Mangrove trees are among the most valuable plant species in the world as they create a unique ecosystem that can help mitigate climate change impacts. They even have their own celebration — International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem — on July 26.
But an even more important date has just passed. June 1 was the start of the 2020 hurricane season, and mangroves in Haiti are an especially important natural barrier that protects shorelines from damaging environmental shocks like hurricanes, flooding, and erosion.
Since its start in September 2017, the USAID Reforestation Project has supported communities in Northern Haiti to restore mangrove forests to increase the resilience of coastal communities. Mangroves are a group of trees and shrubs that are found worldwide in the coastal intertidal zones of the tropics and subtropics. These trees and shrubs are salt-tolerant and are adapted to life in harsh coastal conditions. Mangroves also help maintain water quality and clarity by filtering pollutants and trapping sediments originating from land, resulting in cleaner environments for fish and marine life. This is an asset for Haiti.
Just ask Junior Francois. He spent 27 years of his life living among the mangroves in Chabannon, Limonade. Over the years, mangrove habitats have come under increasing threat as they are cut down for fuel wood or to clear land for construction. Estimates of mangrove losses in Haiti range between 35 percent and 86 percent of the initial surface area.
“Back in the day, there used to be a lot of mangroves here. It was easy to find fish, and birds on the branches. However, for several years we have not seen that,” said Junior.
He has seen a steep decline as people cut down the mangroves for charcoal production. USAID, through its partnership with the Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity (FoProBiM), has helped reverse this trend. Together, through USAID’s Reforestation Project, over 40,000 new mangroves were transplanted to deforested sections of nearby mangrove forests in the communes of Limonade and Caracol.
In addition to reforestation, USAID and FoProBiM are working together to promote conservation activities at Haiti’s Three Bays National Park. FoProBIM is dedicated to the protection and management of Haiti’s coastal and marine ecosystems and adjacent watersheds.
As the founder of FoProBiM, Jean Wiener, the internationally renowned Haitian biologist, is an integral part of this effort.
Growing up in Haiti, Jean was determined to restore the marine wildlife and their natural habitats, to bring sustainable economic opportunities for the people of Haiti. He is a winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize that honors grassroots environmental heroes.
After witnessing the great work done over the years by FoProBiM in his community, Junior wanted to contribute to the mangrove conservation effort and joined FoProBiM as a volunteer. He then became a part-time laborer in the Chabannon nursery. This not only allowed Junior to continue supporting local conservation initiatives, but also provided additional income to support his family.
This type of partnership with local community members is part of FoProBiM’s mission. FoProBiM believes conservation efforts/programming/activities support economic livelihoods. The organization regularly works with coastal communities, including women’s groups, youth, farmers, local fishers, and the private sector. For example, FoProBiM supports beekeeping, eco-tourism, environmental education for local school children, and research on fisheries, reefs, and pollution.
USAID’s partnership with FoProBiM focuses on promoting conservation and biodiversity, and is already having far reaching effects in the coastal communities of the North and North-East Departments. These two areas are home to over 1.4 million people and specifically in the Three-Bays area, encompassing a coastal population of approximately 150,000 inhabitants. The project exceeded its goal by transplanting over 46,000 seedlings and establishing two mangrove seedling nurseries. In addition to planting mangroves, the activity has also conducted an educational campaign to inform communities of the importance of mangroves for the environment and livelihoods, as well as the risks posed by the excessive exploitation of mangroves for charcoal production.
Community members say they have noticed a decline in the use of mangroves for charcoal.
“You used to see 15 bags of charcoal made with mangroves here and now you do not see that many anymore. For me, this is a sign that we are having a huge impact on people’s lives,” Junior says.
Rehabilitation of mangrove habitats in the country’s coastal zones will continue. To promote the long-term sustainability of these efforts, USAID has partnered with Haiti’s National Agency for Protected Areas to protect endangered mangrove ecosystems.
While it has only been one year since Junior began collaborating with FoProBIM, he and other residents of Chabannon have seen beneficial changes in their communities. They envision more positive outcomes if the rehabilitation of mangroves continues and mangrove species remain protected.
“When people go fishing in the future,” he says, “they will find more fish that they can sell in the public market of Limonade.”
About the Authors
Mariama Cire Keita is the Chief of Development, Outreach and Communications for USAID’s Mission in Haiti. Oscar Jacob is with USAID Reforestation Project Communications.