Continuing the historic thaw in relations between the Cold War foes, the United States and Cuba announced on Monday that they have agreed to work together to protect and preserve the marine creatures that live between the two nations.
Under the agreement announced at the Our Oceans conference in Valparaíso, Chile, the U.S. and Cuba will jointly map marine life in protected areas in the Florida Straits and Gulf of Mexico and compile an inventory of shared species.
In an effort to see how to help restore depleted American reefs, the U.S. is also very interested in studying the pristine reefs off the southern coast of the island, said Dan Whittle, senior attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, an American nonprofit organization, to the New York Times.
The news of the joint effort came during a day of big announcement by hemispheric leaders to protect marine life and ocean habitats.
U.S. President Barack Obama declared new marine sanctuaries in Lake Michigan and the tidal waters of Maryland on Monday, while Chile blocked off more than 200,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean near the world-famous Easter Island from commercial fishing and oil and gas exploration.
The new protected waters in the United States are the first to be designated as such in 15 years, the White House said in a statement.
The 875-square mile area of Wisconsin's Lake Michigan extends from Port Washington to Two Rivers, containing a collection of 39 known shipwrecks. Fifteen are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Mallows Bay-Potomac River in Maryland encompasses a 14-square mile area of the tidal Potomac River next to Charles County. Nearly 200 vessels, some dating to the Revolutionary War, are found in the largely undeveloped area that provides habitat for endangered species of wildlife and fish.
The actions are the latest in a series of environmental steps by Obama, who last year set aside some 400,000 square miles of the central Pacific Ocean from commercial fishing, deep sea mining and other forms of resource extraction. The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument is now the largest marine reserve in the world.
In a videotaped message to conference participants, Obama recalled his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia and said he always maintained "a special love for the ocean."
"Our economies, our livelihoods and our food all depend on our oceans," he said, "and yet we know that our actions are changing them. Greenhouse gas emissions are making our seas warmer and more acidic. Marine pollution harms fish and wildlife, affecting the entire food chain. Illegal fishing depletes the world's fisheries."
Obama said he would seek to protect more American waters in the coming months.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.