An update on Haiti Ocean Project
By Katherine De Angelis
Earlier this spring, the founder of the Haiti Ocean Project visited an STPS membership meeting to tell everyone about the project and what it does. We thought we would call founder Jamie Aquino to see what the project has been up to over the summer and see if there are any updates.
What is the Haiti Ocean Project?
The Haiti Ocean Project is a marine conservation nonprofit stared in 2007 by Jamie Aquino, a previous English teacher. She was inspired to start the project after having Haitian children in her classroom who had no real education about the ocean or life outside of their villages. She wanted to get her students out into the world and allow them to explore areas they were not familiar with. After she ventured to Haiti to see where some of her students were coming from, she discovered a new need for help in terms of ocean education for the locals, both in what kind of ocean life surrounded them and how to protect it. She started by focusing on higher order species like whales and dolphins, species that would grab attention and keep interest during boat tours and expeditions out on the water. Her big emphasis was on ecotourism and finding species that tourists and locals alike, specifically kids, could get excited about. After spending more time in the country, however, she noticed a need for education on the sea turtle population.
How are the Sea Turtles Being Affected/Helped by the Project?
The area that Haiti Ocean Project is based in, the fishing village of Petite Riviere de Nippes, has one of the highest sea turtle populations in the area. The reason why is not certain as of now, but it is estimated that it has something to do with either their food source or the environment. Over the last five years, the organization’s focus has shifted heavily from whales and dolphins to sea turtles, sharks, and stingrays. Sea turtles there are being killed at a high rate because they are getting caught in nets, speared, or hunted as a food source because their meat and eggs is a large food source in Haiti. Sharks are also being killed at a higher rate in the area. The animals are easy targets to the locals and often get hunted on the beaches or near fishing boats. In Haiti, sea turtles account for a large portion of local income. The Haiti Ocean Project is working with fishermen on an action plan of alternatives to use other species for income to offset the hunting of turtles. This has proven difficult because the turtles are an easy catch and a large food source in the area, and they also have many benefits beyond food. The Haiti Ocean Project has begun working with the locals and fishermen to try to lessen the hunting of the animals and educate them on how to prevent the trapping and to show them how turtles are much more valuable alive then dead. The project has implemented marine conservation workshops as well as started a rehab and rescue program to help aid the turtle population and is developing Haiti’s first sea turtle hospital. So far, more than 40 sea turtles have been saved, which is a massive victory for the organization. Every turtle saved is a huge effort with many challenges to overcome due to lack of resources in the area like vans, centers, manpower, etc. As of now, the project is doing all that it can with what it has and is making more strides daily to save the turtles and educate locals on just how important they really are.
So What is New?
The Haiti Ocean Project has some great updates that have developed over the summer. New x-ray machines have been sent to Haiti, and more resources have been donated to help develop the sea turtle hospital. The goal is to have the new hospital fully developed before turtle season next year. Haiti Ocean Project has also begun a Sea Camp to bring kids from either local communities, outside villages, or within the city and teach them about the ocean. Participants go out on boats and stay at the conservation center in the village. Aquino is very proud of all of the education work that is being done and the development of new training for volunteers who will be working in the hospital with equipment, surveying nesting sites, or releasing rehabilitated turtles. The project is run 100 percent by volunteers and students and is a mix of local fishermen in Haiti, local youth, and a core group of outside scientists, students, etc. who all make these strides possible.
The Haiti Ocean Project is not just about saving turtles and helping marine life. The project is about helping the community and striving to build a better environment and showing people why the work they do is so important. Any victory, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction for marine conservation, and it takes the help and passion of others to make it happen. The Haiti Ocean Project is always looking for volunteers and welcomes any donations or help anyone is willing to offer. Anyone with a passion can come and volunteer, whether it be art, education, or adventure. Contact information is listed on the Haiti Ocean Project’s website, haitioceanproject.net, as well as a donation tab for those wanting to contribute.