By Dr. Gregor Hodgson, Reef Check Executive Director
On the other end of Hispaniola Island from Haiti, Reef Check Dominican Republic (RCDR) has just celebrated its 5th anniversary with the amazing early success of La Caleta Marine Protected Area. As documented in a beautifully illustrated coffee-table book on its first five years, RCDR has shown how to turn a former "paper park" into a well-functioning Marine Protected Area producing both ecological and economic solutions. Both Reef Check's Dr. Gregor Hodgson and "Her Deepness" Dr. Sylvia Earle were able to dive there recently. "I was very excited to see the condition of the corals," stated Hodgson, "plenty of fish and very little algae. This shows that with proper management even badly overfished reefs can come back to life quickly.”
In 2004, Reef Check International developed its first project in the DR, which sought to create and implement an educational program known as the EcoDiver. This citizen science program was offered to kids and adults in order to increase awareness of direct and indirect uses of reef resources. As this program grew in popularity, it became clear that there was a need for a local non-profit organization that would work toward continuous, long-term marine conservation, education, and restoration projects for coral reefs at a national level. Reef Check Dominican Republic (RCDR) became a legal entity on December 28, 2005 under the leadership of Dr. Rubén Torres, a coral reef ecologist.
The creation of RCDR established the local presence of a formal institution of trained staff working around the clock on coral reef conservation. In addition to a core program of citizen science, Reef Check has also focused on putting conservation and restoration of local coral reef systems into action. La Caleta, near the airport in Santo Domingo, is one of several reef areas where RCDR has been involved in monitoring and conservation activities. Working with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the result has been significant improvements in coral reef health in one year.
With this shared management model, RCDR developed a long-term project consisting of integrating community members into the park management, as well as creating a new and better alternative to destructive fishing for fishermen through eco-tourism (snorkel and kayak), thus providing the basis for a more sustainable outcome for both the park and the fishermen. The fishermen are now the biggest supporters of La Caleta. Given the required level of conservation that is currently being implemented, the preservation of many species that represent the Dominican Republic’s rich marine flora and fauna are now observable in a place where they were once absent. Large fish such as Grouper and lobsters are coming back. Divers and others interested in marine conservation now have the opportunity to witness a true success story as the reef restores itself.
For more information on RCDR and to find out how you can get involved, visit www.reefcheckdr.org