Environmental Leaders – Jean Wiener, Haiti

June 10, 2015

This week’s Environmental Leaders profile features Jean Wiener, Caracol Bay, Haiti. In a country plagued by extreme poverty and political instability, Jean Wiener led community efforts to establish the nation’s first Marine Protected Areas by empowering Haitians to see the long-term value in sustainably managing fisheries and mangrove forests. Wiener is also the recipient of The 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for Islands and Island Nations.

Jean Weiner encounters local fishermen on the beach at Caracol, Haiti and discusses possible alternative income activities.

Jean Weiner encounters local fishermen on the beach at Caracol, Haiti and discusses possible alternative income activities.

Growing up in Haiti, Jean Wiener relished family trips to the beach, which would typically end with his parents struggling to pull him away from the water when it was time to go home. To the young boy, swimming in the Haitian coast felt like swimming in an aquarium, with beautiful coral reefs and vibrant colors.

Following his studies abroad, Wiener returned to Haiti and began working in the science department at a local school. While he had seen signs of the damaged marine wildlife during his visits home, Wiener now fully realized how extreme poverty was driving coastal communities to overfish the waters and cut down mangroves—key habitat for young fish—for charcoal.

Determined to restore the marine wildlife of his childhood and bring sustainable economic opportunities for the people of Haiti, Wiener started the Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity (FoProBiM) in 1992.

Core to Wiener’s approach was for villagers to see beyond the short-term gains from overfishing and mangrove harvesting. He created tools to help communities create promising livelihoods through small-scale enterprises such as tree nurseries and beekeeping; he also 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.

Wiener also set out to create Haiti’s first Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). He 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 became essential in identifying boundaries and priority locations for MPAs.

After more than 20 years of outreach and building political support in a constant stream of government officials, his work paid off in 2013, when Haiti’s government announced the country’s first two MPAs: One on the island’s southwestern coast, and another on the

Jean Weiner amongst 30 ft high mangroves in the Marine Protecrted Area, Caracol, Haiti

Jean Weiner amongst 30 ft high mangroves in the Marine Protecrted Area, Caracol, Haiti

northeast, in Caracol Bay. Wiener is now working to involve local communities in the successful implementation and management of the two MPAs to ensure they don’t end up as paper parks.

To learn more about Jean and his work visit www.goldmanprize.org/jean

You can read more about The Goldman Environmental Prize and this year’s winners in this recent Eco News Network article. http://econewsnetwork.org/2015/04/goldman-environmental-prize-winners/

To read last week’s profile on Geoff Chapin of Next Step Living click here.

Photo provided by The Goldman Environmental Prize.

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