Blogs on Environmental Work

Inequality of Environment Restoration

by Brittany Fulgione

On the shoreline of the beaches of Punta Cana are abandoned structures that were once part of the major hotel, one of the most luxurious destinations for vacationing. One sits on the white sand, skin soaking in the warmth of the sun, ocean spray sometimes lapping against the face, wetting your eyelashes just enough for them to be a bit heavier. These tiny villas are not unkempt, though the vegetation in this area is a bit overgrown, causing a drastic contrast between the white of the sand and the green of the mangroves. Here, is the site of the Fundación Ecologico de Grupo Puntacana, a privately funded sanctuary for biological research.Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 11.46.50 AM

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This group specializes in coral restoration, marine rehabilitation, beach stabilization, as well as agricultural and aquaculture practices at their second location, a few miles inland. Historically, scientific research has been funded by governments for public interest in the advancement of technology and innovation of ideas. But here we are faced with a new model- research funded by the private sector. The interests of a corporation are therefore put before the interest of public wealth. La Fundación does great work helping to maintain and stabilize the coastal regions of Punta Cana against a constantly changing local ecology as the coast line is continuously developed for the hotel industries. The economy of Punta Cana relies heavily on tourism, specifically that of the wealthier class vacationing here.

This foundation is a research biologists dream, a beautiful area with a wealth of funding for projects aimed at conservation and preservation efforts alongside education of locals and social projects to improve the public health of local underdeveloped areas. But entrenched in this wealth of access is the realization that company interests trump all else. Why is coral restoration only taking place along a three mile span of the beaches owned by El Grupo Puntacana? The island is littered with coral reefs that face acidification, with species of fish that face population drops because of overfishing. There are large spans of areas that are being deforested for the logging industry, slash and burn cropping is still the major practice in rural areas. Yet the research, the education, and the implementation are only taking place in the vicinity of the hotel industries. With private funding comes private investment in an area, and this company wants to invest in the areas that affect their business. Scientists are forced to work within a space created by El Grupo, funded by El Grupo, and dictated by El Grupo. This is not a bad thing, per se, but it is a limiting factor for the spread that the research could achieve.

The Ecosanctuary is, also, a business that relies on exploitation of workers to create a profit that sustains the research and education. The exploitation is passive, it hides in plain sight, mainly overlooked by people passing by on their walk from the sanctuary to the Ojos Indigenous, a lagoon in the midst of the tropical forest. It hides underneath the shade of a tree, cap over face, trying to rest for a few moments from the scorching of the sun. It is picking the of tomatoes, peppers, and mint leaves under a canopy. It is the nameless, barefooted Haitians who perform the manual labor and upkeep of both sites of the research center and the ecosanctuary. It’s the same that we see at the hotels, long sleeved, darker skinned men picking up trash on the side of the road, or trimming the grass that lines the company-built roads into and out of the hotels. The exploitation is silent, it eats and sleeps and does its work always with a smiling face for outsiders to see. But this site is a constant reminder, a backdrop, of corporate interest, private investment, and access to power.

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Hidden Gems of Punta Cana
By: Jamie Costa

PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic__ The year of 2018 brings forth ideas of prosper, resolutions and new beginnings.

In the Dominican Republic, it is another year for ecologists and economic researchers to continue to push the developing region towards sustainability and restoration.Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 12.40.14 PM.png

The Fundacion Ecologica (Ecological Foundation) provides eye-opening and educational information to tourists and scientists worldwide through their various programs. Our tour guide for the day, Antonio Ramos Barletta, group coordinator and researcher, highlighted some of the goals and actions of the organization.

During our time there, I found the coral restoration program to be the most interesting. In the last 30 – 40 years, the natural presence of coral in the world has decreased, especially along the coast of the Dominican Republic. Barletta believes this could be related to global warming.

In the Dominican Republic alone, there are 13 coral nurseries designed as a safe haven for the coral to flourish. Attached to small, wire cages, baby coral and injured coral have a place to grow and recover until they are ready to be placed back onto the reefs, deemed the “rainforests of the sea.” Sometimes they are placed gently back onto the reef and sometimes, they are secured with a nail. With the growing risk of extinction, coral restoration is imminent.Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 12.41.21 PM.png

With the extinction of coral comes the extinction of tourism. When coral dies, it transforms into the beautiful white sand that covers the beaches of the Dominican. Without this pristine attraction, tourism would decrease, according to Barletta.

Unfortunately, the Dominican government does not financially support this beneficial organization, making it very difficult for researchers like Barletta to pursue their dream of a sustainable and economically friendly Dominican Republic. Instead, academic organizations in search of partnerships, like the University of Miami, help to fund different projects.

Aside from coral restoration, the Fundación Ecologica also focuses on recycling, composting and filtering sewage water — all to be repurposed as gardening soil, gardening water and much more. But although the toilets flush, the water is not clean to drink.

The Punta Cana region is known for its tourism but across the country, where the oceans fade, and the buildings stand tall, programs such as these are not implemented.

Instead, the country is littered with poverty, disease and crime.

It is easy for those visiting Punta Cana to forget that the country is still in its developing stages, hidden by its lavish hotels.

It is easy to forget that workers make $2 an hour and work 16 – 18-hour days.

It is easy to forget that the Haitian border is often crossed with hopes and dreams that are crushed by Dominican officials.

It is easy to forget that Haitians are enslaved.

It is easy to forget the violent and dehumanized history trapped behind the illusion of Punta Cana.

It is easy to forget if it is something you are not taught.

What can be found outside these walls of protection?

That is what I am here to find out.