Coral Reefs in Haiti


It is believed that Coral reefs in Haiti cover a stretch of 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) of coast, Status and trends , but approximately 450 km2 of coral reefs have been mapped in Haitian waters (Spalding et al., 2001).

It was noted that the status of Haitian reefs was poorly known, apart from limited surveys undertaken in the 1980s around Les Arcadins, small islands northwest of Port-au-Prince (Spalding et al., 2001).

Monitoring surveys at five sites in Haiti were initiated in 2003 using the Reef Check methodology (Wilkinson, 2004). While it is assessed that the coral reefs are over exploited for fishing, with elkhorn coral put on the US Endangered Species List, the reef structure is stated to be stable and the living coral are generally occupy 10% of reefs, and algae and sponge cover about 50%.


Coral reefs are ecosystems found in ocean salt waters. Many species of plants and animals like sponges, fish, and shellfish thrive in this coral reef habitat. Around Haiti there are a variety of reefs including: barrier, fringe, patch, and deep-water coral reefs.

Bluehead Wrasse
Bluehead Wrasse

In order to bring the fish yield from the coral reefs to the level of 35 tons per km2 noted in other coral reef regions of the world, the MacArthur Foundation has initiated a project in Haiti to enhance fish production, from its present meager level, through a network of marine protected areas.The fish habitat hosts Caribbean fish species and invertebrate species with the reef structure providing the needed habitat. Use of fish trap, fishing net, spear or line fisherman with their paddle or sailboats are a common sight along the coral reefs.

The project also envisages inculcating knowledge to the Haitians on the economic potential and the need to also monitor the reefs.

One thing that makes Haiti special is that it is home to deep-water reefs. Not all countries around the world have habitats for deep-water reefs. These reefs are difficult to explore, but Scientists explore them by using advanced technology such as manned and unmanned submersibles.

These are submarines that dive deep into the water. Also, scientists try to find out the age of reefs. Reefs vary in age from very young to thousands of years old. Scientists have found many types of coral in these cold-water reefs. They have found that deep-water corals are long living, slow growing, and fragile pieces of nature

Black coral

Conservation news on Haiti
Black Coral

Also found on Haitian reefs are the black corals, this coral is only found at a few locations around the world. Because black coral is very valuable, many people harvest it to use for jewelry making. Haiti has a unique dive site that consists of an underwater wall covered with black coral. After diving this site, divers speak of the beauty and magnificence of the black coral. This piece of nature is important to preserve.

Elephant Ear in the Zombie Hole

Another dive site found in the surrounding waters of Haiti is known as the Zombie Hole, located at Amani-y Beach, in Saint MarcL’ Artibonite. This unique site is said to be the home of the largest sea sponge in the world, called the “Elephant Ear” sponge. Sponges are important to the ecosystem of the coral reef and are the protective habitat of sea life. They sometimes can be used as bath or cleaning sponges as well as painting tools.

The reefs and special dive sites around Haiti are unique and beautiful, but unfortunately, they are being severely threatened. When a reef is threatened, it means that the marine life, coral, and waters surrounding it are in danger. There are many reasons why coral reefs around Haiti are threatened.

Riverview Science / Callyspongia plicifera
Callyspongia plicifera

One of the reasons why the reefs are in danger is soil erosion. Soil erosion is when the soil on the ground is depleted, or runs away, by wind, water, or rain. This erosion hurts the coral reefs and sea life because they need the soil to survive. Another reason for coral reef danger is over-fishing.

Over fishing happens when the waters are heavily used and the fish population is very low. Sometimes, illegal fishing practices occur. That is when people catch fish that are too small, or they catch too many fish at one time.

The best thing that governments can do to stop over fishing and other illegal activities in the ocean is to have laws, regulations, and forces to protect the waters.

Gorgonia ventalina - Wikipedia
Gorgonia ventalina Purple

Another reason for reef endangerment is pollution. Pollution hurts the reefs when debris or other things are spilled into the water. Some examples of debris are: smoking products, plastic products, medical products, as well as numerous other products that kill sea life, like oil and chemicals.

Pollution is widespread in Haitian waters. One of the effects of pollution is an extra-growth of algae, a green plant substance that smothers the coral. One last reason for coral endangerment is lack of laws and resources.

Countries can save their reefs if more money is used towards protecting them, and if they pass laws that help support the reefs. Ocean waters around Haiti are home to amazing plants and animals.

Just like humans, these plants and animals need to be protected and nurtured to save the ecosystems that surround us. Reefs were reported to appear to be “fairly healthy” with mean coral cover reported to be 21% and up to 52% in deeper water, and coral disease and bleaching were reported to be scarce (Wilkinson, 2004).

A second Reef Check survey carried out at the same localities in 2011 reported that reefs were overfished, resulting in a proliferation of algae and a reduction of coral cover (Reef Check, 2014). Wilkinson (2002) reported low coral cover on most shallow reefs in Haiti, in most cases thought to be due to on-shore pressures.

Only 27 coral species have been recorded from Haiti (UNEP, 2015), although given coral diversity elsewhere in the Caribbean, it is likely that the actual species richness is higher. Haiti is not a major exporter of corals, accounting for approximately 0.6% of the international trade over the period 2000-2010 (Wood et al., 2012).

Threats Reefs in the northern Caribbean were reported to have suffered significant declines since the 1970s from mass mortality due to the grazing sea urchin Diadema, new coral diseases, overfishing and other anthropogenic stresses, such as nutrient and sediment pollution and habitat destruction (Wilkinson, 2008).

Marina Blue Haiti - Montrouis, Haiti

Wilkinson and Souter (2008) reported extensive bleaching on coral reefs throughout much of the Caribbean in 2005 and impacts of the hurricanes during the same year. Haitian coral reefs were reported to have experienced probably the greatest human pressures of any Caribbean island with serious land degradation resulting in major sediment and nutrient pollution in addition to overfishing (Wilkinson, 2008). Haiti was reported to be one of the top ten countries with the largest reef associated human populations (Burke et al., 2011). All reefs of Haiti were rated as threatened (Burke et al., 2011) and illegal coral harvest was reported to occur (Wilkinson, 2008; Jean Wiener, Fondation pour la Protection de la Biodiversité Marine, pers. comm. to UNEP-WCMC, 2014).

Harvest of corals for use as construction material, ballast and lime was reported from a survey of marine resources of the southern peninsula (Wiener, 2009). In socio-economic terms, Haiti was identified as one of nine countries that are globally most vulnerable to the effects of coral reef degradation due to high threat exposure, high reef dependence and low adaptive capacity; the reduction of reef threats was considered a high priority (Burke et al., 2011).

Haiti’s reefs show a high diversity of corals, and the reef structure is quite varied providing excellent fish habitat, but the reefs are often like ghost towns with no fish at all.

Source: Reef Check Org, Department of Multicultural Education Palm Beach County, Wikipedia.