Turning the Tide for Coastal Fisheries

Entry Overview

Restoring Corals and Fisheries in Punta Cana
Entrant Image: 
Puntacana Ecological Foundation
Punta Cana
Dominican Republic
18° 34' 55.236" N, 68° 24' 19.7028" W
Describe the problem: 

Our solution incorporates local fishermen and visiting tourists in the restoration of the endangered Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), providing alternative livelihoods for fishermen, reducing fishing pressure on the reef, and creating voluntourism opportunities for tourists. With the region-wide loss of this species, the ecological, societal, and economic services that this key component of Caribbean coral reefs provides have also declined. Active restoration and propagation is the best management tool available to recover the species. The Foundation has been a leader in this field for almost seven years. Our solution seeks to maintain viable populations of Acropora in protected nurseries and transplant sites, while working to improve conditions for their long-term survival.

Biodiversity Impact: 
Punta Cana is one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean in large part due to its beautiful beaches. Dominican tourism depends upon the reef ecosystem to create the beaches that attract millions of tourists from all over the world. Yet studies confirm that Punta Cana has many eroding beaches and some of the lowest fish populations and coral cover in the Caribbean. Currently few opportunities exist for tourists or local communities to actively protect and restore the reef. Scientists have identified overfishing as the primary culprit of reef decline in Punta Cana. Our solution will recruit, train, and hire local fishermen to work in coral restoration in Punta Cana. Taking advantage of their skills in the water, we will hire fishermen to provide maintenance and expand existing Staghorn nurseries, as well as accelerate outplanting of nursery-reared corals to local reefs. Fishermen will actively contribute to improving ecosystem health while allowing depleted fisheries to recover. Additionally, we will create a PADI specialty dive certification that trains and certifies divers from around the world in coral restoration techniques. The PADI certification will provide volunteer opportunities for visitors and create a unique dive market in Punta Cana. We will work with hotels and tour operators to promote these new diving opportunities. The fishermen will be trained to supervise volunteer restoration efforts by visiting divers as well as provide guided tours of restoration efforts to snorkelers and non-certified divers.
Human Well Being and Livelihood Impact: 
Engaging fishermen in reef restoration is the primary component of our solution. We have also developed additional economic opportunities for fishermen. The Foundation has been using “lobster casitas” as a way for fishermen to sustainably harvest lobster. The casitas are simple structures that attract lobster, where they can be more efficiently captured without exploiting the reef. In exchange for the casitas, fishermen agree to respect no-fishing zones and ban seasons and to respect set size limits. We now have over 200 lobster houses constructed. We also coordinated direct purchase of lobster from fishermen by local restaurants. We then monitor lobster populations to evaluate the success of the casitas. The Foundation also created the Catch, Picture, Release (CPR) Fishing program, which will train and hire local fishermen as guides, captains, and boat hands for line and fly-fishing excursions with tourists. This initiative seeks to empower fishermen with entrepreneurial enterprises that simultaneously protect marine resources. The Foundation has begun developing a business plan for CPR fishing excursions and will be working closely with local fishermen to develop the excursions and market them to visitors to Punta Cana. Finally, the Foundation coordinated direct purchase of the invasive Lionfish (Pterois volitans) as a means to control the threat of this species to Dominican coral reefs. Restaurants purchase Lionfish from the fishermen for preparation as dishes. This initiative helps control the spread of Lionfish population while providing new economic opportunities. // The Foundation recently signed a collaborative agreement with the Dominican Council on Fisheries and Aquaculture (CODOPESCA, the government authority on fisheries) and several development companies to create an integrated fisheries management plan jointly with local fishermen and to implement the established national fishing laws in Punta Cana. This agreement serves as the first step in eliminating illegal fishing practices (spear-fishing, use of drift nets, and capture of undersized and out-of-season species) and reducing fishing pressures on the reef. Beginning this year, the partners will begin to monitor, control and limit illegal fishing in the Punta Cana area. As the national fishing laws are implemented, local fishermen will necessarily have their fish catch limited and their income reduced in the short term. The Foundation has worked closely with the local fishermen association to prepare them for this reality and to create viable alternative sources of income. Punta Cana is one of the most important tourism destinations in the Caribbean and has nearly no unemployment. In fact, Punta Cana draws individuals from throughout the island, including Haiti, in search of jobs. Our solution will not eliminate the potential for fishermen to earn a living from the sea, rather it will provide opportunities for them to apply their unique skills and local knowledge of marine resources in economically productive ways that also directly benefit the tourism industry and the local marine coastal environment.
How many years has your solution been applied 7 years // Have others reproduced your solution elsewhere? No // For 15 years, the Foundation’s projects have served as examples of solutions to the tourism industry’s greatest social and environmental challenges. Working with diverse partners, the Foundation offers a vision for development in the Caribbean that balances economic growth, environmental protection, community inclusion, and a celebration of local culture. In 2004, the Foundation launched the Partnership for Ecologically Sustainable Coastal Areas (PESCA), a long‐term collaborative effort to balance the continued growth of the region, the long‐term health and sustainability of the coastal marine ecosystem, and the needs of local stakeholders. PESCA seeks to create an integrated coastal management plan that includes coral reef protection, sustainable fisheries management, conservation of endangered species, and development of alternative livelihoods for local fishermen. The Foundation works with businesses, not-for-profit foundations, universities, and government agencies. The Foundation has a dedicated staff that has managed numerous interdisciplinary projects, grants and donations, including start up resources for its diverse marine conservation initiatives. Funding sources include the Inter-American Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme –Small Grants Programme, the Frohring Foundation, Rufford Foundation, ADEMI Foundation, PADI Aware, fundraising golf tournaments, and private donations. In addition to grants and fundraising, the Foundation designs its project so they generate revenue and become self-sustaining over time.
Our solution has two objectives: expand and scale up Staghorn restoration efforts and increase reef fish populations in Punta Cana. By actively engaging fishermen, hotels and the international dive community in coral restoration, we not only insure increased manpower in our restoration efforts, but also limit fishing pressures by employing fishermen in alternative marine activities. Staghorn coral is one of the only coral species on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. Disease and degrading environmental conditions have severely impacted these corals. For the last seven years, as local wild populations of Staghorn have virtually disappeared, the Foundation has maintained one of the largest Staghorn nurseries in the Caribbean. The corals, which thrive in the nurseries, are then transplanted back to the reef and monitored for survival and growth rates. This effort is meant to keep the genetic material alive while we work to improve local environmental conditions, especially increasing fish densities, so the corals can survive in the wild. This coral ƒ??life-support systemƒ? currently includes over 1200 coral fragments growing in our nursery, accounting for approximately 500 meters of coral tissue. We have created 14 outplant sites and returned over a kilometer of coral tissue back to reefs, with a survival rate of close to 89%. Our solution is a cost effective way to significantly increase the productivity of our restoration efforts, expand existing nurseries, develop new outplant sites in the Dominican Republic and increase the probability of survival of the corals. // The Ecological Foundation recently signed an agreement with the Puntacana Resort & Club, the Cap Cana Development Project, Fishing Lodge Hotel, and the Dominican Council on Fisheries and Aquaculture (CODOPESCA), to develop an integrated fisheries management plan for the tourism destination of Punta Cana, located in the eastern end of the Dominican Republic. In the initial phase, the fisheries management plan will be implemented along the coastline in front of the three development projects, which includes over 10 miles of contiguous linear coast. Measuring from the north of Puntacana Resort & Club to the southernmost point of Cap Cana and including the lagoon of the coral reef area, the fisheries management area covers approximately 2,000 hectares. (See attached image indicated management area). As the fisheries management plan for this area is successfully implemented, the project will be scaled up to include additional fishing communities within the Punta Cana tourism destination, such as Cabeza de Toro, Cortecito, Macao, and Uvero Alto. These additional communities extend over 30 miles to the north of the initial site.

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