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   Veracruz meeting works to form a tri-national Gulf
 
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Workshop on Marine Sciences and Conservation of the Gulf of Mexico
Participants of the Second International Workshop on Marine Sciences and Conservation of the Gulf of Mexico held in Veracruz, Mexico, March 18-19, 2009, organized by The Ocean Foundation, the Center for International Policy and HRI. PHOTO: DR. DAVID GUGGENHEIM

by Dr. Jorge Brenner

On March 18-19, 2009, a group of 28 Gulf of Mexico marine scientists and managers met in Veracruz, Mexico, for the Second International Workshop on Marine Sciences and Conservation of the Gulf of Mexico. The meeting was co-organized by The Ocean Foundation, the Center for International Policy and the Harte Research Institute. The goal of the workshop was to gather recommendations of actions to be included in a joint marine research and conservation plan for the Gulf of Mexico.

This workshop constituted the second edition of the historic meeting November 1-2, 2007, in Cancun, Mexico where a similar number of scientists met. In the first meeting six high-priority themes were identified that would be included in the plan together with their corresponding working groups. Themes and working groups were:

  1. Coral reefs
  2. Sharks
  3. Sea turtles
  4. Dolphins
  5. Fisheries resources
  6. Protected areas
  7. Communications (added as an operational issue)

The original working groups composed of Cubans and Americans were expanded in this meeting by inviting Mexican scientists and managers to join the partnership. This provided the initiative a true international scope by including all Gulf of Mexico interested parties in the development of a common framework for its environmental sustainability.

The meeting brought together major institutions from the three countries and charted a way forward to understand and conserve the Gulf of Mexico’s shared resources. With a high scientific motivation and regional focus, rather than political view, seven Cubans (representing the University of Havana and Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment), nine Mexicans (representing the National Fisheries Institute, Veracruz State University, National Commission on Protected Areas, National Autonomous University and National Polytechnic Institute), and eleven Americans (representing the Center for International Policy, HRI, The Ocean Foundation, Mote Marine Laboratory, Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy) outlined joint actions for each of the working groups.

The workshop was made possible due to the contributions and support of the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, Bay and Paul Foundation, Sherritt International-Canada and Secretary of

 

the Mexican Navy Admiral Mariano Saynez Mendoza. It was hosted at Veracruz State University and Oceanography Institute of the Mexican Navy by Admiral Dr. Alberto M. Vázquez de la Cerda, member of the HRI´s Advisory Council. It was successfully facilitated by Dr. David Guggenheim, member of the HRI´s Advisory Council, and Mr. Fernando Bretos from the U.S., and Mr. Luis Barreras Cañizo and Dr. Teresita Borges from Cuba.

At the end of the two-day workshop, potential projects and actions that will build a five-year plan were determined using the following characteristics:

  • Actions that advance the overall goal and fill the gaps
  • Actions that take advantage of opportunities and overcome the obstacles
  • Actions that represent contributions to fundamental science
  • Actions that integrate cross-cutting needs

Other topics presented and discussed at the meeting were first, Daniel Whittle from Environmental Defense Fund, presented an update on the letter sent in December 2008 to then President-Elect Barack Obama by 12 major U.S. academic and not-for-profit institutions respectfully requesting the normalization of scientists and conservation professionals’ visas, licenses and educational exchanges. Signers of this request included HRI’s Advisory Council members Dr. David Guggenheim, The Ocean Foundation, and Dr. Kumar Mahadeven, Director of Mote Marine Laboratory. Second, Dr. Guillermo García Montero, Director of the National Aquarium in Havana and HRI Advisory Council member, presented an update on the lion fish (Pterois sp.) monitoring program at the aquarium. This invasive species from the Indo-Pacific region is spreading rapidly in Cuban waters. He called for the inclusion of an invasive species working group in the future.

The group agreed to meet for a third time later this year to approve the final Plan of Action and to begin its implementation with the formation of specific projects and partnerships. In order to effectively implement it, financial opportunities and governance mechanisms will be discussed together with potential donors at the meeting. The momentum created by this international group demonstrates the tip of the iceberg of the social capital that exists around this large marine ecosystem. One of many implications of this collaboration is the new language that its members speak, based on common ecological and social views of a connected Gulf of Mexico. It seems that the ocean is setting the path for making a difference.

    © 2009 Harte Research Institute