mexico and Cuba.

Sea turtles
A major priority is tracking the travels of three species of sea turtles, which migrate throughout the Gulf from their feeding grounds to breeding grounds that may be hundreds of miles away. Scientists at the meeting planned to focus mainly on green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) - both endangered species - along with loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta), a threatened species. Using satellite tracking tags, which Mote scientists have attached to more than 70 nesting sea turtles, researchers can follow these species in real time as they swim among the three nations.

Fish resources
Mote Fisheries scientists and their international colleagues plan to enhance the management and conservation of coastal fish and invertebrate stocks in Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico waters. Their goals include studying the management of spiny lobsters, assessing how fish populations are impacted by human activities besides fishing - such as climate change and pollution - identifying important habitats for fish and expanding aquaculture (fish farming) projects to bolster depleted fish stocks.

Working with colleagues at the University of Havana, Mote scientists have already begun to study which sharks inhabit Cuban waters, and at the meeting they helped to lay the groundwork for further surveys of sharks near Cuba, along with continued tagging studies to determine where sharks migrate. Other priorities for the three nations include studying which shark species and how many are caught in fisheries, to supplement U.S. data with findings from Cuba and Mexico. A major goal of this group is to formulate an integrated plan for shark fisheries management in the Gulf that will involve the cooperation of U.S., Mexican and Cuban governments.

The three-nation group plans to convene at Mote Marine Laboratory in 2010. During their October trip, Mote's leading shark and dolphin researchers also made keynote presentations at ColacMarCuba 2009, an international marine science meeting in Havana that included speakers from the United States, Latin America and Europe.

Mote representatives at October's meetings in Cuba included:
Dr. Robert Hueter, director, Mote Center for Shark Research
Dr. Ernest Estevez, director, Mote Center for Coastal Ecology
Dr. David Vaughan, director, Mote Center for Coral Reef Research
Dr. Kenneth Leber, director, Mote Center for Fisheries Enhancement
Dr. Randall Wells, manager, Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (a joint project between Mote and the Chicago Zoological Society)
Dr. Tony Tucker, manager, Mote Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program
Dr. Frank Alcock, director, the Marine Policy Institute at Mote Marine Laboratory. The institute's goal is to strengthen the connection between science and society. Dr. Alcock is also a professor at New College of Florida.

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tiffany Wed, 8/18/2010 - 11:26 PM — fengying23

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