For years, Wiener used to visit Haiti every month or so, but now restricts his trips to only a few times a year while being compelled to work remotely and delegate more responsibility to staff members dispersed throughout the country. Haiti is just too dangerous otherwise. So when he does come, as he did for three weeks in March, he hopscotches the country via puddle-jumper plane; travel by road is too perilous, with major thoroughfares blocked by gangs fond of extortion. Many passengers hide in their cars by lying on the backseat.
In a blue bay that spans the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, fishermen from both countries recently aired grievances in a rare face-to-face meeting thanks to the efforts of marine biologist Jean Wiener, reports AP.
The meeting, overseen by Dominican naval officers with rifles, was no small feat for Wiener, who has been forced to work on conserving this biologically sensitive region from afar — his house in Bethesda, Maryland — because of rampant violence in Haiti, his homeland. Now the prize-winning biologist stood in the steaming Caribbean heat at the mouth of an ominously named spot called the Massacre River, trying to bring together the two sides and find a solution that will not only save their livelihoods but also vital marine resources in a region under extreme pressures from climate change.
“The constant fishing, or overfishing, in these areas has decimated an entire ecosystem,” said Rodolfo Jimenez, director of an agricultural border project in the Dominican Republic.
The Haitian fishermen, standing across from Jimenez on the beach, agreed. But they also said they were not to blame for the damage in the Monte Cristi National Park in northwestern Dominican Republic.
Wiener’s work has grown in significance over the years in large part because of charcoal vendors in Haiti who hack down trees for cooking fuel and, more recently, wade into the country’s mangroves, the tropical vegetation that is a natural barrier against the Caribbean’s increasingly destructive hurricanes. With ocean storms becoming more severe, Haiti’s coastline and its biodiversity are becoming even more vulnerable.
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