When Obama became president, one of his promises was to close the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility. Now, as he’s nearing the end of his second term, he reiterated that idea, expressing his desire to close it. Two academics have come up with a creative solution to that problem: turning it into a marine research station.

Turning this into a marine research center sounds like a pretty good idea. Photo by T. McCoy.

The words “Guantanamo Bay” are associated with dread and horror. The Guantanamo Bay detention camp is a United States military prison located in Cuba. At the time of its establishment in January 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the prison camp was established to detain extraordinarily dangerous people, to interrogate detainees in an optimal setting, and to prosecute detainees for war crimes. Reports of abuse and torture are common, as are those of degrading and inhumane treatment. But that’s the detention camp – the bay itself has much to offer, at least biologically.

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Biologist Joe Roman and military law expert James Kraska teamed up and published an op-ed in the journal Scienceexplaining that years of isolation have done wonders for the bay’s wildlife. Roman said in a press statement that the conditions have turned the bay into more than just an “accidental Eden,” with coral reefs, wildlife, and fish “unparalleled in the Caribbean.” Furthermore, if the camp is abandoned, then many perfectly good buildings will be left behind, and they could very well be used as research stations for joint US-Cuba scientists.

“Cuba has great conservation scientists,” Roman says. “They just don’t have money or equipment.”

The measure would also help build a bridge between the two countries instead of raising another barrier.

“This model, designed to attract both sides, could unite Cuba and the United States in joint management, rather than serve as a wedge between them,” the scholars wrote, “while helping meet the challenges of climate change, mass extinction and declining coral reefs.”

“Guantánamo could become the Woods Hole [a renowned oceanographic center] of the Caribbean,” Roman said in a statement. “This could be a powerful way for the Obama administration to achieve the president’s 2008 campaign promise to close the prison—while protecting a de facto nature reserve and some of the most important coral reefs in the world.”

Can this actually happen? it seems unlikely, at least in the near future, but Roman and Kraska have hope. After all, if the camp really will be decommissioned, it would be a shame not to use the infrastructure for something… and why not science? It’s a long shot, but we can hope. It could work on a scientific level, a political level and on an economic level – not to mention washing away all the bad karma.

“For the next generation,” they write, “the name Guantánamo could become associated with redemption and efforts to preserve and repair the environment and international relationships.”