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Sea Turtles Get the Spotlight in U.S.-Cuba Thaw

The State Department says the two nations are working together to protect the ecosystem along their marine border.

Dip­lo­mats are learn­ing, as magazine ed­it­ors dis­covered years ago, that post­ing cute an­im­al pho­tos on the in­ter­net is a great way to pro­mote a con­tro­ver­sial for­eign policy de­cision.

The State De­part­ment is test­ing the pro­pos­i­tion by high­light­ing one ef­fect of Pres­id­ent Obama’s year-old de­cision to re­store dip­lo­mat­ic ties with Cuba.

post on State’s Dip­Note blog fea­tures a photo of the en­dangered Hawks­bill sea turtle atop a de­scrip­tion of joint en­vir­on­ment­al work between the once-es­tranged na­tions: “One of the first fruits of this new re­la­tion­ship is a plan to in­crease co­oper­a­tion in mar­ine pro­tec­tion.”

“With only ninety miles of sea di­vid­ing the United States and Cuba, col­lab­or­a­tion on mar­ine mat­ters is es­pe­cially im­port­ant,” writes Ju­dith Garber, a top State en­vir­on­ment­al of­fi­cial. Her post de­scribes the plan hatched this fall to col­lab­or­ate on re­search, edu­ca­tion and re­source man­age­ment in “mar­ine pro­tec­ted areas.”

The two na­tions are es­tab­lish­ing “sis­ter” pro­tec­ted re­gions, which ini­tially are the Flor­ida Keys and Flower Garden Banks Na­tion­al Mar­ine Sanc­tu­ar­ies on the U.S side and Cuba’s Gua­na­hacabibes Na­tion­al Park and the Banco de San Ant­o­nio, State said.

It’s part of broad­er ef­forts now un­der way to boost en­vir­on­ment­al col­lab­or­a­tion with Cuba on top­ics in­clud­ing cli­mate change and boost­ing re­si­li­ence to hur­ricanes and oth­er dis­asters.

Garber notes that mar­ine con­ser­va­tion and pol­lu­tion are top­ics that tran­scend na­tion­al bound­ar­ies — and that col­lab­or­a­tion on is­sues has broad­er re­per­cus­sions.  “Such en­gage­ment can cross polit­ic­al di­vides and is of­ten at the van­guard of broad­er agree­ments,” writes Garber, who is act­ing head of State’s Bur­eau of Oceans and In­ter­na­tion­al En­vir­on­ment­al and Sci­entif­ic Af­fairs

Back to those very en­dangered and very cute turtles. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tion­al Ocean­ic and At­mo­spher­ic Ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Carib­bean is home to one of the world’s largest pop­u­la­tions of the Hawks­bill, which get their name from the beak-like shape of their mouths.

Pro­tect­ing them is an im­port­ant way to safe­guard oth­er fea­tures of the shared U.S. Cuba eco­sys­tem too, and that’s due to their eat­ing habits, ac­cord­ing to State.

“The hawks­bill’s primary food source is the mar­ine sponge, which com­petes for space with cor­al colon­ies,” Garber writes. “A single hawks­bill can de­vour an es­tim­ated 1,200 lbs of sponges each year, so it’s not a stretch to say that turtles hatched in Cuba go on to pro­tect cor­al reefs in Flor­ida and throughout the Gulf of Mex­ico.”

(Image via BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock.com)

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