By Mary Beth Sutton, Caribbean SEA
EGE Haina, the largest electricity generating company in the Dominican Republic, recently inaugurated the Los Cocos Wind Park in the remote southwest area of country between the communities of Enriquillo and Juancho. Much of this region is semi-arid and many of the people live in extreme poverty. Haina had the foresight to recognize that they were about to alter these communities, but could not employ many people. For that reason, Haina’s leaders decided to invest in sustainable development in these small communities, helping them to help themselves through investments in education, health and job creation.
One investment was to establish a fishermen’s cooperative in the village of Juancho. The prevailing sea currents around Hispaniola come from Santo Domingo, the capital of the D.R. and hit the peninsula where Juancho is located. The amount of plastic garbage which is carried by these currents is enormous and in Juancho, it gets enmeshed in the roots of the magnificent mangroves which line the bay. Haina employed the fishermen during a critical part of the lobster breeding season to deep clean the mangroves. They removed hundreds of bags of plastic bottles. Caribbean SEA gave the fishermen marine and coastal ecology lessons while in the mangrove during their lunch breaks! The fishermen did not realize that corals were alive and how much better they could protect them by not anchoring to or standing on the brain coral or leaving their nets on the massive elkhorn coral. They were really amazed and ready to protect their reefs! Now these fishermen are establishing ecotours so they can show others the treasures of their home and teach others to protect the water, the mangroves and the coral reefs.
Because establishing the fishermen’s cooperative should lead to healthier coral reef habitat, we also wanted to establish a baseline of reef health through Reef Check procedures and volunteer SCUBA divers. Lucy Kreiling, of Columbia SCUBA in South Carolina, had told me several times that her divers like to go above and beyond recreational diving to really do something to help the reefs they love to dive. She put together a crew who paid their way to the Dominican Republic as well as for Reef Check certification from Angel Luis Franco, formerly part of Reef Check D.R. The fishermen took us in their small fishing boats out to the reefs they designated as the best reefs. The fishermen are on a steep learning curve and interacting with a group of divers who care about their reefs and their fish really made an impression on them. However, when we got out to the reef to begin the transects, Tropical Storm Emily started whipping up big swells. Only half of us could complete even the first transect, while the rest of us were feeding the fish as we lost our breakfast! Thankfully, the fishermen introduced us to the amazing healing power of coconut water and we all felt better quickly. The storm arrived the next day and ruined our plans for the survey, but we did engage the divers in a scientific eco tour where they analyzed water samples and observed bird and marine life in the very sheltered mangrove bay of Juancho. They also were able to observe the mountains of marine debris washing in on the waves, wave after wave bringing plastic bottles into the mangrove. The divers from Columbia SCUBA didn’t quite get the dive trip they had hoped for and Juancho didn’t get the Reef Check surveys completed, but these groups taught each other so much about culture, coral reefs, and about good people helping good people to protect our coral reefs. As a result, two of the fishermen are eager to learn to SCUBA dive and be certified as Reef Check EcoDivers so they can keep track of reef health from within their community. Baby CPR