Maxene Atis is the Haiti conservation coordinator for the The Nature Conservancy based in Coral Gables, FL.
Earlier this month, the Haitian government decreed its first marine protected area located in the south coast of Haiti. The decree states the marine and coastal region in the southwest of the southern peninsula has been declared protected area under the name “Natural Protected Area of Managed Resources of Port-Salut/Aquin.”
In a country devastated by and still recovering from a massive earthquake in 2010 it is unexpected, yet it sends a strong signal that the Haitian government is willing to act to support efforts towards sustainable resource management and environmental protection after many years of degradation. This is a new chapter in a country famous for its lack of environmental protection; especially the accelerated deforestation which left the country with only 2% forest cover as of 2006.
As a native Haitian, I know a Haiti that most people could never imagine. I remember a Haiti that was known as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” a Caribbean vacation destination as famous as Jamaica or Puerto Rico is today. Haiti’s sandy beaches and coral reefs lured tourists by the boatload. Its 1,100 miles of coast offered playgrounds for scuba divers, yachtsmen and cruise ships. And the tourism trade provided solid incomes for Haitians until the early 1990s.
The Nature Conservancy along with the United Nations Environmental Program, helped create the building blocks for this marine protected area. In 2011-2012 the Conservancy completed an assessment of the marine/coastal area surrounding Ile a Vache. In that assessment the Conservancy created the first seafloor map ever of Haiti’s south coast and preliminary draft map of the “core marine conservation areas” in the south coast.
There is no doubt that marine protected areas will provide healthier reefs, sustainable marine and coastal resource management and more fish which provide about 50% of protein to the local communities. There seems to be particular promise in Haiti’s south coast where, although damaged in some areas the reefs are in better shape than those found in other places in Haiti. The reefs in the far southwest coast of Ile a Vache is one good example of survival in Haiti’s marine environment.
Establishing a MPA in the midst of tourism development in the south coast means that the country is eager to build the tourism industry to provide jobs and income and promote local development. But at the same time, the government wants to see sustainable tourism development to protect the very natural resources that attract tourism.
This deliberate effort by the Haitian government to revamp the tourism industry, especially in the north and the south coast of Haiti is promising not only for the environment and natural resources of Haiti but the people as well.
I am excited to see what is in store for my native country and glad that the rest of the world will soon see the other side of Haiti.
[Image source: Annette Bonnier]