A marine conservation programme trains young Haitians to monitor coral reef health and food security within their area.
Months after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, marine ecologist Gregor Hodgson, the founder of the California-based non-profit Reef Check, came to Haiti to assess how the quake had affected the country’s reefs. He discovered that they had been dying for many years, and that fish numbers had dramatically fallen. Living coral occupied just 10 per cent of the reefs surveyed.
Hodgson introduced a programme to train local young people to monitor the reefs as ‘eco divers’. Haiti is currently the only country in the Caribbean to have no marine protected areas, and it is hoped that comprehensive surveying will be invaluable in helping the government to create reef protection policies.
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But the initiative is not just about reef health – it is also about food security. Even before the quake local sources of protein were limited, and there was huge pressure on fish stocks. Fishermen stopped throwing back the smaller, herbivorous fish that fed on the reef’s algae, and as a result the algae grew very quickly, killing off the living corals. If marine protected areas were introduced and the reefs were given the chance to recover, fish stocks would soon begin to increase. It is hoped that the ‘eco divers’ will help to gain support among local fishermen for this strategy.
Incredibly, before the programme started virtually none of the students could swim – let alone dive – because of local superstitions surrounding water. The Reef Check team had to start the training from scratch, but the students are already making remarkable progress.
Gelareh Darabi travels to Haiti to meet the students and learn some of techniques which could help safeguard Haiti’s marine ecosystems.
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