May 7, 2015
In a country plagued by extreme poverty and political instability, 2015 Goldman Prize winner Jean Wiener led community efforts to establish the Haiti’s first Marine Protected Areas by empowering local citizens to see the long-term value in sustainably managing fisheries and mangrove forests.
How did you first become aware of the severity of Haiti’s natural resource exploitation issue?
“I was an early teenager and I knew something needed to be done. I watched [the beach] deteriorate before my eyes… Living on the side of a mountain I recount seeing egrets fly to the east in the morning during the sunrise and seeing flocks of 100-200 birds. In about 10 years, I saw that flock of birds dwindle down to 1 – 2 birds, or none at all. Things like that are just stunning to observe.
I’ve also seen people dump waste in the local ravine and not in the street, knowing that all of that was going into the water shed, ending up at the beach and then seeing people swim in it.
It used to be that you could fish for a half day and feed your family for two weeks. Now you can fish for two weeks and feed your family for a half day.”
Why did you decide to dedicate yourself to fixing the problem?
I realized there was no one doing much – or any – natural resource work in Haiti, and I decided that I would do something about it and start something. I found a niche in which there was absolutely no one, founded the Foundation [for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity] (FoProBiM) and expanded it over the past 22 years.
I’ve always told friends, ‘if we don’t do it, who will?’ We can’t keep expecting others to come out and do it for us. If everyone would just do a little bit we could move forward. If everybody just participated a little more… We are trying to get local people and local stakeholders more involved to help them manage and protect their own communities.”
Describe the initial conversations you had with the local communities around marine protection. How did you approach the issue and engage locals in the solution?
The first thing that I tell people is ‘We cannot be more interested in helping you then you are, we’re just here to give you a little push and give you some guidance, but we cannot do it for you… it’s your livelihood and your environment.’
I think a lot of our work involves being able to provide the education that allows people to make informed decisions. We’re trying to provide knowledge for these communities for their livelihood. Anybody can make a decision, we’re trying to help them with making an informed decision.”
Do you hope to see the work of FoProBiM replicated in other communities?
“The ability of one community to go to another community and say ‘This is what worked for us and you should try it’ is just limited by resources. It takes funding to go to the communities . . . it’s really just a question of getting the word out and showing that it works.