Mote’s Cuba research debuts on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week

Shark and coral researchers from Mote Marine Laboratory are releasing results of a landmark expedition in Cuba; an international team effort during Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

The expedition allowed U.S. and Cuban scientists to place the first satellite transmitter tags on sharks in Cuban waters and conducted the first coral transplant experiment on a Cuban reef. Now the underwater action will be front-and-center in Discovery’s “Tiburones: The Sharks of Cuba” at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Tuesday, July 7.

Project partners hailed from Mote Marine, Cuba’s Center for Coastal Ecosystems Research, the University of Havana, other Cuban institutions, and from the Environmental Defense Fund, which organizes U.S. – Cuban collaborations in science and conservation. Filmmakers from Tandem Stills + Motion, Inc. and Herzog Productions captured the action for Discovery.

Both the U.S. and Cuba host significant marine protected areas and have important natural resources that need further scientific study to support management and conservation. However, Cuba, which has protected 20 percent of its coastal environment and has experienced slower coastal development than many other areas, stands out among the Gulf and Caribbean nations for its near-pristine ecosystems and wealth of unsolved scientific mysteries.

The Gulf and Caribbean eco-region hosts about 20 percent of the world’s shark biodiversity, with Cuba at the epicenter, but scientists know relatively little about the status of shark populations in Cuban waters and what impacts they face from the nation’s fisheries. Over the past 40 years, the abundance of many shark species worldwide has declined dramatically. Rebuilding shark populations benefits the ecosystem and local economies because sharks are essential to the fishing industry and to ecotourism and are critical for proper ecological balance of life in the sea.

U.S. and Cuban scientists have sought to study sharks, corals and other marine fauna together, but they have needed to overcome the challenges of the multi-decade trade embargo that has severely restricted travel between the two nations. Recently, U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations have improved — which may help increase the opportunities for Cuban and American scientists to collaborate on important scientific questions of mutual interest for both countries.

“This expedition allowed U.S. and Cuban scientists to achieve some of the goals we’ve been dreaming about for years,” said Dr. Robert Hueter, Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory. “For instance, we had been trying to get permission to deploy satellite tags on sharks in Cuba for at least five years, and we were finally given approval to do that on this expedition, thanks in large part to the great partnership with our Cuban colleagues and EDF. It all came together beautifully.”

Havana’s Center for Marine Research. “This expedition showed how much we can accomplish together.”

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