SARASOTA — A meeting of marine scientists concluded this week with an outline for a formal plan of action designed to improve the ecological health of the Gulf of Mexico and western Caribbean.
The outline was agreed upon during a conference at Mote Marine Laboratory that attracted more than 60 delegates representing the United States, Cuba and Mexico.
The conference, the Tri-national Initiative for Marine Science and Conservation of the Gulf of Mexico and Western Caribbean, began Monday and continued through Wednesday, with a related workshop Thursday devoted to issues affecting sharks.
Although there was only one session specifically addressing the effects of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, the runaway well and its long-term consequences was a fre- quent topic among the experts.
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“We’ve been saying for many years that we need good baseline data about these areas and that we need to work together across nations to have a consistent approach for the gathering and sharing of information,” said Mote President Kumar Mahadevan.
“The oil spill showed us how easy it is to get into trouble, and that we need to work together to be prepared for natural and man-made disasters.”
The conference closes the start-up phase of col- laborative planning, and sets the stage for action, said Luis Alberto Barreras Cañizo, representing Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment.
The group is taking a collaborative approach to management and conservation.
“This fourth meeting closes a start-up cycle,” Cañizo said.
“We have six projects that we’ve identified and we need to find a way to achieve actions and results.”
“Ecologically, this meet- ing sets an important precedent for the systematic and normal exchange of scientific information, not only in this area, but in other spheres of knowledge as well,” he said.
The research plan will be drafted into a formal document over the next 30 days.
Then, working groups are slated to put the plans into action, said David Guggenheim, conference moderator and a senior fellow at The Ocean Foundation.
“We’ve definitely moved into the action phase that will allow us to focus on the marine ecosystem as a whole.”
Scientists from each nation hope to study and conserve coral reefs, marine mammals, sea turtles and shark and other fish populations.
The plan also calls for additional protection of sensitive marine habitats, and ways to develop better communication among the three countries, particularly in places where telephone service is unreliable and Internet file-sharing is restricted, officials said.
“This is a very strong initiative and having the action plan is a very good asset,” said Rosa Linda Amezcua of the United Nations Industry Development Organization.
“This tri-lateral initiative is also quite interesting because the scientists are working without governmental or agency support — it’s being done from the ground up. In reality, this is perhaps one of the reasons we have been so successful. We’re colleagues rather than politicians.”
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.