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Instability in Haiti, and a big expansion for a coral reef sanctuary

haiti_protests.jpeg
DIEU NALIO CHERY
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Associated Press

Haiti has been troubled by gang violence, food and water scarcity and a need for humanitarian aid. What will the U.N. do? The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary aims to expand by almost 1,000 square feet.

The situation in Haiti keeps deteriorating with no sign of improving. In Cité Soleil, clashes between rival gangs have burned down homes, taken lives and injured many more.

The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse has led to a power vacuum that’s allowed these gangs to rise up.

“A local human rights group said at least 89 people were killed and they just weren’t killed, at least 21 of them were set on fire,” said the Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles.

She said some people believe these gangs are clamoring and fighting for economic and geographical power, looking to control the ports by Cité Soleil. The gangs have become the law and order in some areas.

The rising scarcity of food and water and an increasing fuel shortage have stretched Haitian citizens thin as they attempt to flee the violence. Roads have been blocked off, preventing farmers from transporting their goods across the island, and increased transportation costs have made it harder for humanitarian aid to make it to the island.

Charles said the important institutions to help civilians, namely the government and state institutions, are missing and aren’t of any help to civilians.

“The gangs about a month ago took over the main courthouse of Port au Prince,” she said. “Can you imagine if you’ve got your divorce papers, land papers in there, these things have now just gone up in smoke because they literally set fire to them.”

At the moment, the U.S. and the U.N. are unsure how to handle this vacuum.

Members of the United Nations Security Council have been trying to vote this week on the U.N.’s future presence in the country. On Friday, the U.N. political mission in Haiti expired.

The resolution scheduled Friday calls on all countries to stop the transfer of small arms, light weapons and ammunition to any party supporting gang violence and criminal activity in Haiti, alongside an extension of the political mission in Haiti.

Vast expansion project aimed for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Imagine a football field, stretching sideline to sideline, end zone to end zone.

Now imagine a half million of them.

That’s about how much area could be added to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under a plan unveiled this week.

The sanctuary was created in 1990 to protect the Florida coral reef and its ecosystem from Key Largo to the Dry Tortugas.

Keys Coral
NOAA
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NOAA
Anchors dropped onto corals can cause long-term damage. NOAA is proposing a new "no anchoring" regulation in all "sanctuary preservation areas," discrete, biologically important areas that help sustain critical marine species and habitats.

Andy Bruckner, the sanctuary's research coordinator, said the reefs could be one of the first major U.S. ecosystems to collapse in this century.

The water is the world for much of Florida, especially in the Keys with fishing, boating and diving supporting the economy and drawing millions of people to the islands.

Stephen Frink is the publisher of Alert Diver magazine and is a renowned underwater photographer. He can chronicle the changing reef with the time he’s spent in the Keys.

He moved to Key Largo in 1978, and he said the reef track was quite different then. He remembers going up to Carysfort Reef sporadically to try and document the tracks of staghorn and elkhorn coral. He would either have the wrong lens or his camera wouldn’t work, preventing him from documenting it.

“So it got to be around 1982 and I never had really documented those corals properly to my eye,” he said. “And I went up there and I saw this massive decline and I thought how could this happen?”

Those five years showed him coral reefs were vulnerable resources and how quickly they could be impacted.

In June, he had a photo class and he saw a whole lot of new coral growth. When he dove by Banana Reef, he saw new growth of elkhorn and new life.

Keys Diver
Coral Restoration FoundationTM
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Coral Restoration FoundationTM
Representing only a small part of the sanctuary, restoration areas have a big impact by protecting coral nurseries and active restoration sites from damage, such as these elkhorn corals at Pickles Reef.

Frink said recreational diving can only be made better by this expansion. He remembers the Florida Keys being one of the first places to open up during the pandemic, which brought all the divers and tourists down.

Hotels did well, as did the reefs he said.

“If you look at all the dive operations in the Florida Keys, I think they’re very supportive of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary … If the reef isn’t there, if it's not protected – there goes their business,” he said.

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Natu Tweh is producer of The Florida Roundup and The South Florida Roundup at WLRN.