Haiti's inland mangroves disappear under rising waters

Map lakes.jpg
The large body of water is Lac Azuei, to the left of it is Trou Caiman. The DR border is the yellow line.

Published in Bird Life International, March 19, 2012
As part of a Haiti-wide mangrove survey, the Fondation pour la Protection de la Biodiversité Marine (FoProBiM) has undertaken visits to Trou Caïman and Lac Azuéi Important Bird Areas to search these brackish lakes for remnants of inland mangroves.

Jean Wiener, Executive Director of FoProBiM, briefly recounted their findings to the Mangrove Alliance and by doing so, poses questions on the current state of mangroves at these adjacent inland wetlands:

We finally had a chance to make it out to Trou Caïman and Lac Azuéi (also called Etang Saumâtre) at the end of 2011. Our three-member team interviewed fishermen, went out on boats, and explored the shoreline of both water bodies. Local fishers report that the levels of the lakes began rising more than a decade ago and have now risen approximately 3-4 meters above where they were in the 1970s.

 

After being questioned on the presence of any mangroves (red, black or white) in the lakes – while showing photos of the mangrove trees we were looking for – the fishermen confirmed that indeed some red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) were present in small areas of the lakes many years ago, but have since been drowned out by the rising waters. The fishermen took the team out onto the lakes in their boats for general survey purposes, and to try and find the former mangrove sites. Only one such site was reached and no trace of mangroves was observable from the boat.

From our observations, we consider that there is a good chance that any remaining mangroves in this area may have been harvested for fuelwood or charcoal production, as is so common throughout Haiti. Several sites along the shore were observed being clear-cut for charcoal production. Although we did not reach every corner of the lakes, the fishermen were adamant that all of the mangroves at these sites have been drowned by the progressively rising waters levels.

Lac Azuéi and Trou Caïman have experienced a significant increase in water levels – especially in the last 6 years – reportedly as a consequence of tectonic movements along the fault line (along which these lakes sit) that has changed the hydrology of the area. Depositions of sediment (silt) due to erosion and extensive deforestation have also been stated as causes for the phenomena.

Lac Azuéi is the largest water body in Haiti and second to largest in the island of Hispaniola (after Lago Enriquillo, its Dominican ˈtwin lakeˈ). Together with Trou Caïman, these three lakes form part of an ecoregion of outstanding biological value. A dramatic increase in water levels has also been reported for Lago Enriquillo in south-west Dominican Republic.