Last week marked momentous success for The Ocean Foundation’s ocean science diplomacy efforts, especially in regards to our Gulf of Mexico Marine Protected Area Network (RedGolfo). 

The Fifth International Marine Protected Area Congress (IMPAC5) just concluded in the majestic coastal city of Vancouver, Canada – bringing together 2,000 practitioners in protected area management and policy. The conference held an emphasis on inclusion and diversity with a wide range of keynote presentations devoted to indigenous-led conservation and projects led by youth activists around the world. 

Between February 3-8, 2023, we led several panels and surrounded ourselves with key global experts – to move our work forward and form critical relationships to advance our common goal of transboundary coastal and ocean restoration. 

Program Manager Katie Thompson moderated the panel “Marine Protected Area Networks as a Tool for Ocean Science Diplomacy: Lessons Learned from the Gulf of Mexico”, where colleagues from the U.S. and Cuba talked about the biological connectivity between Cuba and the U.S., the existing agreements for the two countries to work together on marine conservation issues, and the future of RedGolfo. Program Officer Fernando Bretos presented on this panel and two other panels about RedGolfo, while learning from other MPA networks such as MedPAN in the Mediterranean and the Corredor Marino del Pacifico Este Tropical.

TOF also participated on the panels “Financial Lessons Learned from Indigenous Marine Conservation Initiatives” and “Participation, Inclusion, and Diversity in Marine Conservation”, which both focused discussions on the importance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities driving conservation projects. The first featured former Palauan president Tommy Remengesau, Jr. along with representatives from the First Nations of British Columbia, Hawaii (including Nai’a Lewis from our fiscally sponsored project Big Ocean as a panelist), and the Cook Islands. The latter was moderated by Katie Thompson, and Fernando Bretos presented on the community-based habitat restoration TOF is supporting in Mexico with local partners. Fernando also led a breakout group with panel attendees on strategies to increase participation, inclusion, and diversity in the field.

The highlight of the conference was a meeting between TOF, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), NOAA, and CITMA. TOF and EDF led off the proceedings with an overview of their two-decade-long history of working in Cuba, and then offered to continue helping build bridges – much like they did during the President Obama-led diplomatic opening of 2015.  

This was the first high-level meeting between CITMA and NOAA since 2016. Attending from CITMA were Maritza Garcia, Director of the Agencia de Medio Ambiente, and Ernesto Plascencia, the U.S. expert at the Dirección de Relaciones Internacionales. NOAA and CITMA representatives made progress updating a NOAA-CITMA work plan initiated by the 2016 U.S.-Cuba Joint Statement on Environmental CooperationRedGolfo was brought up by both parties as a priority for collaboration, as it is an approved measure that brings together the U.S., Cuba, and Mexico to study and protect marine resources – in what is the largest gulf in the world inhabited by over 50 million people. 

With IMPAC5 wrapped up, our team can’t wait to tackle what’s ahead.