Cuba drastically reforms fishing laws to protect coral reef, sharks and rays

Cuba has introduced sweeping reforms of its fishing laws in a move seen as smoothing the way for possible collaboration with the US on protecting their shared ocean, despite Donald Trump’s policy of reversing a thaw in relations.

The move is the first time the text of an environmental law in Cuba specifies the need for scientific research, which experts say will mean greater reliance on state-of-the-art US technology.

“If we don’t look for collaboration we can’t have the full picture,” said Jorge Angulo Valdes, a Cuban marine biologist at the University of Florida. Ocean science must continue to transcend political pressures, he said. “Trump is doing everything he can to close the doors on collaboration. Cuba is doing everything to make it easier to keep those doors open.”

Cooperation is as vital to US interests as it is to Cuba, Angulo-Valdes said. The two countries are separated by just 140km (90 miles) of water, and Cuban waters provide spawning grounds for species of snapper, grouper and other commercially important reef fish in the US. Maintaining healthy numbers of bonefish, a lucrative game fish in south Florida, for example, depends on protecting the species in Cuban waters, where the bonefish spawn, said Angulo Valdes.

The reforms are Cuba’s first major overhaul of fishing laws for more than 20 years and a major step for preservation of some of the world’s most important marine ecosystems, said Dan Whittle, Caribbean director of the US-based Environment Defence Fund (EDF), which has worked with Cuba on conservation and sustainable fishing and brokered several of its key environmental agreements with the US.

“These laws also level the playing field because now the US can say that their neighbours are using the most up-to-date science,” said Whittle.

Despite having some of the world’s best preserved marine ecosystems, Cuba has seen declining fish populations, including of key commercial stocks like grouper and snapper. Angulo Valdes said: “Marine resources weren’t doing well, nearly 80% were in critical condition. The old law didn’t cover the private sector and wasn’t working.”

The new laws aim to curb illegal fishing, recover fish populations and protect small-scale fisheries, with increasing use of data-limited methods that allows fisheries to assess which species are most vulnerable, even when scientific data on specific stocks is scarce. The laws also separate sport and recreational fishing and brings fisheries under the management of the food industry ministry (Minal).

A key feature is a new licensing framework for the growing private commercial fishing sector in Cuba. Established in 2009 to increase seafood production and create jobs, this sector now has 18,000 private commercial fishers operating out of more than 160 fishing ports to provide seafood to state markets.

After former president Barack Obama normalised relations with Cuba in 2014, the countries signed landmark environmental deals and in 2017 the countries signed a pact to jointly prevent and clean up oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, shortly before Trump took office.

Trump has tightened the US economic embargo on the Caribbean island and imposed heavy travel restrictions, after years of a boom in US travel to Cuba.

In May the Associated Press said restrictions has begun to hurt scientific cooperation and reported Patricia González, director of the University of Havana’s Centre for Marine Research, as saying that Cuban ocean scientists were being granted fewer visas to travel to the US and that some of their American counterparts were worried about travelling to Cuba in case they faced retaliation on their return home.

“[Under Trump] NGOs have continued doing ground research involving scientists from Cuba and the US but it has been slower and more under the radar,” Whittle said.

Cuba’s past isolation was a factor in preservation of its stunning coral reefs, including its famed Gardens of the Queen, a national park covering 850 square miles that was named by Christopher Columbus to honour Spain’s Queen Isabella I.

“Even before the new law, the country had some of the most successful conservation strategies in the world,” said Valerie Miller of the Environmental Defence Fund. “Cuba was talking about climate change years before many others and stayed ahead in conservation strategies. It has an extremely healthy coral reef with some of the world’s best biodiversity.”

Whittle said: “[The reforms] are important for the people of Cuba but are also a significant step in international efforts to preserve some of the world’s most important coral reefs, sharks, rays and other marine life.”

  • Published in Cuba

Need to save coral reefs

Flood damage would double without coral reefs, proves study

Loss of coral reefs around the world would double the damage from coastal flooding, and triple the destruction caused by storm surges, researchers said today.

Coupled with projected sea level rise driven by global warming, reef decline could see flooding increase four-fold by century’s end, they reported in the journal Nature Communications.

Without coral to help absorb the shock, a once-in-a-century cyclone would wreak twice the havoc, with the damage measured in the tens of billions of dollars, the team calculated.

“Coral reefs serve as natural, submerged breakwaters that reduce flooding by breaking waves and reducing wave energy,” said Michael Beck, lead scientist at The Nature Conservancy research and environmental group, and a professor at the University of California in Santa Cruz.

“Unfortunately, we are already losing the height and complexity of shallow reefs around the world, so we are likely already seeing increases in flood damages along many tropical coasts,” he told AFP.

Coral is also highly sensitive to spikes in water temperature, which have become sharper and more frequent with climate change.

Global coral reefs risk catastrophic die-off if Earth’s average surface temperature increases two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, earlier research has shown.

Combining coastal flooding and economic models, the new study calculated - country by country - the value of coral reefs as a barrier against storm-related wreckage.

Globally, seaside flooding is estimated to cause nearly USD 4 billion dollars (3.4 billion Euros) a year in damages.

With the erosion of the top metre (three feet) of coral reefs worldwide, that figure rises to USD 8 billion, Beck and his colleagues found.

“The topmost living corals will die and can break off very quickly,” said Beck. The countries most at risk from coral reef loss are Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Mexico and Cuba, each of which could avoid USD 400 million in damage per year if reefs are maintained.

Saudi Arabia, the United States, Taiwan and Vietnam would also become significantly more vulnerable to flooding with severe coral erosion. “When we consider the devastating impact of tropical storms in just the past few years - Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Typhoon Haiyan - the effects would be much worse without coral reefs,” Beck said.AFP

Cuba-U.S. Collaboration in a New Era of Change

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Cuban Ambassador Jose R. Cabañas Rodríguez Ph.D. will kick off an event on June 4 that considers how the U.S. and Cuba can work together at an uncertain political time, marking one of his first public appearances since Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Raúl Castro as president of Cuba last month. The event, co-hosted by the nonprofits Center for International Policy (CIP) and Ocean Doctor, focuses on environmental sustainability and historic preservation, long cited as among the most successful areas of collaboration between Cuba and the U.S. even before the normalization of diplomatic relations in 2014.

A range of panelists will highlight recent successful conservation and historic preservation efforts in Cuba. Also featured will be the release of a comprehensive new report by Ocean Doctor and CIP entitled, A Century of Unsustainable Tourism in the Caribbean: Lessons Learned and Opportunities for Cuba. "The past 50 years have seen unprecedented environmental degradation in the Caribbean, including the loss of 50 percent of its coral cover," says Dr. David E. Guggenheim, founder and president of Ocean Doctor. Landscape modification due to tourism development is a main driver of habitat loss, and historic and cultural resources have also felt the impact. Meanwhile, Cuba has followed a markedly different path and, as a result, still possesses healthy ecosystems and a vibrant, authentic culture. With mounting pressures of tourism, the report examines the unique opportunity Cuba has to create a sustainable future.

ciencia cubana ciencia de cuba arrecifes coralinos blanqueados

The event, open to the public (RSVP required), will be held on Monday, June 4th 1-5pm at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036. Details and an RSVP form can be found at: https://oceandoctor.org/june4event. The sustainable tourism report will be available for download at 9am on June 4th from: https://oceandoctor.org/tourismreport

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This event and the report are part of the Cuba-U.S. Sustainability Partnership (CUSP), a project of the Center for International Policy, Ocean Doctor and Robert Muse & Associates, in consultation with Cuban governmental and nongovernmental agencies, to support Cuba's efforts to chart a sustainable course in the face of political changes and economic pressures.

  • Published in Cuba

Coral reefs protect coasts from severe storms

Coral reefs can naturally protect coasts from tropical cyclones by reducing the impact of large waves before they reach the shore, according to scientists.

Tropical cyclones wreak havoc on coastal infrastructure, marine habitats and coastal populations across the world. However, Dr. Michael Cuttler, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at The University of Western Australia (UWA), says that for coastlines facing a direct cyclone impact, a fringing reef can protect the beach from extensive erosion.

"Reefs can effectively protect shorelines because of their ability to cause waves to break offshore, thus limiting the energy impacting the coastline," he said.

Dr. Cuttler and several of his Coral CoE colleagues studied Ningaloo Reef -- Australia's largest fringing reef system, and a UN World Heritage site -- during Tropical Cyclone Olwyn in 2015. Olwyn was a Category 3 severe tropical cyclone that caused extensive damage along the coast of Western Australia.

The team observed that the shoreline remained largely unscathed because of the protection provided by its offshore reef.

"The large waves generated by the cyclone were effectively dissipated by the reef situated offshore," Dr. Cuttler explained.

"The little erosion that did occur was due to smaller waves that were generated by wind within the lagoon."

The shape, or geomorphology, of the reef -- with its steep forereef slope, shallow reef crest and reef flat, and relatively shallow lagoon -- is representative of most fringing reefs worldwide.

"In this study, we also compared similar cyclone impacts on coastlines without reefs and found that these beaches were eroded up to ten times more than the beach at Ningaloo," Dr. Cuttler said.

While the findings of Dr. Cuttler's study indicated that coral reefs can effectively protect coastlines from tropical cyclones and other large wave impacts, it also suggested that for reef systems with lagoons, local wind effects cannot be ignored when attempting to model or predict the impact of cyclones.

He also warned that the ability of reefs to protect adjacent coastlines was threatened by both sea level rise and slowing rates of reef accretion.

"These changes may ultimately increase the amount of wave energy reaching the coastline and potentially enhance coastal erosion," he said.

Few studies before have measured the hydrodynamic conditions and morphological responses of such a coastline in the presence of a tropical cyclone.

Dr. Cuttler and his Coral CoE colleagues found the results could be used to assess coastal hazards facing reef-fringed coastlines due to extreme tropical cyclone conditions, and would become increasingly relevant as climate change alters the status of coral reefs globally.

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