By Reef Check Executive Director, Dr. Gregor Hodgson
Many people from developed countries who grew up swimming in pools, lakes or the ocean are surprised to learn that a high percentage of people living on small islands in developing countries do not know how to swim. Perhaps even more surprising is the number of fishermen who do not know how to swim. For this reason, when ferry boats sink in island nations like the Philippines, the death toll is high.
Beginning in March 2011, Reef Check’s Haiti Coordinator, Erika Pierre-Louise, began recruiting university students from the three top universities to see if some would be interested in learning to swim, snorkel and scuba dive prior to being trained as EcoDivers. In all, some seventy students applied to join the course. Of those, we selected about 40 to attend. Although some of the applications were passionate (“I love the sea and always wanted to be a marine biologist”), what we didn’t know is if anyone would actually show up for the course. The students had to take time off on Saturday or Sunday for three weeks and to pay for their own transportation to the training pool.
On the first day of class we were surprised and excited when almost all the students in the first group arrived – some quite early. For many, it was the first time they had been in the water. A few could swim a few feet. The professional swim instructor, Madame DePeste was very strict. After three weekends of training some students dropped out and some simply could not get the hang of it. But by the end of three sessions, we were left with 15 students who will now be trained as EcoDivers and will form the first survey team in Haiti.
In July, the selected students will learn to snorkel in the sea and begin their EcoDiver certification training. Reef Check is actively seeking donations of new snorkel and dive gear to equip the team.
The Reef Check surveys of the coral reefs of Haiti continue and another 50 km of coastline between Gonaives and Kaliko Beach was surveyed in April.
With the new government in place in Haiti, there is a lot of excitement about the possibilities for establishing a network of marine protected areas in the country.