Wiener immediately set out to create opportunities for communities to help themselves. Core to FoProBiM’s work was for villagers to see beyond the short-term gains from overfishing and mangrove harvesting. Wiener not only created tools to help communities create promising livelihoods through small-scale enterprises such as tree nurseries and beekeeping; he engaged them in paid research work and mangrove restoration and helped them see that protecting fisheries, coral reefs and mangrove forests today will strengthen their future and the country’s long-term sustainability.
Recognizing that Haiti was the only country in the Caribbean without any official marine protected areas (MPAs), Wiener brought together coastal communities and government officials to identify key areas for protection while supporting local needs. He trained local people to conduct biodiversity assessments, which ended up being essential in identifying boundaries and priority locations for MPAs. His work paid off in July 2013, when Haiti’s government announced the country’s first MPA on the island’s southwestern coast, followed by a second in December that year on the island’s northeast coast.
In doing so, Wiener had to overcome the seemingly insurmountable challenge of conducting outreach and building support in a constant stream of changing government officials. He would pour weeks and months into building relationships with key ministers and officials, only to have office holders change months later.
Wiener is now working to involve local communities in the successful implementation and management of the two MPAs to ensure that they don’t end up as “paper parks.” He also hopes to develop a broader system of MPAs throughout the rest of the country by assisting other communities with MPA proposals. Key to his success will be securing funding for the MPAs’ implementation and enforcement of marine protection laws.