Craig Layman and I just got back from Haiti where we were working with The Nature Conservancy, who in collaboration with a larger Caribbean wide consortium of countries and not-for-profit organizations is attempting to establish marine protected areas throughout the greater Caribbean. Our role was to explore as many coastal and marine habitats as possible within a week and provide assessment of priority for conservation. As you may well be aware, Haiti is an extremely poor country and has for decades faced severe pressures on both land and in water in terms of extraction of resources. In going there, I expected to see very few fish.
But in fact that was not at all the case. I saw lots of them. Granted, of the probably hundreds of thousands of fish I saw, only a handful were larger than 4 inches (in contrast, in the Bahamas, probably substantially more than 60% would be larger than 4 inches). But, I did see multiple fishers with large catches of healthy-sized lobster, and remnants of large mature queen conch, which I was utterly shocked to see. And what is more, the habitats that are critical for most of these marine animals, mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs, were in often very healthy. There were certainly areas that were unhealthy, but the key word here is “relative”.
Under all scenarios, Haitians are harvesting the fish populations way beyond any level at which they could possibly maintain a reproductive population size, and that fact that there are still any fish at all seemingly defies basic rules of ecology. Without question, at the current rate the ecosystem has to at some point collapse, but today it is still producing. So the question is: “how is this possible?” Honestly, I have no idea, but to me seeing this was a testament that the oceans can be extremely resilient and have a chance to rebound, if we can find a way to develop more sustainable fisheries practices. The operative word here is if. But to me this is still a very optimistic sign.