“Environmental degradation is rife in Haiti — deforestation, erosion, pollution — and for the most part it is hard to miss. But for decades the country’s marine environment has suffered unseen. Its extensive coral reef system, an attraction to foreign scuba divers in the 1970s and ’80s, has largely died off — partly from sedimentation and climate change, but mostly from overfishing.”
“In Haiti 54,000 fishermen rely on the ocean for their livelihood, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, which oversees fisheries management. 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? “That would be my deepest dream,” Mr. LaFontant said, “but the reality is totally different. For fishermen, there are no alternatives. Poverty is the law.”
Many poor Haitians in rural areas overfish and cut down trees because they feel they have no choice. It is difficult to consider environmental issues when you are struggling day to day to provide for your family.
“Poverty is the law”, and yet, overfishing is directly resulting in increased poverty—the fish are vanishing for the fisherman, and the destruction of the reef has eliminated tourism from foreign divers.
The impoverished in Haiti are the most dependent on natural resources, and the most harmed when resources are deficient. It is imperative that we help them manage those resources responsibly, but this cannot occur in the face of joblessness.
Reef check is training local Haitians as divers to evaluate and rehabilitate the reefs. Hopefully, this training will lead to jobs for the Haitians. Access to solid primary education for all Haitian youth is of paramount importance moving forward.
But for now, as in many nations, jobs are what most every Haitian is seeking. They must have an alternative source of income if we hope to reverse the ruination of the environment.