Tampa and Havana aquariums begin designing a coral greenhouse to be built in Havana

HAVANA, Feb. 18th  Three Cuban scientists were in town last week to take another step forward in their joint effort with the Florida Aquarium to save coral reefs dying throughoutthe Caribbean region that includes this state.

Employees of Havana’s National Aquarium of Cuba spent Feb. 5 through Feb. 11 working with their Tampa counterparts on designs for a greenhouse to be built in Cuba that will serve as an ark to grow and maintain coral in a controlled environment.

Once that science is mastered, the coral would then be replanted in waters to restore the reefs.

There is no cost estimate for the project or timeline for its completion.

“This is a three-year plan,” said Margo McKnight, vice president of biological operations at the Florida Aquarium. “By then we hope to have them designed, funded and built.”

The Florida Aquarium has one such greenhouse in Apollo Beach that cost $420,000 to build and outfit. But Cuba’s will differ due to the island’s more humid tropical climate, McKnight said. Rather than a typical glass greenhouse structure like the one in Apollo Beach, Havana’s will have concrete walls with a translucent canopy.

And it will pull saltwater directly from the Gulf of Mexico instead of having it delivered, as is done in Apollo Beach.

The Florida Aquarium will help its Cuban counterpart with fundraising.

“They can build a lot of the structure themselves,” McKnight said. “They need our assistance with the technology and life support.”

More than half of the Caribbean’s coral cover has died since 1970, according to the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network.

Still, while reefs off the coast of Havana have experienced a minor decline, Cuba’s are considered to be among the most pristine in the world. That’s in stark contrast to Florida’s reefs, which are experiencing degradation despite the state being located just 90 miles from the island nation.

It is hoped that by working together, the Florida Aquarium and the National Aquarium of Cuba can find out why there is such a difference.