HRI Leads the Way in Joint Cuban Research Efforts with July Workshops
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi traveled to Cuba this July to host workshops, cement partnerships, and begin what it hopes will be the first of many joint efforts with Cuban scientists.
The Cuba trip came at an interesting time in American-Cuban relations, just a few weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would tighten restrictions on U.S. travel and business in Cuba. This is a reversal of Obama-era policies that began normalizing relations between the two countries in 2014, and makes the future of how to proceed with necessary, long-awaited partnerships with Cuba somewhat less clear, said HRI Executive Director Dr. Larry McKinney
“The Gulf is an international sea, and the issues affecting it aren’t just American or Mexican or Cuban — they’re international. If we’re going to ensure the future health of the Gulf, everyone who has an impact on it needs to be at that table,” McKinney said.
HRI has been working with Cuban partners since the early 2000s on expanding marine and coastal research that can promote the sustainable management of natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico. The long-planned workshops, a two-day coastal and ocean monitoring and conservation workshop, and the third in a series of Furgason Student Workshops on International Management, were the culmination of years of planning and relationship building with HRI’s Cuban counterparts.
The institute first hosted the coastal and ocean monitoring and conservation workshop in Havana, Cuba, on July 8-9, aimed at advancing coastal and ocean monitoring through research and network development and integration activities. The goal was to bring scientists from Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. together to see if together the counties could improve their ability to forecast conditions in the Gulf of Mexico, McKinney said.
Gathering data on environmental change in Cuba has been identified by the scientific community as one of the biggest opportunities for U.S.-Cuban collaborative science, and can provide the key information to understanding a wide range of marine and coastal issues in the Gulf, like water quality and salinity, habitat change, climate/temperature variability, sea level rise and ocean acidification. Better forecasts could also help the Gulf understand and mitigate for future disasters like hurricanes and oil spills, McKinney said.
Next HRI hosted 18 graduate students from institutions in Mexico, Cuba and the United States from July 9-16 for the week-long Furgason Student Workshop in International Management. Student participation was funded through the Furgason Fellowship Endowment.
“The program was designed to bring future leaders in marine science together to work on a professional project, and to begin to develop personal and professional relationships that will extend into their careers,” said HRI Endowed Chair for Marine Policy and Law Dr. Richard McLaughlin.
Students visited a model agro-tourism community called La Picadora and Caguanes National Park, where they went birding, caving, and met with the park rangers to discuss their plans and needs. The students had breakout sessions to discuss ideas for tourism development that could also help to protect the park’s natural resources, providing input for Cuban National Park officials as they move forward, and real world working experience for the international students.
“We wanted to give them the perspective that you don’t always get in graduate school, to help them navigate the challenges of learning to work with people from different backgrounds, different kinds of stakeholders and sometimes even people who speak different languages,” said HRI International Coordinator and Assistant Research Scientist Dr. Victoria Ramenzoni.
HRI Doctoral Student Coral Lozada, who is studying under HRI Endowed Chair for Socio-economics Dr. David Yoskowitz, was one of the students selected to participate.
“The workshop was everything I hoped for and more. We had students from all different academic and international backgrounds — anthropologists, economists and biologists — getting together to discuss our academic work and learn about the management practices in each other’s countries,” Lozada said.
Lozada still corresponds with the students she met in the workshop, in particular with a Cuban student who is currently in Mexico working on her dissertation research. They’ve been discussing the process of developing a dissertation project, something Lozada is currently in the process of doing. She said connecting with someone from another country about the graduate studies process was an enriching experience.
“It made me feel like no matter where you’re from or what you’re studying, we’re all on the same rollercoaster,” she said.
HRI was also invited to participate as an official sponsor at the XI International Biodiversity Convention “Cubambiente” held in Havana in July 2017. Several HRI research staff gave presentations, including McKinney, Yoskowitz, HRI Endowed Chair for Geospatial Sciences Dr. James Gibeaut, Ramenzoni, and Associate Research Scientist Dr. Mark Besonen.
A founding member of the Trinational Initiative, HRI has hosted Cuban and Mexican delegations during workshops and international meetings, facilitating scientific and academic exchanges as well as research. Over the past year, the Institute has signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Aquarium of Cuba to consolidate scientific and educational efforts, with additional official partnerships in the works.