February 28, 2017

Reef Check Delivers in Haiti

By Dr. Gregor Hodgson, Executive Director

Hurricane Matthew slammed the west end of the southern peninsula of Haiti on October 4, 2016, cutting a path through two areas where Reef Check has been working for the past four years – Cayes/Port Salut on the south coast and villages west of Jeremie on the north coast. It was pretty clear right away that the major aid agencies would need a long time to get any relief to these remote areas because it just takes them a long time to gear up for such a major disaster covering a large area. On October 13th we put out an urgent appeal for immediate help, and many of you graciously responded with donations totaling $4377. Because the bridges and roads to Jeremie were damaged/blocked, our RC Haiti team focused on the families of children we have been teaching in Port Salut and St Jean. After discussing the situation with our students and fishermen, we decided to supply rice and solar-powered lamps that could also be used to charge cell phones. Later we also delivered rice and lamps to the villages located between Anse D'Azur and Anse du Clerc.  The villagers were really grateful for both, and this has helped us to gain their trust as we begin implementation of the new network of at least 12 Marine Protected Areas. In total we purchased and distributed 100 lights at $22 each, and the rest went for rice at $16 – $19 per 55-pound bag (depending on purchase location) for a total of 188 bags. Initially, we also included some extras such as 50 gallons of cooking oil and 94 bags of drinking water in Port Salut. We could carry only about 15 sacks at a time in our car due to the poor condition of the roads. Also depending on location, the local fishermen's cooperative and/or mayor divided the rice into smaller amounts for distribution to several hundred coastal families. We also continued to buy meals for the students in our regular classes in Port Salut in schools often without roofs.

We would like to thank all those who generously supported this unusual project. The smiles of the recipients speak for themselves. The RC Haiti team worked hard to figure out a safe and fair distribution system with the right people in each location. We were really encouraged by how much Haitians were helping Haitians as well. In particular, local villagers were helping each other to get their roofs repaired.

 Rapid Assessment of Coral Reefs and Mangroves – Good and Bad News

Using RC funds, we were also able to do some rapid assessments of the damage to the reefs on both coasts. The good news is that there are still coral reefs in all locations. The bad news is that the damage ranged from moderate to severe with losses ranging from 30 to 60% of living reef. The extensive stands of the staghorn coral, an endangered species, were flattened, but thankfully some small branches that were cemented to the reef survived and will be the seedlings for natural recovery. The mound-shaped coral heads were battered but still standing. The waves ripped great holes in the reefs exposing old fossil staghorn branches that make up the inner structure of those reefs, which are probably several thousand years old. We hope to get a more quantitative assessment soon.


This NOAA satellite image shows the massive Cat 4-5 Hurricane Matthew eye making landfall west of Port Salut, Haiti before heading north and exiting west of Jeremie. Many structures lost their roofs and walls to wind and storm surge like this Port Salut restaurant.
School lunches for St Therese students in St Jean (note roof still missing) Distributing solar lamps to students in Port Salut School lunches
Buying rice sacks in Jeremie Members of Fishermen's Assoc. carrying rice sacks donated by Reef Check supporters to be distributed to families in BonBon Grateful families in village Numero Deux
Unloading rice at Mayor's house in Numero Deux Loading rice in Reef Check car Car full of dive gear and rice sacks
The reef off of Jeremie Airport was scoured badly at 10 m depth In some areas the well-attached coral heads were not damaged In deeper water (>15 m), the reef was unscathed
A few tough, endangered Elkhorn coral survived at Anse Du Clerc A few branches of the more fragile, endangered, Staghorn coral also survived near Anse D'Azur. These will be the seedlings that will quickly grow and rebuild the extensive staghorn reefs formerly found in this area. Gaping holes were ripped into the reef exposing 1000-year old fossil Staghorn branches and spreading them across the sand