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September 16, 2011

Marine Conservation in the Dominican Republic: A report from the Field

John Holder

More stories from longtime WiLDCOAST intern and volunteer John Holder on his service in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic 

                    Tubazos and a New Barrio

Most mornings I look out my window and see the cloud capped peak of Loma Isabel de Torres, the protected area that sits looming over the city of Puerto Plata, the site of my new project and one of the biggest ports on the island.  My last update came from the south coast of the country where I was working on a similar trails project.  I am now living in one of a barrio nestled in between the Atlantic ocean and the mountain. Granted it takes longer to walk to the beach here and the incredible natural beauty that envelopes the south coast is harder to find, the surf is better with proper Atlantic swell.  Yesterday evening I surfed a slightly heavy reef break that sits at the mouth of the port, tankers gliding past to the orange horizon, the sun setting up the coast.  No lack of big ‘tubazos’ or stoke, I never thought third Dominican urban surfing could be so enjoyable

Dominican photo

The minister of the environment and a rasta dominican surfer

The new project here in Puerto Plata is also involves ecotourism and community environmental development.  Formerly a USAID funded enterprise where the idea was to form ‘clusters’ of ecotourism and alternative minded tourism throughout the country, it is now being run by a local NGO and with voluntary community support.  Recently construction started on the trail, which will start in my barrio and go up to the peak of the mountain.  The plan is to use the future profits to invest in local environmental projects in the barrios, such as river restoration and environmental education.  The north coast is known for ‘all-inclusive’ resort type tourism which holds the country’s economy up along with remittances from the states.  The plan with Loma Isabel is to get tourists out of the resorts and see the real DR and its natural beauty.  There is also a teleferico (cable car), imported from Italy, which runs up and down the mountain offering beautiful views of the coast and easy escape from maddening city noise and commotion.

john holder photo 2

        I am also involved, mentioned in previous updates, with the national surf federation in the DR (FEDOSURF,  I mainly judge the national surf circuit but also help in whatever way possible, whether it being lugging tents or shaking hands with politicians. We have held various contests through out the country in the past months, the highlight being the “CaboMongo Ekosurf” last month.  Since one of the main sponsors is the ministry of the environment, the idea is to hold the contests in the largely undervalued national parks throughout the country, so both competitors (mainly younger surfers from all over the country, often from underprivileged areas) and spectators can experience the national parks and surf a new wave while doing.  The last one was held in Parque Nacional Jaragua, which sits in the deep south close to the Haitian border.  The landscape is barren and beautiful, reminiscent of northern Baja, but with giant lizards and swarms of mosquitoes.  The beach, Cabo Mongo, sits across a huge saltwater lagoon called Laguna Oviedo.  It was a slight logistical nightmare to get all the surfers in from around the country, get them all to sleep in tents and cabanas, and across the lagoon in small rickety pangas by 8 am but it was worth it and with the hard work of the local community and FEDOSURF, it turned out great.  The beach is also a sea turtle hatching nursery for reintroduction to the wild.  The surf wasn’t epic by any means, but it had size and was fun.  The event went well and the surfers enjoyed the adventure and the beauty of a national park most had never seen before.

            Now the fall is finally here, the big north Atlantic swells are expected and the weather is slightly below sweltering.  The next surf event will most likely be here in Puerto Plata at the aforementioned reef, which I am excited about.  Avacado season is also here which is the best time of year, beats mango season especially when on a vegetarian diet, free protein falling from the trees.  The midday heat has finally passed and its time to get back into the barrio. 

This does not reflect the views of the U.S. Peace Corps.