Working with Cuba to understand coastal development
In 2016, as the United States re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than 50 years of isolation, Northeastern seized the opportunity to collaborate with the island nation.
The university developed two landmark agreements—one with Cuba’s leading environmental research organization and the other with the University of Havana—to provide CSI research faculty and co-op students access to coastal areas rarely seen by outsiders.
“It’s a perfect fit,” says CSI director Geoff Trussell. “Havana is a major city situated on the sea, and therefore our interest in the link between environmental sustainability and economic development aligns beautifully.”
Because coastal development in Cuba was slowed by the U.S. embargo and decades of economic isolation, CSI researchers have access to pristine marine environments, including the famed Gardens of the Queen, off of the island’s southern coast. These untouched areas will offer clues about how to protect and restore coastal regions that face the gravest manmade and environmental threats.
CSI leaders also worked with Cuban counterparts to create six-month co-ops in which Northeastern students based in Cuba work in teams to study coastal sustainability. The goal isn’t to impose solutions, but to work with Cuban research, political, and social organizations to develop strategies that flow organically from Cuban culture and social values. Students spend half their time in Havana and half working in coastal villages. They develop ideas for sustainable economic development and ways to prevent or mitigate the ecological harm caused by coastal development.
Because of Cuba’s size and strategic location in the Caribbean, its future will have major environmental, economic, and security ramifications for coastal health throughout the region, Trussell notes.
The research collaborations with Cuba “give us a window into the past, to explore what the Caribbean was like before massive development,” says Trussell. “This will help us find ways to make coastal development more sustainable.”
Contact Coastal Sustainability Institute director Geoff Trussell.
Author: CSI Staff