Genetic Connections: Scientific Collaboration on Shared Marine Resources between Cuba and Florida

Cuba Sciences1

The Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) supports the most valuable commercial fishery in the Caribbean, which generates nearly $1 B in landings annually. It is embedded so deeply into Caribbean economies and cultures that it is viewed as an icon of prosperity and a bountiful sea, and nowhere more so than in Cuba and Florida. Caribbean lobster populations are also connected throughout the region via movement of their oceanic larvae, but due to proximity and ocean currents some locations are more closely connected than others. Cuba and Florida are two such interconnected places where what occurs to the lobsters in one location stands to significantly impact the other. Genetic technology now exists to determine how lobster populations around Cuba are linked to Florida populations. However, research on the Cuban lobster populations has been left out of most Caribbean-wide lobster studies in the past due to barriers for US lobster scientists to study in collaboration with Cubans.

Sustainable spiny lobster fisheries and the benefits of this research to Cuban and US citizens

Cuba Sciences2

In addition to its value throughout the Caribbean, the spiny lobster supports the most valuable fisheries in the US and Cuba. Landings in the US (largely Florida) can exceed $36 million per year and in Cuba exceed $70 million per year. Furthermore, in Cuba, the lobster fishery constitutes approximately 65% of the gross fishery income for the entire country. Hence, the health and sustainability of the lobster fishery is of paramount importance. In both countries, lobster stocks support a diverse commercial fishery and untold livelihoods that include not only fishers and their families, but also vessel construction, sales, and repair; fishing gear manufacturing and sales; fish house managers, processors and packers, etc.

A clearer understanding of how the US and Cuban lobster populations are connected will directly inform resource managers in both countries and promote fishery sustainability through adaptive and place-based management. Considering the interconnectedness of the larvae from these respective populations, knowledge about which populations are the primary sources (more larvae are exported than arrive from elsewhere) of larvae and which are primarily sinks (more larvae arrive than are exported) is imperative to instituting appropriate management measures in each location. Gaining this information for Cuba is particularly important considering the length of its coastline, the highly varied oceanographic environments around Cuba’s periphery, and the ubiquity of spiny lobsters around Cuba.

University of Florida – University of Havana Collaboration

Cuba Sciences3

This research is a collaboration between UF marine scientists and their counterparts at the UH Centro de Investigaciones Marinas. We are working together to collect and process lobster tissue samples from populations around the Cuban archipelago. We will increase sampling efficiency and simultaneously educate fishermen about sustainable fishing by collecting lobster tissue samples for genetics and disease diagnosis in conjunction with fishermen.

UF Project manager: Dr. Don Behringer,

UH Project managers: Drs. Maickel Armenteros and Leandro Viera

Cuban graduate student Anmari Alvarez to enroll in the UF School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE) for her PhD

Cuba Sciences4

Anmari Alvarez (in blue) and UF graduate students off the coast of Cuba (2015)
‌‌‌‌Ms. Alvarez completed her master’s degree in marine science at the University of Havana and will begin her PhD research in SNRE in Fall 2015. She will be advised by the director of SNRE, Dr. Tom Frazer, and will study the ecology, biology, and population structure of the West Indian manatee. Ms. Alvarez was part of the US-Cuba research team that recently documented a manatee traveling between Florida and Cuba- linking those populations.

Photo: Anmari Alvarez (in blue) and UF graduate students off the coast of Cuba, 2015

Former director of the University of Havana Centro de Investigaciones Marinas, Dr. Jorge Angulo, to join UF faculty as Visiting Scholar

Cuba Sciences5

Dr. Angulo (photo on right) has been a pivotal figure in the establishment of research and teaching collaborations between UH and UF. He recently worked with UF faculty, Don Behringer, Luke Flory, and Tom Frazer, on a study abroad course during the 2015 Summer A semester. The course, UF in Cuba: Tropical Marine and Coastal Ecology, exposed students to the ecology, history, and culture of terrestrial and marine environments around Cuba. Dr. Angulo will continue to assist with this course while at UF, offer guest lectures and seminars, and work on collaborative research projects.