The Recently Discovered Southeastern Marine Reef Sanctuary (Photo Jake Kheel)
Grupo Puntacana Foundation recently approached the Dominican Ministry of Environment to request its help in regulating marine recreational activities and fishing in the Bavaro – Punta Cana tourism area. Concerned by the increased in excursions such as catamarans and party boats, overfishing and the degradation of local coral reefs, the Foundation proposed implementing a management plan in front of Grupo Puntacana’s property as a pilot, demonstration project that could be eventually expanded to beyond the property.
To our surprise, the Ministry responded by proposing a “co-management” agreement for the “Southeastern Marine Reef Sanctuary,” a marine protected area created, unbeknownst to us, in 2009. Having owned and operated our property for close to 50 years, we were confused to learn that we were already part of a marine protected area, at least on paper in the national parks system. Encompassing an area of 3,100 square miles, extending from Cabo Engaño to San Pedro de Macorís, and in existence for almost a decade, the Sanctuary still has no management plan, no staff, no boats or enforcement equipment. The Sanctuary is such a well-kept secret, that almost no one in the region even knows it exists at all.
Coral Reef Habitat Within the Southeastern Marine Reef Sanctuary (Photo Jake Kheel)
What are co-management agreements and what are they good for? Co-management is a mechanism that integrates different stakeholders (governments, foundations, companies, and community organizations) in the management of natural resources. It establishes formal agreements and creates management plans to organize different activities permitted within a protected area. Co-management often assigns responsibilities for enforcement, maintenance of trails and infrastructure, and staffing to a third-party entity that reports to the government.
Co-management does not mean that natural heritage is sold or owned by a private entity. On the contrary, it creates a cooperative, transparent relationship that increases the resources available to a specific protected area and seeks to improve the management of areas that lack resources from the Ministry of Environment or government entities.
Co-management as a conservation strategy has an established history in the Dominican Republic. In 1989, the Progressio Foundation signed the first co-management in the Ébano Verde Scientific Reserve. Later in 1992, the Quita Espuela Mountain Scientific Reserve was assigned a co-management with the Quita Espuela Foundation. From that point on, there have been numerous co-management agreements throughout the protected areas of the country, with varying degrees of success and consistency.
The Southeastern Marine Reef Sanctuary is an excellent candidate for a co-management agreement. Adjacent to the most important tourism destination in the Caribbean, the Sanctuary has highly important coastal habitats and marine species that are both ecologically important and economically important to tourism. It is in the best interest of the tourism industry to support better management of nearby coastal resources, including its own practices, to guarantee the long-term sustainability of their investments. Without improvements in the health of the coastal ecosystem, the Punta Cana tourism industry is highly at risk, including increased erosion of beaches, greater impact of storm events, and the loss of attractiveness as a destination.
Frank Rainieri (President of Grupo Puntacana Foundation), Francisco Dominguez Brito (Minister of Environment) and Ernesto Veloz (President of Altagracia Tourism Cluster) Sign a Co-Management Agreement for the Southeastern Marine Reef Sanctuary (Photo Grupo Puntacana Foundation)
After signing an agreement to draft a management plan for the Sanctuary and eventually designate a co-management entity for the entire Sanctuary, both the Ministry of Environment and the Dominican Council of Fisheries (CODOPESCA) passed resolutions to regulate aquatic activities and fishing in the short term. They also designated the Grupo Puntacana Foundation as the co-management entity of the 6-mile coastal area in front of the Grupo Puntacana property as a pilot for the greater Sanctuary. While representing only a small portion of the greater coastal area, it is a clear sign of a new commitment, previously unseen, by the Ministry of Environment and CODOPESCA, to improve conditions in the eastern Dominican Republic.
Undoubtedly, the Dominican Republic has unique natural resources. Its diversity of habitat, flora, and fauna is among the most important in the Caribbean. However, the vast majority of “protected” areas lack sufficient resources and attention to counter the myriad human impacts that they consistently face. By continuing to develop coherent co-management agreements with credible organizations, the Ministry of Environment can achieve a greater integration of Dominican society in the protection of its natural resources. This integration is not just a desirable goal, it is essential.