Sound Science Leads to Sound Stewardship: Miami Conference on the Caribbean and Central America
Sound scientific information is a critical resource for decision makers when forecasting the success of economic development and resource sustainability. The January 12 earthquake disaster in Haiti illustrates the value that scientific advisories can have in helping countries minimize risk and prepare and plan for the inevitable effects of natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides, and other extreme Earth-system events.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has the scientific expertise and capabilities to support scientific programs that inform governments about infrastructure design and other ways to minimize risk and boost preparedness. Many of our neighboring nations in the Caribbean and Central and South America wrestle with issues pertaining to impacts from geologic hazards and the need to work across political boundaries to maintain sustainable fisheries and tourism. Science plays a large role in supporting sound economic development. A few examples include identifying and mitigating geologic hazards, incorporating impacts expected from climate change in development plans, and understanding environmental impacts on global economic trade.
For the second year in a row, the USGS has hosted a booth at the Caribbean-Central American Action (CCAA) Miami Conference on the Caribbean and Central America to raise awareness about USGS scientific expertise and programs that could benefit neighboring nations. Many of these nations are not familiar with the USGS or the possibility that USGS programs could be tapped for assistance. The Republic of Haiti was featured prominently in this year's conference, which included a keynote address by the Prime Minister of Haiti, Jean-Max Bellerive. Other sessions focusing on Haiti brought together stakeholders to discuss the important role that sustainable resources and preparedness for natural hazards play in economic growth and foreign investment. The conference agenda is posted online at http://www.c-caa.org/pdf/09MC_agenda.pdf (211 KB PDF). The meeting took place in Miami, Florida, from November 30 to December 2, 2009.
Jean Weaver coordinates USGS science activities throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America through the USGS International Program Office. She sees the CCAA conference as an opportunity to reach out to these international audiences and improve communication between governments. For the past 2 years, Weaver has been accompanied by Ann Tihansky, from the USGS Science Center in St. Petersburg, Florida, to help represent many current USGS programs in the region. By participating in this conference, Weaver hopes to meet the goal of sharing USGS science and supporting governmental agencies beyond our borders.
The USGS booth at the 2009 conference drew a lot of attention. An assortment of fact sheets on hazards, climate change, energy resources, water resources, and invasive and endangered species prompted questions about mapping tools, tsunami-warning networks, and hurricane impacts from visitors who spoke French, Spanish, and the Haitian Creole.
Weaver points out that science is the basis of sound resource stewardship. Scientifically based infrastructure, for example, allows more efficient response to and mitigation of damage from hazards, and can provide consistent quality and quantity of drinking water. Additionally, well-managed natural resources are able to sustain a viable tourism industry that relies on healthy ecosystems. The USGS strives to provide unbiased scientific information useful to a variety of users. International partnerships that share scientific findings with neighboring nations can help ensure economic viability. Healthy ecosystems will support robust industry.
Visitors to the USGS booth included the Secretary of State from Puerto Rico, the Minister of Tourism from El Salvador, representatives from the Maritime Security Council, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Southern Command (part of the Department of Defense), the Caribbean Trade Center, students and faculty from universities in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, realtors, and members of the world banking community, such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB). There were also representatives from embassies and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), along with representatives from the U.S. commercial section of the Department of Commerce who are hoping to promote U.S. commercial opportunities in the region.
Plenary speakers during luncheon and evening programs included Rick Wade, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce, who brought forth President Obama's message about the importance of science for informed decision making. He highlighted U.S. agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the USGS, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Southern Command, and the State of Florida legal department, as important partners that are in the position to guide, aid, and support our neighboring nations in managing resources across the region. Other distinguished speakers included Kenneth Merten, the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti; retired U.S. Senator Bob Graham; Kenneth McClintock, Secretary of State, Puerto Rico; and Peter Kent, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Americas, Canada.
Walter Bastian, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere in the International Trade Administration (U.S. Department of Commerce), kicked off a NOAA breakfast session titled "Building a Sustainable Environment" that highlighted issues in which science is a prominent player in preparing the region for environmental challenges. Attendees filled the room as the presenters described NOAA programs and noted their partnership with the USGS, highlighting ocean acidification, tsunami-warning systems, coastal hazards, seismic networks, and coral-reef health.
The USGS and NOAA hope to explore with CCAA avenues to align forces to help promote intergovernmental partnerships that benefit the region. One proposed option is a session at the 2010 CCAA conference that includes the USGS sharing expertise about how science informs society and improves decision making.
in this issue:
CCAA Miami Conference on the Caribbean and Central America