Our work in the Caribbean extends beyond the Turks and Caicos and eastern Caribbean. In Haiti, on the island of Hispaniola, WDCS is partnering to extend our “Live Free in the Sea" and “Pier2Pier"campaigns. Our island coordinator Jamie Aquino is currently in Petite Riviere de Nippes, a rural fishing village approximately 80 miles southwest of the capital of Port Au Prince.
WDCS’ “Live Free in the Sea" Campaign builds knowledge and awareness of the coastal and marine environment, the theme being “What we do on land affects the sea", and with a focus on keeping whales and dolphins wild in their natural environments. The Pier2Pier campaign links students in Florida with their Haitian peers. Most recently, we have enlisted the interest and participation of international marine mammal scientists, local fishermen, government ministries from Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the American Haitian Foundation, a local marine conservation organization and a non-profit dedicated to bringing laptops and a marine-curricula to students in the Caribbean.
In Haiti, we are conducting awareness-raising activities with the students at the Petite Riviere School, including presentations, beach-cleans and other activities to highlight the importance of a clean ocean. Oswaldo Vasquez from the Dominican Republic is in Haiti now with Jamie conducting preliminary water surveys to assess the potential for a longer term marine mammal survey, while extending goodwill, technical assistance and political commitment from Haiti’s neighboring country. A building has been donated for our use and for the eventual development of a marine sciences discovery center. We are also exploring the potential for ecotourism activities, such as whale and dolphin watching, that might bring real income to the community.
As the most poverty-stricken country in the Caribbean, we are excited about the prospects that may result from the partnerships that are converging in Haiti to build not only a marine sciences center, where visiting marine mammal scientists might come to conduct valuable research, but a source of empowerment and hope for a population facing many environmental, social and political challenges. I think the moniker H.O.P.E (Haitian Oceanic Project for the Environment) chosen by Jamie and her students is a good one. The projects and positive focus on the potential of the region may provide hope for the Haitian children and fishing community that they can play a part in changing the environment around them, while contributing to the protection of the fascinating marine mammals in their backyards that they are coming to know through our outreach.
Jamie’s account from her first few days in Haiti is provided below:
I arrived in Petite Riviere de Nippes, Haiti on Tuesday evening. Yesterday was my first full day in the village. With the cooperative weather, I decided it was best to get out on the water and explore the area for dolphins and whales. I was accompanied by Oswaldo Vasquez, who works for the
Before venturing out on a boat, Oswaldo and I spent at least one hour talking to a young teacher from La Gonave, a small island situated 25 miles northwest of
We went out on the water in a small, unstable motor boat operated by two local fishermen. The first task was to check the coral formations. In the two areas that we researched, there was approximately 30 percent of live coral existing and some small reef fish including clownfish. Oswaldo then used a hydrophone to listen for sounds of dolphins and whales in the area. At the last of five listening stations, Oswaldo and I heard some distant clicking sounds which needed to be further evaluated back on land.
We will return to the sea today with Haitian maritime expert Max Bordey, who will take us to an uninhabited bay where mangroves exist. We will not only be searching for dolphins and whales, but also investigate the possibility of manatees in the area. Tomorrow, Oswaldo and I will conduct a marine mammal presentation for the select group of schoolchildren who are going to be involved in this project.
On Thursday, we encountered two sperm whales approximately two miles from shore! A third whale was seen breaching in the distance, and our hydrophone picked up the underwater clicking sounds of multiple whales. On Friday, we left shore at 5:30AM, and encountered a small group of pilot whales! Two species on two separate days…we are excited what else we might find in this area, and look forward to officially documenting the marine mammals in these waters with future surveys!