Haiti’s Coral Reefs Surveyed: Reefs Could Provide a Stable Food Source

Non-profit organization Reef Check recently surveyed coral reefs in Haitian waters.  Emphases on improving reef health globally, lead the group to comprise the first comprehensive survey for Haiti waters.  Preliminary findings released early February revealed severe overfishing has destabilized the coral reef eco-system.  Reef Check and other non-profit groups hope to establish a Coral Reef Project to protect the reefs along with providing vital protein to Haitian residents. 

Haiti is considered one of the most populated and poorest countries in the western hemisphere.  The cramp Caribbean island houses 8 million – 10 million people, making up 25% of the total Caribbean population.  With widespread unemployment, around 76% of Haitians live on $2 a day.  Low unemployment rates coupled with low wages produces a formula of an under-nourished population.  Children eating salted mud-cakes are frequently told.  With such statistics it is no wonder people turn to fishing to provide food for their families.

Coastal fishing provides 50% of Haiti’s protein consumption.  Estimates of 30,000 fishermen and their families rely on coastal resources for their livelihood.  Heavy exploitation and poor water management, along with factors such as pollution and destructive use, are considered the primary reasons for the reef’s severe degradation.  Overfishing of Caribbean reefs has resulted in a lower abundance of mature fish.  Continued fishing by Haitians mean fish cannot develop to mature size to spawn.

After January 12, 2010’s tragic 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated much of the island, marine biologist were surprised to find little damage to the island’s coral reef.  Surveying the Arcadine Islands north of Port au Prince and reefs off Jacmel on the south coast biologist found clear waters.  In Jacmel, where coastal hotels were destroyed or badly damaged, reefs remained stable with 80% living coral.

According to an article on greenliving, “healthy coral reefs can provide up to 35 metric tons of fish per square kilometer.”  Currently, overfished reefs in Haiti provide around one-tenth the amount of other healthy, Caribbean coral.  Even before 2010’s massive earthquake, Haiti’s reefs were being overfished.  Experts in marine biology say overfishing is easy to do since reef fish grow slow, mature late and can change sex.    

Reef Check believes re-establishment of coral can provide an appropriate food source for Haitian people, but also stabilize underwater ecosystem.  Reef Check and other non-profits dedicated to the health of coral reefs, think education is the key to helping both the Haiti people and the reefs develop into a stronger, healthier livelihood.  Reef Check Executive Director Dr. Gregory Hodgson stated he doesn’t understand why international relief agencies focus on soil solutions when the country is an island surrounded by coral reefs.  He feels the agencies neglect potential solutions, which could improve living conditions all around. Biologists are proposing an area of coral be set aside to allow for mature development of fish.  Proper management of the coral reefs will allow reef fish to grow and mature spawning millions of young fish yearly.  Haiti’s fish supply would significantly increase providing a more appropriate food source for the island people. 

Plans to create a network of protected marine areas are underway with high hopes the areas will increase fish stock.  Emphasis on education about the value of reefs and the benefits of reef conservation along with regular monitoring of reef status will be at the forefront of protected areas.  Scientist acknowledge food sources for Haiti would not be solved, but the effort would provide help to the malnourished country.       

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