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Gulf oil spill could foul Cuban waters

By David Ariosto, CNN
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Cuba faces possible oil threat
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Oil from U.S. spill may wash ashore in Cuba
  • The Loop Current is dragging oil south toward the Florida Straits
  • Nesting areas for green sea turtles could be affected

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Fisherman Mario Lopez has relied on the waters off Cuba's northern coasts for decades.

His sun-baked skin and leathery hands testify to his years fishing under hot the Caribbean sun in a village east of Havana.

As an oil spill looms to the north, Lopez and other fisherman are uneasy.

"This, for us, is very worrisome," he said, pushing up a sweat stained Miami Dolphins hat from his brow. "The truth is we're worried about what we're going to do."

A strong ocean flow called the Loop Current is dragging a portion of the oil slick toward the Florida straits. The spill emanates from BP's Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico, roughly 500 miles northwest of Lopez's village.

"This is one of most difficult systems to predict," said David E. Guggenheim, a senior fellow at the Ocean Foundation -- a conservancy group based in Washington. "It's basically a river at sea, influenced by the rotation of the earth, the tides, and the weather."

Scientists fear that oil strands could break off the main slick and wash up on Cuba's northern shores.

"We're especially worried about the fate of this oil spill and how it might affect the coral reefs, the fish population, and a very large population of nesting green sea turtles," said Guggenheim.

Earlier this month, U.S. and Cuban officials began "working level" talks in a rare moment of cooperation that focused on preparation in the event the oil reaches the Cuban coast.

State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid told reporters that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana delivered a note to Cuba's Foreign Ministry, providing the latest developments on the movement of the oil.

Cuba and the United States maintain Interests Sections in their respective capitals in lieu of formal embassies.

U.S. analysts have previously expressed concerns about a potential Cuban spill making it's way to U.S. southern coasts, according to recent report from the Brookings Institution.

"The sobering fact that a Cuban spill could foul hundreds of miles of American coastline and do profound harm to important marine habitats demands cooperative and proactive planning by Washington and Havana to minimize or avoid such a calamity," it said.

The region is considered rich with natural resources, housing an estimated 4.6 billion barrels of oil and nearly 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the North Cuba Basin, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

A near half-century trade embargo has stymied efforts to develop deep water platforms and Cuban exploration. But in the aftermath of BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster, scientists say Cuba's northern coasts could also feel the effects.

 
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