Dominican Republic: Protecting Biodiversity, Securing Livelihoods at La Caleta National Marine Park

Provided by Ruben Torres, Reef Check Dominican Republic

La Caleta National Marine Park, located on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic, draws numerous divers to its colorful reef and multiple shipwrecks. The Dominican government created the park in 1986 to protect the reef and promote tourism, but in doing so displaced a medium-sized coastal town. The relocated town of La Caleta, separated from the park by a massive highway, had a population of more than 60,000, but less than 100 people were associated with park resources, fishing, or SCUBA diving. The social and economic implications of this displacement led to weak regard for park laws and fishing regulations. Rising demand for seafood from nearby hotels and restaurants had also contributed to overfishing on the reef,1 and pollution from the surrounding urban area and damage from anchors had caused further damage.

Understanding the plight of La Caleta Park, as well as its potential conservation value, Reef Check Dominican Republic (RCDR) launched an initiative in 2007 to help La Caleta’s residents participate in park management. Part of the strategy involved promoting dive tourism operation as a sustainable alternative to fishing in the park.2 RCDR held a series of meetings and workshops to build awareness about marine conservation, marine protected area (MPA) management and sustainable fishing practices, and also to provide a forum for addressing community concerns and conflicts. RCDR also organized a trip for La Caleta’s fishers to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula to visit well-managed MPAs, in order to expose them to sustainable fishing strategies and build leadership skills. A key success of these activities was the creation of a legally incorporated fishing cooperative, COOPRESCA, which has served as a platform to provide tourism services within the park.

Local COOPRESCA fishers, who now understand the economic benefits of protecting La Caleta’s reef, are taking an active role in the management of the park. RCDR trains community members and volunteer divers to collect baseline information for comparing the effectiveness of current and future management practices and to pinpoint sources of reef degradation. They work together to install buoys and moorings to delineate the boundaries of the Park and prevent anchor damage.

Together, RCDR and COOPRESCA also constructed lobster houses and fish aggregation devices to encourage the capture of target fish species, while avoiding the use of invasive destructive fishing gear. These measures have already led to an increase in fish abundance and live coral cover in La Caleta Park. This improvement in reef health should attract more tourists to the park, and in the long term tourism should bring more economic benefits to the community than fishing did in the past.1 In anticipation of increased tourism, COOPRESCA will soon open a dive center for tourists, offering professional guiding services, boats and dive equipment.

La Caleta Park, the only Marine National Park in the Dominican Republic, exists as a model for community-based coastal marine management nationally. In recognition of its success, the government recently awarded co-management of the La Caleta Park to RCDR and its local partners.2 Empowering local communities represents a new model for Dominicans to sustainably manage, and benefit from, their coastal ecosystems. The goal is for this model to expand to include networks of community-run MPAs, where local priorities are aligned with conservation goals.

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  1. Wielgus, J., E. Cooper, R. Torres and L. Burke. Coastal Capital: Dominican Republic Case Studies on the Economic Value of Coastal Ecosystems in the Dominican Republic. (World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C., 2010).
  2. Kheel, J. Integración Comunitaria. Página Verde: La Clave De La Protección Costera. En Sociedad (2010).