Plans are afoot to turn the infamous Guantanamo Bay Naval Base into a marine conservation area and an international peace park.

The U.S. base has been used to hold prisoners in remote Cuba, but after they finally leave the site could be used for an altogether different purpose. The proposal was published in the journal Science on Thursday, and takes into account the recent thaw in relations between the two nations, writes Jason Thomson for Christian Science Monitor.

Scientists Propose Peace Park At Guantanamo Bay

Plan proposes research center at Guantanamo

Relations are warming considerably, and President Obama is set to make an historic visit in the near future.

“Now the US embassy in Cuba is open, more business and tourists will be coming, which will place more pressure on coastal systems,” says co-author Joe Roman, a conservation biologist at the University of Vermont, in a telephone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. “What direction will Cuba take? Press ahead with development, or stand by its conservation laws?”

Cuba boasts an impressive set of environmental laws known as “Law 81,” implemented in the aftermath of Fidel Castro’s appearance at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Castro lampooned “consumer societies” over their “atrocious destruction of the environment.”

Cuba has a chance to make an important change

According to Dr. Roman, Law 81 and a lack of tourism have helped to safeguard Cuba’s ecosystem. He believes that Guantanamo can be used for sustainable develop and push Cuba to “move it forward in a way that benefits both the people and the wildlife.”

“Cuba has great scientists, but with very limited resources,” says Roman. “This is one place we could provide that equipment, working together until the eventual handover back to Cuba; by then, hopefully the benefits of working together would be apparent, and the endeavor could continue.”

The paper suggests a “Woods Hole of the Caribbean” which would work in the same vein as the famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) of Cape Cod, Mass. However WHOI scientist Hauke Kite-Powell says that these aims are “perhaps optimistic.” WHOI is home to nearly 1,000 people.

“The resources to replicate something like Woods Hole in the Caribbean are not going to be forthcoming anytime soon,” says Dr. Kite-Powell. “And building something like Woods Hole from scratch, even if land and funding were available, is a tall order. I’m not sure the authors meant that.”

Fellow scientists discount benefit of research facility

The facility carries out research with a global reach, and Kite-Powell does not believe that there is any need for another similar institute. However he does think that a facility looking into local concerns like coral reefs and tropical ecosystems would be of benefit.

Although Kite-Powell says that the transformation would be impressive, he also points out that there are existing Caribbean research facilities. However Roman says that Guantanamo could also become a peace park.

Roman says that the impact could be similar to that of the Iron Curtain in Europe, where a lack of human activity provided a respite for nature and laid the foundation for the European Green Belt. Guantanamo could serve as a cross-border initiative which bonds the two nations.

“If one wanted to support improved relations between the US and Cuba,” says Kite-Powell, “beginning with shared scientific endeavors is not a bad place to start, because scientists the world over are inclined to work together across political boundaries anyway.”