Special Reports

Scientists scramble to help Cuba

WASHINGTON — The sprawling oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is prompting fears in Cuba, which boasts one of the most pristine coral reefs in the Caribbean, miles of mangroves and nesting areas for green sea turtles.

Cuban government officials called U.S. oceanographers looking for assistance last week, the scientists said, and the State Department confirmed Tuesday that “low, technical level” talks are under way to help Cuba respond if the sheen should move close to its shores.

Environmentalists note a lack of formal ties with the country could hamper efforts to get assistance to Cuba, and renewed a call to the Obama administration to engage in talks with Cuba.

“We simply can’t afford to not communicate on the environment,” said Daniel Whittle, Cuba program director for the Environmental Defense Fund. “The economic and ecological impact, if and when, it reaches the loop current could be significant and we don’t have any formal mechanism to respond or communicate.”