Interview with Jean Wiener, Director, Fondation pour la Protection de la Biodiversité Marine (FoProBiM)

By Dipika Chawla, Rainforest Alliance

Photo by FoProBiMCaracol Bay, located in the Lagons du Nord-Est Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) in Haiti, is part of a critically important “ridge-to-reef” ecosystem in a country plagued by widespread environmental degradation. Its mangroves, sea grass beds, and coral reefs provide habitat for 29 threatened plant and animal species, including manatees and four species of Critically Endangered sea turtles. They also prevent shoreline erosion, protect communities from storm surges, provide resources for fisheries, and sequester carbon. In 2013, a study carried out by the Fondation pour la Protection de la Biodiversité Marine (Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity, FoProBiM) estimated the KBA’s ecosystem services to be valued around $3 billion annually.

Opened in 2012, the Caracol Industrial Park is slated to provide 20,000-60,000 new jobs within the next five years–but poses serious threats to the area’s biodiversity. A few years ago, local fishermen and other groups approached FoProBiM and asked them to facilitate the development of a management plan for Caracol Bay. With support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), FoProBiM is bringing together a diverse collection of stakeholders to protect the area and the local livelihoods that depend on its natural resources. We spoke with Jean Wiener, director of FoProBiM, about their work in the area over the past few years.

Jean Wiener, Director of FoProBiM

Jean Wiener, Director of FoProBiM

How will the industrial park affect the area’s natural environment?

As the industrial park grows, a continuing influx of job seekers and their families will require housing, food, and fuel, putting increasing pressure on Caracol Bay’s resources. The exploitation of fisheries resources such as conch, fish, and lobster will rise, as will the deforestation of local mangroves for fuel wood and charcoal production. Without locally agreed upon, meaningful regulations in place, this could spell disaster for the region’s biodiversity.

Another issue is waste management. Solid waste as well as gray and black water from the factories has the potential to pollute the water supply and affect the entire ecosystem. This includes fish nurseries, on which local fishermen depend.

Why was this area chosen for the industrial park?

Decentralizing the population has been a goal of the Haitian government since the earthquake in 2010. Building an industrial park in the north has been a topic of discussion for quite some time.

However, this particular area has been recognized by the government and the NGO sector as ecologically important – in fact, just last December the Haitian government created the Three Bays Marine Protected Area (MPA), the second MPA in the country, which encompasses the entire Caracol Bay site. So, naturally, the environmental community and others in Haiti were very surprised when this particular location was chosen, especially considering the sensitivity of the surrounding ecosystems. This is definitely one of those cases where politics overrode common sense. They went ahead and built the park, and now we’re going back and doing what should have been done prior to construction—carrying out environmental impact assessments and baseline measurements.

How do local residents feel about the industrial park?

I’ve noticed a perceived lack of benefits by the local communities surrounding the park. Those who live closest to the park, especially those who were displaced and forced to give up their lands, feel the most alienated and rejected by it. They feel as if they have been sacrificed.

I’ve spoken to many people who tried to get jobs at the industrial park and were denied, either because they lack certain skills or are too old. Even those who can get jobs at the park may not truly benefit from it, as there have been many issues over the past decades in Haiti about the manufacturing sector not paying workers a living wage.

Then there’s the issue of feeling alienated by factory life. Many people here are fishermen or fish merchants who are self-employed and essentially running their own family businesses. It’s a huge cultural shock to transition from being a small business owner to being a factory worker. And paying for the commute to the park, food on-site, and childcare during work hours are all additional costs that come with employment in one of these factories.

Some people have indeed benefited from the industrial park, such as bus drivers, nearby restaurant owners, and employees who are getting a relatively high wage, and they are the ones who believe that it’s a good thing.

DSCN4259How did FoProBiM’s involvement begin?

We had already been working with some stakeholders in the area, particularly the Caracol Bay fishing sector. Just after the earthquake, some of the local stakeholders contacted us about creating a resource management plan for the area, as they were already having issues with overfishing and mangrove deforestation. Though rumors were starting to circulate about this supposed industrial park, the discussion was not focused on that at the time. Now that the park has already been built and we are creating a management plan after-the-fact, local stakeholders are even more supportive of protecting the area’s resources.

What are the key goals of this project?

We aim to help local communities understand the damaging impacts of certain fishing techniques, mangrove deforestation, and other resource extraction activities they’re engaging in right now. Local stakeholders need to fully understand the issues so that they can intelligently and effectively defend their own interests and make informed decisions about activities that will directly impact them. We’re involving residents in creating a management plan for a locally managed marine area so that they will feel invested in its success.

In addition to education, we’re also providing alternatives for generating income. Two alternatives we’re working on now are plant nurseries, particularly mangrove nurseries for reforestation, and mangrove-linked apiculture. By linking honey production with the mangroves, we’ll add value to them and incentivize people to avoid cutting them down for charcoal. In this way, we’ll be protecting the ecosystem services in situ while providing an environmentally-friendly way to earn a living.

Now that Caracol Bay has been declared part of an MPA, why are you attempting to establish it as a locally managed marine area?

Even though the national government created the MPA, they don’t have the capacity to fully enforce any restrictions on the use of natural resources. Any successful management activities will have to take place at the local level, with the support and the understanding of local communities.

What are some of FoProBim’s accomplishments so far?

We helped two laws come into effect – one was the creation of the Three Bays Marine Protected Area, which encompasses the entire Caracol Bay site, and the other was a law preventing the cutting of mangroves anywhere in Haiti.

For the past year, we’ve been meeting and consulting with local stakeholders, which include local government officials, salt producers, women’s and youth groups, fishermen, and charcoal producers. We’ve also started training local people to collect Geographic Information Systems data that will help make future management decisions.

Caracol 1 (27)What are the biggest challenges that this project faces?

Now that those two national laws are on the books, the biggest issue is going to be enforcement. There’s a lack of capacity on the public sector side. If they were to develop an enforcement program, it would have to begin with deputizing game wardens until there was sufficient surveillance. And there will always be the issue of who’s going to pay for them and provide equipment.

That said, in the absence of sufficient enforcement capabilities, our educational activities combined with our alternative income projects will hopefully incentivize people to protect the environment by showing them that it’s in their best interest to do so.

Learn more about this project on the Rainforest Alliance’s Eco-Index website »

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