USF scientists headed for Cuba to study what it looks like before any
Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer
Monday, April 24, 2017 10:40am
ST. PETERSBURG — Florida scientists will ride their research vessel to
Cuba next month to take measurements of its coastal waters before any
oil spill ruins them.
One of the major problems with the 2010 BP oil spill, say scientists, is
that no one — not the government, not the oil companies, not even
universities — had taken base line measurements of what conditions were
like in the Gulf of Mexico prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
So the University of South Florida’s marine science department has been
trying to rectify that by taking readings all around the edges of the
Gulf over the past year or so. They even journeyed down to Mexico, where
they not only took readings but also found signs that oil still remains
from the 1979 Ixtoc I spill, a disaster that paralleled the BP spill.
And now in their ship the R/V Weatherbird II they’re heading for Cuba on
May 9, according to David Hollander, a USF chemical oceanographer who
played a crucial role in the university’s investigations of the BP
They will be paying particular attention to conditions in the Florida
Straits, “because those are the ins and outs of the water coming into
the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.
In addition to taking the baseline measurements of the water’s chemical
composition, Hollander said, “we’ll be looking at aspects of the
contamination levels and fisheries conditions, and comparing those to
what we found in Mexico and U.S. waters.”
Cuba has tried repeatedly to drill for oil off its coast, where an
estimated 20 billion barrels of crude await. But all of their efforts,
including the most recent one led by Spain’s Repsol, have come up dry.
But Cuba is now partnered with Angola’s state-run petroleum production
company, Sonangol for yet another attempt. Meanwhile other companies
continue trying their luck. One, Sherritt International, announced last
month that its exploratory offshore wells were disappointing, but the
company intended to keep trying.
The thaw of relations between Cuba and the U.S. has opened the door for
scientific collaboration on issues of interest to both countries. For
instance, the Florida Aquarium has partnered with the National Aquarium
of Cuba on coral research.
That’s why the USF contingent is expecting a warm welcome from its Cuban
The thirteen U.S. scientists on board will be joined by 30 graduate
students, professors and biologists from the University of Havana and
the Cuban Fisheries Agency to share information on their technology and
techniques, Hollander said.
Contact Craig Pittman at email@example.com. Follow @craigtimes.
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