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May 02, 2011

Surfing, Coral Reefs and Conservation in the Dominican Republic

Another post from longtime Wildcoast intern John Holder who is serving with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic and working on coastal and marine conservation projects there.
Image provided by John Holder

Semana Santa in the Dominican Republic is a week of noisy relaxation, deep fried food and endless white Brugal rum.  It was nice to fall asleep to the thump reggae-ton bass lines and customized car horns, but I am happy it is passed as now some peace and quiet is well needed.  The past few months has been a whirlwind (in the Caribbean sense, which is actually a somewhat slow motion whirlwind) of new projects, conferences and the occasional good surf. 

I am located on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic as stated in previous updates, my beach sits in between the capital city and the Haitian border, nestled in between the Caribbean sea and the Sierra de Bahoruco.  The southern region of the country is by far the poorest and most remote part of the country, which is good for a fledging ecotourism/community development project but makes it tedious to do environmental development without proper resources.  The lack of waste management, of any sort of environmental consciousness and general infrastructure makes it hard to do grassroots environmental work, but things here take time and persistence. 

I was approached the other day by the president of the national surf federation (FEDOSURF), which runs the national circuit of surf contests and the national surf team, to help develop and steer the budding surf culture on southern coast in the right direction.  We appointed a directiva to run the project from the town of Barohuco which has the best wave on the coast and is about 10 minutes away from my beach by bus.  Virtually all of the surf camps, contests and surf culture is centralized in the north of the country, which is a blessing and a curse, as it means less crowds in the south but lack of equipment and education for the locals.  Surfing can be a tool for environmental protection if the right people are leading the cause.  As we all know, a life in the ocean is humbling and brings out a great appreciation for the natural world and a desire to protect and cherish it.  As surfers, it is our natural duty to protect what gives us so much joy.  I hope to implement this message while organizing surf contests and teaching kids how to surf along the southern coast of the Dominican Republic. 

Another ocean minded project I am involved with at the moment is working with Indiana University’s department of underwater archeology to develop the concept of ‘living museums’ here in the Dominican Republic.  Being the first landfall for Columbus and many more gold thirsty conquistadores and pirates thereafter, the island if Hispaniola is littered with shipwrecks which can be used as an educational tool and means of environmental conservation.  Indiana University merges the idea of a historical museum in the form of a shipwreck and marine preserve to create the concept of a living museum, where tourists and like minded people can scuba dive and snorkel and learn about both the historical significance of a wreck and the marine ecosystem where it lies.  Working with the local and national government to preserve the areas around the shipwrecks as marine preserves is a key aspect of the project.  On our last dive, the Peace Corps Marine Interest Group helped to map out a series of cannons on Captain Kidd’s wreck while repairing endangered elk horn coral.  

I was lucky enough to visit home for the holidays and shoot down to Baja to find some real solitude and see some of the coastline Wildcoast is working to protect which was very inspirational and gave me a lot of motivation to get through the difficulties of environmental conservation in the developing world.  I cannot wait to return home to Baja and the Pacific someday for a long time.  But for now I’ll enjoy the tropics.  It is mango season here now so I stuff myself with mangoes which have fallen along the road while I walk down to the surf in the sweltering midday heat.  I grin as I find myself alone in a milky blue sea save a few kids bodysurfing alongside me.  As always, I am amazed at the beauty of it all and I feel grateful to have the inspiration to conserve this natural world.