With its disappearing tropical forests and ravaged wetlands, Haiti has a reputation as a barren wasteland for wildlife. Now, ironically, the discovery of endangered corals and a rare tiny lizard along its northern coast is threatening an ambitious vision to spur economic growth.
While snorkeling in the overfished coastal area along Haitis Bay of Fort Liberté recently, biologists encountered rich marine life that could threaten government plans to build a modern, multimillion-dollar commercial port. The government has said the port is critical to revitalizing the economy.
Ultimately, itll be up to Haitis government to decide whether to go forward with the project. But it is the latest conundrum confronting a nation struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake one that once again pits environmental concerns against economic growth.
We are waiting to see results of these studies. We will make the right decision once we have all the elements, Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told The Miami Herald.
The discovery of elkhorn and staghorn corals, large branching reef-builders that are listed as threatened species by the United States, comes on the heels of a bleak study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The groups research found coral reefs across the Caribbean are on the verge of collapse, under attack from global warming, overfishing, disease and pollution an assault that has left just 8 percent of reefs with living coral growth.
Turning this natural resource into a port is a really bad idea, said Gregor Hodgson, executive director of Reef Check Foundation, which has surveyed the eastern end of the north coast of Haiti including the bays of Fort Liberté, Caracol and Acul.
Dredging and filling will be required during construction and during operation, Hodgson said in an email response to The Miami Herald. Additional pollution from large boats, diesel spills etc., will be damaging to this unique environment. Corals are very sensitive to all of these types of pollution.
Hodgson called a fringing reef of endangered corals at the mouth of the bay part of the unusual habitat inside the bay. In addition to finding the corals in two separate expeditions, U.S. government experts also discovered a tiny, typically unseen lizard called a skink that could also be an endangered species. U.S. officials say additional environmental surveys are under way with expert teams visiting the area last week and planning to do so again this week. Divers are also exploring other parts of the coastline.
The United States is providing economic, environmental and other sector experts to help the [government of Haiti] assess its options for modern container port services that spur economic growth and preserve the culture and environment of the region, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela A. White said.
Both the U.S. and Haitian governments have been collaborating on the construction of the northern port as part of an overall development of the region. No price has been assigned to the project, though President Michel Martelly, a big backer of the project, has said it will cost $179 million. U.S. officials have said the port would have to be a public-private partnership that involves an international bidding process by Haiti and possibly several foreign partners pooling resources to help with construction.