Recently in Caribbean Category


This Times article about Haiti's dying reefs I think illustrates an important point about marine conservation efforts: it's not necessarily a case of environmentalism-vs-industry. You need to protect reef habitats in order to prevent the kind of "Tragedy of the Commons" scenario we're seeing unfolding in Haiti, where over-fishing continues even when it's obvious it's bad for everyone in the long run.
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In Haiti 54,000 fishermen rely on the ocean for their livelihood... [and in] recent decades, as their usual catches of Nassau groupers and snappers have dwindled and disappeared, many of them have subsisted by netting and spearing small reef fish that keep coral clean of algae. Now those too are almost gone, and the algae have taken over....

Pierre Guy LaFontant, Haiti's director general of fisheries, acknowledged that overfishing was a problem and said that officials were receptive to the idea of establishing protected waters. But if the government cannot enforce its existing fishing regulations, can fishermen be persuaded to abide by an invisible line in the water?

But of course it's not as simple as just protecting and waiting, since these Haitian fishermen have basic short-term needs that can't easily be put on hold.

Henry Hilaire, who has fished for 36 years, gathered nets from a sailboat with several other Haitians in waters that Reef Check hopes will eventually be protected.... Mr. Hilaire pulled two small fish, each about five inches long, from his basket. "It's really too young to keep," he said, but "circumstances are such that if we didn't keep them, we'd go hungry."....

They're desperate, trying to survive, so how do you tell them not to fish here?" asked Romain Louis, 37, a literature teacher hoping to become part of the eco-diver team.

Mr. Louis suggested that the fishermen would need an incentive... "Maybe, if these fishermen got a trade-off, they'd stop fishing on overfished reefs."

The whole article is worth a read... As bad as things are for Haiti's coral reefs, it's good to know that conservation efforts are beginning.

Last January, Seacology's Board of Directors approved our first project in Jamaica. The project is supporting the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA), the nation's largest protected area, which includes extensive mangroves, seagrass beds, and coral reefs. Such coastal ecosystems provide essential habitat to many species of birds, fish, invertebrates, and plants and are vital for islands as protection against erosion and flooding. Seacology partnered with the local organization responsible for managing PBPA to help construct a field office and barracks for use by the professional rangers who enforce the no-take fish sanctuaries in the reserve. To conserve resources, these structures were created out of recycling shipping containers, which convert into excellent (and even two-story!) office buildings.

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The world's largest living species of fish, whale sharks are internationally recognized as vulnerable, facing threats from commercial fishing and habitat destruction. In the summer months, as many as 300 whale sharks gather north of Isla Mujeres, off Cancun, and farther north near Holbox, Mexico. These gentle giants are welcoming to human visitors, and many divers have experienced the thrill of swimming with them. Trouble is, several times a week, huge cargo ships travel through congregation sites, sometimes striking the slow-moving creatures. Currently, there are no demarcation buoys to create shipping lanes and warn ship captains to stay clear because of the vulnerable whale sharks. Seacology is working with local guides to deploy a series of state-of-the-art demarcation buoys complete with GPS transponders that will warn ships to stay clear. Once these buoys are deployed, official navigation charts would also denote the area as a whale shark reserve.
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Seacology has teamed up with Undercurrent, a leading dive magazine, to help protect the whale sharks that make their home around Mexico. Undercurrent subscribers have already contributed nearly $6,000 toward the $45,000 needed for the buoy project, and the local tour operators, hotels, and other businesses in the area will be donating up to half the cost, as long as Seacology can raise the rest. Now, for every dollar you give to this project, Undercurrent subscriber Elaine Mathews of Long Beach, California, will match it with a dollar of her own, up to $5000. That's right; your tax-deductible contribution will be doubled. Please help protect these gentle giants, by donating to Seacology. Be sure to note that your tax-deductible donation is for the whale shark buoy project. Remember, every dollar you give will be doubled, thanks to the generosity of Elaine Mathews' matching gift. Please donate now to help save the whale sharks!

Whale Sharks In Mexico

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Next time you are in Mexico and someone asks you to play with dominoes, you may be in for a very large surprise.  Due to the many white spots that mark their gray bodies, in Mexico the common nickname for  whale sharks is "dominoes."  Indeed these gentle giants do resemble dominoes - very, very large ones, that is.  At up to 48 feet in length and weighing up to 25 tons, whale sharks, or Rhincodon Typus as they are known to scientists, are the world's largest fish.  Despite their enormous size, comparatively little is known about them.  One of the reasons for this is that there are not large numbers of them left in the oceans and for much of the year they are solitary animals.

Whaleshark0025.jpg Less than ten years ago, marine biologists discovered that during the months of June to September the world's largest aggregation of whale sharks takes place off the coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.  In recent years they can be found north of Isla Mujeres, a small island just off the coast of Cancun.  A smaller number can also be found off of Holbox Island near the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.  Whale Sharks are listed on the International Union of the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN's) Red List of Vulnerable Species, meaning their future is in danger.

Movies, Monsters and a Mongoose

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In pondering my path to Seacology, I thought about my first venture to a tropical island. It was a month spent on St. Croix in the Caribbean in 1977. I was working for an entertainment company training exotic animals for the movie The Island of Dr. Moreau, starring Burt Lancaster (a living legend in one of his last movies) and Michael York (a fine actor and really nice guy). Based on the novel by H.G. Wells, the sci-fi monster movie was filmed on a spectacular swath of the island privately owned by and leased from the Rockefeller family.

To bring in tigers, lions, bears, and various other exotic animals to the island was an enormous undertaking. We set up a compound in the lush forest about a quarter mile from the beach, where the weather made everyone happy. Since the property was guarded and very secluded, we frequently took the animals for long beach walks ending in a riotous swim in the bath water sea. Paradise, right?

Breadfruit: A Symbol of Island Life

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Breadfruit trees (Artocarpus altilis) can grow to 65 feet and produce round, heavy fruit for 50 years. 'Ulu, as we call it in Hawai'i, is found on many islands around the world, and its large, glossy leaves with small bumps are a common Hawaiian quilt pattern (below). The skin of the large fruit is green and bumpy, the flesh starchy and white or pale yellow.

Breadfruit Quilt Pattern.jpgAs a food, breadfruit (always cooked) is common throughout the Pacific. When I studied in Samoa, breadfruit was served every day in the cafeteria, prepared boiled--and very bland. In contrast, roasted breadfruit (either cooked in a modern oven or the traditional underground oven) is delicious, and in Samoa the fruit is used as a vehicle for palusami, coconut milk and onions in taro leaf. This dish is one of the things I miss most about Samoa.