Will New Relations With Cuba Impact Its Pristine Ocean Environment?
With the news yesterday from President Obama that his administration is moving to normalize relations with Cuba, many experts have argued that ending the embargo would be a boon for the island nation's economy. But whether it will be an entirely beneficial thing for Cuba's natural environment and surrounding oceans remains to be seen. In the environmental community, many organizations that have been working tirelessly on ocean conservation in the Caribbean hope that there can now be true cooperation between the U.S. and Cuba in the environmental realm.
Dr. David Guggenheim, founder of Ocean Doctor, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring our oceans through hands-on conservation, has legitimate concerns about the impacts of ending the embargo. In October, he joined Thom Hartmann on The Big Picture to talk about the potential environmental effects—good and bad—of ending the embargo.
Guggenheim readily admits the embargo was a "failed policy," but under the embargo, Cuba's environment—namely its pristine national parks and coral reefs—has thrived. He cites the fact that "Cuba has protected 25 percent of its marine waters compared to the worldwide average of one percent." So, the question going forward will be: Can Cuba maintain its pristine environment after it's opened up to the U.S. and the rest of the world?
In a five-part series on EcoWatch, Conor Kennedy explores the pristine coral reefs of the Gardens of the Queen after his visit to Cuba this summer with Ocean Doctor. In his piece, Cuba and the Embargo, Kennedy shares his hopes for normalized relations between Cuba and the U.S. that includes policies that will protect Cuba's pristine ocean ecosystem.
Cuba protects 25 percent of its marine waters compared to the worldwide average of 1 percent. Photo credit: Shutterstock
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) would also like to see an end to the embargo because it will allow them to expand their work to promote an exchange and a dialog around critical conservation issues.
“With normalized relations come great opportunity, but also great challenges,” said Dan Whittle, director of EDF's Cuba Oceans Program and Senior Attorney.
“The doors are now open to U.S. travel and investment, and the rigor of Cuba’s environmental rules will be tested. As money begins to flow into Cuba, it is critical that we continue our work helping Cuba build upon its impressive environmental protections and double down. EDF believes the environment will fuel economic growth, but we cannot allow the environment to be sacrificed in the process.”
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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