What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
In hindsight there were two distinct moments that led to the eventual formation of the Partnership for Ecologically Sustainable Coastal Areas. The first of these moments came in August 2004 when Punta Cana's coastline was surveyed by the Ecological Foundation and the University of Miami Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS), using the method of "Rapid Assessment of the Atlantic and Gulf Reef” (AGGRA by its acronym in English). The results of this survey only identified 10% coral cover and low biomass of fish, thus representing the lowest numbers in the Caribbean. In response to this surprisingly degraded ecological state the Ecological Foundation spearheaded an effort to form a coalition uniting the efforts of local communities, private companies, governmental actors, and nongovernmental institutions both local and international. The Partnership for Ecologically Sustainable Coastal Areas, or PESCA as the group came to be known, dedicated themselves to creating workable solutions to combat the many threats facing the coastal and marine zones of Punta Cana.
The second defining moment came three years later in August 2007 when Punta Cana's coastline was surveyed again for the second time, using the same protocol. This time we found that the percentage of live coral cover had decreased drastically with the loss of more than 50% of live coral cover between 2004 and 2007 (only 4.4% of the reef now consisted of live coral cover). Likewise, there was a decrease in biomass and diversity of reef fishes.
These two distinct findings highlighted a crisis that continues to threaten the integrity of the coastal and marine resources of Punta Cana and the very future of tourism in the country’s area of greatest economic importance. After careful analysis of the unabated trend of ecological degradation PESCA determined that the leading cause was an increase in local fishing pressure to meet an ever rising demand created by a booming tourism industry. These findings clearly demonstrated that drastic action was needed and whatever the final solution maybe, it needed to include the local fishermen. Ultimately the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation came to the conclusion that a sweeping coastal management system needs to be installed and PESCA is the best positioned to effectively implement such a massive restructuring.
Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.
In 2004, the Ecological Foundation in conjunction with partners such as Counterpart International, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami (RSMAS) and local organizations developed the project "Partnership for Ecologically Sustainable Coastal Areas" (PESCA) in response to a startling survey of the area’s reef ecosystems. PESCA is a pioneering project that unites the efforts of a diverse array of governmental, private companies, and non-governmental international institutions to create workable solutions to the threats to coastal and marine zone of the tourist area of Punta Cana. Armed with the best scientific information available, PESCA seeks to implement integrated management plans, environmental education and training programs in order to protect and restore coastal areas in the long term.
The coastal region of Punta Cana is one of the most important tourist destinations in the Caribbean. The various tourist destination townships comprising the larger “Punta Cana” region houses approximately 30,000 hotel rooms and provides an estimated 50,000 jobs. As such the region and has become one of the most significant economic developments in the Dominican Republic.
Though largely overlooked, Punta Cana owes the majority of its success as a tourist destination to its extensive coral reef that sits approximately a quarter mile off of the coast. Coral reefs in particular provide important services to the tourism industry: they produce the beautiful white sand beaches that the Caribbean is known for; reefs form a barrier that protects the beaches and property developments from severe weather and waves. Reefs also provide a habitat for economically important marine species and offer numerous recreational activities that generate economic opportunities for the local population. However, the reefs of the Caribbean, and especially the Dominican Republic, are threatened by several factors: indiscriminate development on the land, water quality issues and a complete lack of fishing regulations.
In one form or another, PESCA’s various members all depend on the local reef and they have joined forces to rehabilitate and sustain the delicate reef ecosystems by investigating and identifying the main problems affecting the coastal zone. PESCA offers scientifically viable and recommended solutions, and seeks to implement management plans that reduce the negative impacts, always working with key local actors, namely the local fishermen. Its mission is to protect and restore the ecosystem of the Punta Cana reef through the implementation of management practices involving local fishermen and other stakeholders in monitoring, regulation and conservation actions.
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