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Haiti’s Hidden Treasures

When I tell people I work as an environmental specialist on projects in Haiti, I get some confused reactions. Surely – I am asked – a country that it is focused on rebuilding houses and schools, tackling the challenges of health and education, and creating new economic opportunities and jobs, is not thinking about protecting mangrove forests and coral reefs.

photo 1Photo by Natasha Kate Ward 

Wrong!

natashaIn October 2013 the Haitian government took an important step in recognizing the value of its unique natural heritage, with the designation of 75,000ha Marine Protected Area in the country’s northeast. The “Parc Marin Trois Baies” is home to some of the last remaining stands of mangrove forests and intact coral reefs in the country, but also to a local population who rely largely on these natural assets for their livelihoods.

photo 4Photo by Natasha Kate Ward 

Herein lies the challenge.

The new marine park protects three very important ecosystems: mangroves, coral reefs, and seagrasses. Together these provide critical ecosystem services for the local community, but at the same time are under considerable threat from unsustainable economic activities, such as salt production and overfishing, and producing charcoal from mangroves.  In particular, the health of the mangroves and the reef is essential to the local fishing industry. It serves as an important spawning and nursery zone for fish, mollusks and crustaceans that provide income for fishers and protein for the local population. It also provides crucial protection to the northern shoreline from storm surges and the increasing threats brought by a changing climate.

128Photo courtesy of ReefCheck

No one understands this dynamic more than the local communities.

In March we travelled to Caracol, a small community that sits inside the new park, and which predominantly derives a living from the fish caught within the Bay. Here we caught a glimpse of Haiti’s untamed beauty – a side unknown to many Haitians and to the international community – and heard firsthand the hopes and concerns of this subsistence community.

While the local fishermen, united under the leadership of the head of the Caracol Fishers Association – Jackson Cadet, welcome the government’s actions to look after these critical natural resources, they are also anxious to see concrete solutions. This means developing economic alternatives for the local people, such as improved fishing techniques, increased productivity of salt production, sisal production in agriculture, and exploring new economic opportunities such as sustainable tourism.   

This is where the IDB is supporting Haiti.

115Photo courtesy of ReefCheck

Working hand-in-hand with the government of Haiti and other international partners, we are exploring opportunities to develop sustainable economic alternatives for local people. This involves the preparation of a sustainable development strategy for the region, as well as an analysis of the supply chain, and developing plans for local industries.

aerialPhoto courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

We are also working with environmental groups to establish an ecological baseline which will help understand actual and historical use of and change in marine and coastal habitats. The results of this work will be used to help guide management planning and monitor the Park. These activities are part of a large suite of environmental and social mitigation and management measures put in place by the IDB as part of its investment program in the Caracol Industrial Park, under construction 4km to the west of the new marine park.

The northern regions of Haiti face steep social and environmental challenges. But the declaration of the marine park is an amazing first step.  Ensuring that the Park lives up to its promise of protecting Haiti’s hidden treasures, while improving local livelihoods, will be a greater challenge yet.

125Photo courtesy of ReefCheck

Guest blogger, Natasha Kate Ward is an Environmental Specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank in the Environmental and Social Safeguards Unit.

Read more about this project and others in the IDB Sustainability Report.

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