I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Jaime Aquino, founder of the Haiti Ocean Project.
BBC spent three days filming Haiti Ocean Project for an upcoming “Caribbean” series in February 2015 hosted by Simon Reeve.
Ms. Aquino has come across many legal obstacles in her goal of protecting the marine animals in Haiti’s waters.
Legislation was nearly passed under the former Prime Minister, Laurent Lamothe, but efforts have restarted once again under new officials.
Meanwhile, the marine animals in Haiti are constantly being taken advantage of. Fisherman from other countries capture the unprotected animals and sell them for profit knowing that they cannot do this in other waters such as in the United States. Big companies will purchase captured live dolphins for 100,000 dollars or more for use in their “swim with dolphins” programs. This illegal fishing continues in Haiti due to a lack of legislation proclaiming that this type of fishing is illegal.
Also, with outdated permits, some fisheries have a right to capture a certain quantity of the marine life, and this ability is often manipulated through bribery. The inadequacy of current law is reflected in their mentioning of animals, such as mantis and seals, who have already been killed to extinction in Haiti. Walruses are also protected under current legislation but there are no walruses in Haiti.
Impoverished fishers and children are paid to collect protected marine life for a nominal price, an affront to the economy of the country, its people, and the beautiful marine life that are at home in Haiti’s waters.
Working together with marine biologists, Haiti Ocean Project has created an updated sanctuary decree for the specific species of Haiti’s waters relevant to the needs of the marine life today.
The project is all about the conservation of these animals, some of which are near extinction. Ms. Aquino gradually transitioned in her career as a teacher in Fort Lauderdale to pursue the protection these animals full time. Concerns for the animals were brought to her attention by the Haitian students in her class at that time. Now, Haiti Ocean Project also serves to educate children in Haiti but bringing to their attention the importance of marine animals.
Many of the students involved in Haiti Ocean Project have gotten scholarships for higher education, an opportunity that otherwise would not have been within a ready reach.
The ultimate goal of the Haiti Ocean Project is to construct a marine sanctuary in Haiti that will undoubtedly bring protection to these animals, allow for important research and increase tourism and employment to the country.
Ms. Aquino once believed that the legislation had received the push it needed to be enacted when a humpback whale had been harpooned on a beach and died. But the attention on the incident faded away.
Hopefully, the Haiti Ocean Project will receive the support and attention needed to properly present the proposed updates to the appropriate legislative bodies in Haiti so that they may be swiftly enacted.
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