Tri-national Collaboration at the Tulane Environmental Law & Policy Summit

At this year’s Tulane Environmental Law & Policy Summit, keynote speaker Jean-Michel Cousteau challenged conference guests to consider the following idea: “Diversity is synonymous with stability.” 

Jean-Michel, son of ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, explained how in nature, more biodiverse ecosystems are often more resilient to changes in the environment, such as climate change. He then extended this idea and applied it to humans themselves, emphasizing that a diversity of ideas and collaborative approaches is crucial for protecting the planet.

In the Gulf of Mexico, individuals from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds are using collaborative approaches to protect the ocean environment. The “Sister Sanctuaries Agreement,” a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in 2015 between the U.S. and Cuba, promotes environmental cooperation for the management and conservation of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Gulf. The MOU allows Cuba and the U.S. to collaborate on MPA research, management, and more — and individuals are currently proposing expanding this agreement to include Mexico as well, providing broader potential benefits to the Gulf region as a whole.

Jean-Michel, a strong proponent of collaborative policies for the Gulf of Mexico, summarizes the proposed Sister Sanctuary Network in a short video, which was played at the recent Tulane Summit:


At the Environmental Law and Policy Summit, I helped to organize a panel to explore the Sister Sanctuaries agreement and current expansion efforts, Gulf Marine Sanctuaries: Cuba, Mexico, and the U.S. Our panel featured experts from the U.S., Cuba and Mexico who discussed the potential environmental benefits of three countries working together to manage and protect shared Gulf ecosystems. Panelists also discussed possible political challenges to formalizing a tri-national agreement, and ways to overcome and plan for these challenges.

Developing a tri-national agreement would allow Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. to collaborate on MPA research and management, and to develop protection strategies for their shared ocean resources and ecosystems, such as fisheries and coral reefs. Conversations are ongoing, but partners are hopeful that a tri-national strategy for the Gulf can be realized in the near future.


Many thanks to the Michael K. Orbach Enrichment Fund and the Nicholas School of the Environment for supporting my travel costs for meetings related to advancing Sister Sanctuaries and ecosystem-based environmental policy in the Gulf of Mexico.