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Of the six marine biology professors from state universities who were asked for comment on the issue, all agreed the law hurts their institutions, but only Behringer from UF and USF’s Muller-Karger would speak on the record against it.

The others said they were concerned about getting involved in politics.

Muller-Karger had this response: “The reaction you describe shows that people are actually quite worried about how the state may interpret their interest in working these issues, or just worried stiff about speaking about a binding Florida law.”

He added, “This has nothing to do with politics. It is about knowledge, managing our resources and doing what is best for our environment.”

The law forbidding state money from funding trips to Cuba affects other disciplines.

Those studying Latin American art, music, language, politics, geology and history could benefit from visiting the Communist nation. But marine biology stands out as a field where advances in research stand to directly benefit the state of Florida more than any other region on earth.

“So no one else is as affected by what goes on in Cuban waters than Florida” said Muller-Karger.

Marine biologists call it “connectivity.”

For instance, spiny lobsters served in Tampa restaurants could have hatched from eggs laid in Cuba and made their way to Florida in the Gulf’s currents. Much of the snapper and grouper that supports Florida’s fish industry could also originate in or pass through Cuban waters.

To better understand this marine life, scientists track their travels between the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, Florida and Cuba. Learning where each species originates can help in reaching agreements on fishing limits and other protective measures.

Still, coral reefs are the top priority for U.S. marine biologists working with Cuba.

Scientists predict that by 2050, all coral reefs will be in danger from pollution and changes in water temperature and sea levels.

Natural reefs in Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties generate an estimated $3.4 billion in income a year through recreation, education and science.

More importantly, reefs protect coasts by reducing wave energy from storms and hurricanes. And as home to more than 4,000 species of fish and countless species of plants, coral reefs support some 25 percent of all known marine species.

Whether a coral reef is off the shores of Cuba or the U.S., the waters they share suffers from its degradation. In addition, coral larvae from Cuba finds its way to reefs in Florida and vice versa.

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