Jamie Aquino, WDCS’ Haiti and Pier2Pier coordinator, has just returned from Haiti where she continues developing our education and research programs and building relationships with the community of Petite Riviere de Nippes, and Grand Goave. In both villages, new connections were made with local fishermen who shared stories of whales and dolphins just off-shore, and with children - eager to help with beach clean-ups, and to learn about the ocean and its inhabitants. One goal of the program is to educate and empower children so they will become ambassadors for the protection of whales, dolphins, and their environment.
The devastation from the recent earthquake is still all around, but there is hope in the hillsides of Haiti, and interest in our project. We remain committed to this multi-faceted project, combining ecotourism, education and research in a region where little is known about whale and dolphin distribution. The prospects that may result from the partnerships are encouraging: building a marine discovery center where visiting scientists can conduct valuable research, while empowering a population facing many 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.
Jamie shares her experience from her recent trip below:
"On Tuesday, July 13th, I traveled to Haiti for a fourth time. My week-long trip included visits to the fishing villages of Petite Riviere de Nippes, Petite Trou de Nippes, Grand Goave and Leoganne, which are all located west of Port-au-prince on the southern peninsula. Haiti’s waters are filled with a variety of marine life, which I have discovered both this time and on a trip one year ago.
In June of 2009, I was fortunate to see two species of whale on consecutive days – the sperm whale and the dwarf sperm whale. On this trip, I spotted a green sea turtle, marlin, several bonita and lionfish. I spent two full days on the water, just off the coast of Petite Riviere de Nippes, Petite Trou de Nippes and Grand Goave.
I talked to the fishermen about the whales and they said they have recently seen the big sperm whales, just not today. They also said that sometimes when they are in the motor boat, these very large fish like to follow the boat. I told them that the only fish I could think of that would follow a boat are dolphins, who ride the waves. They didn't know for sure. They also said August and September was about the time that the whales are seen more frequently.
After I returned from the trip to sea, I met with eight of the kids in Petite Riviere de Nippes. I talked to them about my ideas, the ocean, the whales, etc. and they were so happy I was finally back. They are really excited and have some ideas of their own. I talked to them about cleaning up the local beaches and they said they would begin next week. I gave each kid a Dolphin Diploma (in French) and explained what they are and how we can use them for the project. When I took the picture, we hadn't written their names on the diplomas yet because they wanted to first think about what they were going to write on the back. These kids are really serious about this project and don't just want to write or say anything that they aren't going to commit to do! I also told them that in the future, they would give the Dolphin Diplomas to other kids that they talk to and teach them about the ocean and marine mammals. They really liked that idea because they ultimately want to be the "teachers"!!!
On Sunday, I spent the day with Michele Simon, a local Haitian businessman who is involved with the fishermen in many villages in Haiti. Michele is the director of an environmental non-profit in Haiti called Fondation Verde. He spends almost every day on the water, primarily in the Grand Goave area. He told me he has seen a variety of marine life and marine mammals in the waters off Grand Goave in the past few years.
Michele said he sees dolphin all the time, especially near Grand Goave. I showed him the marine mammal guide and he said he has seen bottlenose, spotted and spinner dolphins before. He also said there are slightly larger dark gray or black dolphins, but he couldn't identify them in the book. I showed him the pictures of the dwarf sperm whales, but he couldn't say for sure. He also said he sees the large sperm whales all the time, more frequently beginning in October through the fall and early spring. Michele said he sees whale sharks from time to time. And, in December of last year, he saw orcas right off of Grand Goave. He was really shocked to see them, but fascinated. Michele said the orcas were eating a shark and attacked it with ferocity. He said he remembers another time when a pod of orcas circled a wahoo and attacked it, ripping it apart.
Michele also said there has recently been an influx of barracudas and they are very aggressive. He said prior to the earthquake in January, he had never seen a barracuda in Haiti.. He also sees lionfish and sea turtles often.
In addition to dolphins and whales, Michele told me there are manatees in Haiti, specifically in the area from Jacmel to the Dominican Border. He said they migrate back and forth between the D.R. and Haiti, more frequently after a big storm. He said they are there year round and they are hunted for food. Michele said there are signs in the water for boaters and fishermen to watch out for the manatees. Michele said the fishermen harpoon the manatees and that his brother has eaten the meat before.
Our plan is to return to Haiti in late September, to again look for whales and dolphins and also investigate the southern part of the peninsula to search for manatees. I am encouraged by wealth of marine life that exists in a country where the ocean environment has not been made a priority."
Saturday, July 24. 2010