February 27, 2014

New MPAs for Haiti Declared

EJ Beucler (right) with Reef Check EcoDiver survey team for north coast of Haiti

By Dr. Gregor Hodgson, Reef Check Foundation Executive Director

Since 2010, Reef Check has been focused on educating university students in Haiti about coral reefs, training them as EcoDivers so that Haitians could participate in the first comprehensive survey of the country’s coral reefs. We have also supported the government’s efforts to design and implement a network of marine protected areas. So far, we have trained 30 Haitians to swim, snorkel, scuba dive and finally to become certified Reef Check EcoDivers. All have participated in surveys of over 1000 km of Haiti’s coast and coral reefs.

A key partner in this process has been Edward (EJ) Beucler, a graduate student at Harvard University with an interest in marine conservation. EJ’s wife is Haitian and he speaks Creole, an indispensible skill working in rural areas. From the start of this project, he volunteered to help to design and carry out surveys and the training programs throughout the country. For his Masters Thesis, EJ mastered the intricacies of the MARXAN modeling program and Geographic Information Systems. Using

EJ laying out a transect line

these, he analyzed the survey data and came up with recommendations on which areas of Haiti would be best for Marine Protected Area status. Congratulations to EJ!

Our survey work on the reefs of Haiti has shown that previous assumptions about reef conditions and impacts were often wrong. Although upland erosion is a huge problem due to poorly managed agriculture and forest conversion, most reefs in Haiti do not suffer from sedimentation impacts. Only a few areas have been damaged seriously by sedimentation. The major impact on most reefs in Haiti is simply overfishing. The overfishing is so bad that there are almost no fish on some reefs and most are highly destabilized due to a lack of herbivores and overgrowth by macro algae.

As far back as 1983, the Arcadine Islands were recommended for MPA status by foreign consultants including Dr. Marea Haziolos of the World Bank. Subsequently, Jean Wiener, a Haitian marine biologist based in the US, and Director of the Fondation pour la Protection de la Biodiversite Marine, recommended several other areas for MPA status. During the past three years, Reef Check Haiti has shared our findings with other NGOs, international development banks, the US Agency for International Development and the Ministry of Environment. By the end of 2013, the government of Haiti declared two sets of MPAs – one in the south and one in the north. Given the lack of capacity in Haiti with respect to designing and implementing MPAs, Reef Check Haiti and our EcoDivers are well placed to help the government to carry out these new plans.