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Expanding Our Horizons: Collaborations in Haiti

We are constantly looking for new opportunities for collaborations, especially to expand our horizons in the Caribbean Basin. In the past week we went to our neighbor island Hispaniola to work in Haiti. We are collaborating with local stakeholders and a international NGO to help setup a Marine Protected Area in the northern region of the country. We continue to search for new opportunities and experiences.

Photos by Gregg Moore and Stacey M. Williams — ISER Caribe

Last week, I visited Haiti to work with the Nature Conservancy to establish a species inventory and areas of importance (high biodiversity) in the second Marine Protected Area (MPA), Three Bays National Park/Parc National Trois Baies, located on the northwest coast of Haiti. This was my first trip to Haiti and I was excited and nervous at the same time. The MPA is a large reserve encompassing an area of 900 sq km and includes the bays of Limonade, Caracol and Fort Liberté. The marine ecosystems are unique around each of the bays. My responsibilities were to examine and record the different species of coral, sponges, soft coral, echinoderms, tunicates and byrozoans.

A day in the life of fishers: Fishing is a very physically demanding activity in Haiti.

There were some really degraded reefs but some very healthy reefs, with coral cover close to 60-70% (visually estimated). However, there was an eerie feeling swimming around the reefs and mangroves because there were no fish. The fishers have overfished most of the reefs, seagrass and mangrove habitats and even have successfully removed lionfish from the reefs. The fishing methods in Haiti are by far very different from the rest of the Caribbean. Many of the fishers cannot afford fuels for motors, so they row with homemade wooden paddles and/or sail to their fishing destinations. Some bays have more fishers than others, with high concentration of fishers in Caracol Bay. To give you an idea of the concentration of fishers, In Caracol Bay, there are maybe 1,000 fishers that fish in a n approximate area of 20 squared kilometers. That is 50 fishers fishing resources in each square kilometer of fishing ground area. The fishing techniques the fishers use, sein and gill nets, may  potentially damage the benthic substrate and have high rates of  bycatch.

Haiti, historically, culturally and socially is unique country in the Caribbean. It was an enriching and uplifting experience. They are proud people, whom hold true to their customs and culture. I believe that Haiti’s coastal and marine ecosystems have a lot to offer and it is important to protect them in the marine reserve. I will be returning in August to assess the benthic diversity on the deeper coral reef habitats.

In this trip we helped document the invertebrate diversity of the shallow coastal areas of the Parc National Trois Baies.

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