Those initial conversations are now leading to research and education partnerships that will engage Cuban scientists and students with their colleagues at URI.
“Cuba is facing many of the same environmental concerns that we are – climate change, sea level rise, erosion of beaches, ocean acidification, hurricanes – and we have expertise in all of these areas,” said Bruce Corliss, dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography, who visited Cuba in July to meet with officials at the University of Havana, the National Aquarium of Cuba and the Cuban Institute of Oceanology.
Those meetings, which included URI Associate Dean of Oceanography David Smith and Assistant to the Provost Nancy Stricklin, laid a foundation for formal agreements that will be completed in the near future. Corliss envisions student and faculty exchange programs, research collaborations, and oceanographic expeditions in Cuban waters aboard the URI research vessel Endeavor.
Corliss and several other URI scientists will take the next step in building relationships with Cuban oceanographers by attending Cuba’s biennial marine and coastal science research conference, Mar Cuba, in November. He hopes to discuss specific projects at that time and sign a formal agreement between URI and the Cuban government.
While Corliss believes that the Graduate School of Oceanography can bring a great deal of insight, expertise and equipment to bear on issues in the marine environment around Cuba, he said it would not be a one-way relationship.
“There is a great deal we can gain from the relationship, too. It will be true collaboration that will be fruitful for both parties,” he said. “There are new areas of research in their region that we can learn about, there are environmental issues there that we are very interested in, and we would like to help shape the evolution of environmental policy there.”
Corliss believes that normalization between the two nations will result in new funding opportunities from U.S. agencies that will target research in Cuba. He also noted that establishing a relationship with Cuba, along with the recently announced partnership with the University of Southampton in England, helps to achieve the University’s goals of enhancing its international activities.
The trip to Cuba coincided with the July 20 opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana, an event that generated considerable excitement and enthusiasm among the local people.
“Many people came up to us on the streets and told us how happy they were and how hopeful they are for the future,” Corliss said. “As one man told us, ‘You have the 4th of July to celebrate, and now we have July 20 to celebrate.’ It was exciting to be in Havana and witness the reaction of the Cuban people.
“I really loved it there,” he added. “The people were very friendly, and I think the U.S. can have a real impact. There is a real opportunity for the U.S. to foster a strong relationship going forward, and the people there are very open to that. We could do so much to boost their economy and connect them to the modern world.”
URI Oceanography Dean Bruce Corliss poses in front of the U.S. Embassy in Havana on the day it opened, July 20. (Photo by Nancy Stricklin)