Across the Caribbean, marine conservation organizations have been documenting the terrifying decline of coral reef systems, and developing a wide range of innovative projects to conserve ecologically important and Critically Endangered marine life. From the Florida Keys, to the Dominican Republic and the Lesser Antilles, marine biologists and conservationists are establishing pioneering underwater coral nurseries to combat coral reef decline.
Cutting-edge scientific knowledge and technology are protecting ‘keystone’ Caribbean coral species like Staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and Elkhorn (A. palmata) coral from total extinction. Since the 1980’s disease, pollution, and human impacts have devastated Caribbean coral reef habitat, and reduced Staghorn and Elkhorn coral populations to just 10% of their historical abundance. Across the Haitian coast, protection of the marine environment has been worryingly neglected and ecological impacts to coral reef systems largely undocumented, despite Haiti harboring the second longest coastline in the Caribbean.
Countless fishing communities across Haiti’s coastline rely upon local subsistence fisheries for the majority of household income, and protein in the average diet. In these regions, traditionally fished species are all ecologically-connected to local coral reefs, which also provide coastal protection and income from tourism. In a country recovering from political instability, and reeling from the 2010 earthquake and impacts from Hurricane Matthew, the protection of essential coral reef, seagrass and mangrove environments are vital for community development and the survival of endangered species, in the face of worldwide biodiversity loss and climate change.
In Northern Haiti, the Amiga Island Ecological Foundation (AIEF) was founded in 2015 to address the impacts to local coral reefs between Amiga Island and Labadee, and establish the first in-situ underwater coral nurseries to protect and grow Haitian Staghorn coral populations.
As a Haitian-based organization, AIEF was created to protect, preserve and enhance the local environment through education, scientific research and specific, place-based restoration projects. Founded by two brothers, AIEF safeguards critically threatened ecosystems both for their intrinsic value as well as their incredibly vital ecosystem services for local communities.
800 Staghorn colonies now fill the ¬in-situ coral nurseries around Amiga Island, growing from 15cm fragments to 200cm colonies in just 12 months. With genetically-diverse and stable populations of coral, SCUBA coral conservation teams can transplant nursery-grown Staghorn coral onto damaged coral reefs across Northern Haiti to restore essential coral reef biodiversity and habitat for subsistence fisheries, and ecologically valuable marine life.
“Active restoration is more than just growing coral, its growing awareness within the community – creating change”
For the long-term protection of Staghorn coral and coral reef systems in Northern Haiti, AIEF collaborates with local coastal communities to build trusting relationships and educate groups on the importance of marine life, and sustainable fishing practices. By celebrating the cultural and ecological value of local coral reef biodiversity, coastal communities are inspired to become local environmental stewards, and assist AIEF in the long-term ecological management of Haitian coral reefs for future generations.
To further engage local communities with the marine environment on their doorstep, AIEF has launched a new artificial reef expansion project at Amiga Island to promote alternative income opportunities such as eco-tourism across the region.
By connecting people with their local environment, Haitian reef systems and coastal habitat can recover with active restoration efforts and community engagement. Thus, re-branding Haiti as a hub for international eco-tourism and effective coral reef conservation in the Caribbean.
By Sean Darlow
Sean Darlow is the Coral Reef Biologist running operations at the Amiga Island Ecological Foundation in Cormier, Haiti. Inspired by the ocean’s biodiversity from an early age, Sean developed a strong passion for marine conservation. This led Sean to achieve a first class BSc and MSc in Marine Biology and Conservation Biology in the U.K for award-winning research in coral reef
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