Amiga Island is a tiny picturesque tropical island located 30 minutes by a kanùt (local boat) away from the hectic city of Cap Haïtien located in Northern Haiti. It has all that you look for in a tropical get away; crystal clear water, palm trees, soft warm sand, and cheeky lizards and hermit crabs scuttling over to say hello. As beautiful as this island is, a deep, dark secret lurks below the turquoise water. The coral reefs surrounding this island are dying. The fish and invertebrates that call this reef their home are overfished, algae is taking over where great Elkhorn and Staghorn corals once dominated, and predator fish such as grouper and barracuda are rarely seen in these waters.
As doomsday as this sounds, two Haitian brothers, Gael and Stephan Gaetjens, noticed the plight that was affecting the coral reefs they love so much. So I’ll warn you, this is when the story gets good. These two brothers decided to create the non-profit Amiga Island Ecological Foundation in 2015. AIEF was created to protect, preserve and enhance the local environment through education, scientific research and specific restoration projects. In simple terms, AIEF was created to give local coral reefs and the critters that call them home a fighting chance.
The main focus of AIEF is to restore the critically endangered staghorn coral through the use of coral nurseries. We take this job very seriously as the first active coral restoration project in Haiti. Using scientifically based methods we monitor the reef and our coral nursery. On our local reefs we use photo monitoring and perform coral surveys to keep tabs on the current status of this vital system as well as to document long-term changes. In our nursery we monitor a variety of factors such as growth rates and indicators of coral stressors like predation, bleaching and disease. By understanding the current status of local reefs and our restoration project, we can plot a course forward with measured certainty. As a small, young, non-profit we want to set the standard for coral restoration in Haiti as well as expand our influence in the community.
The future of AIEF is bright. As we continue to grow healthy staghorn corals and replant them on the coral reefs around Amiga Island we also plan to launch a sustainable fishing project in 2019. A long time dream of our founders, we plan to promote sustainable fishing practices with a marine protected area around Amiga Island and by providing more efficient fishing vessels and sustainable subsistence fishing equipment to local fishers. We also recently sunk an old tugboat just off of the island to act as a large artificial reef to protect fish and as a substrate for corals to grow on.
We know that Haiti might not be on the top of a diver’s list to visit for a Caribbean dive vacation but we ask you to not forget about Haiti. Amazing things are happening just on our tiny Amiga Island. The future is brighter when someone cares enough to try to solve a problem they see, as our founders have done. Amiga Island Ecological Foundation is protecting the ocean one reef at a time!
Please check out our website, www.amigaislandfoundation.org, Instagram (amigaislandfoundation), and Facebook (Amiga Island Foundation) for updates, to donate, or send us any of your burning questions!
– Alex Flucke, Amiga Island Ecological Foundation Intern