[Coral-List] Calling Scientists: Dominican Republic Protected Areas

Hershowitz, Ari ahershowitz at nrdc.org
Fri May 7 13:17:54 EDT 2004

Reply by email to ahershowitz at nrdc.org

To all scientists who care about Caribbean ecosystems:

I am writing to ask if you are willing to sign a joint scientists' letter to the President of the Dominican Republic asking him to delay consideration of legislation that would drastically impact the country's protected areas system, until full technical and scientific information is available on the potential impacts of the proposed changes.  Some more detail on the proposed changes, and contacts in the D.R. are below.  A number of leading scientists have already joined this effort, and Dr. Sylvia Earle has signed a similar letter from NGO's on behalf of Conservation International that was sent yesterday.  The letter does not ask for any specific change in the legislation, but it does ask that there is a firm technical basis for making any decision that alters the D.R.'s protected areas system.  The draft letter is below.

If you are willing to sign, please send me your title and institution ASAP (ahershowitz at nrdc.org).  Please feel free to pass on to other terrestrial or marine scientists, especially those who have worked in the Caribbean.

We will send this letter early next week to the President of the D.R., and hope to gather some press interest as well.  We realize that this comes with very little notice, but do hope that you will be able to support this effort.

Thank you, in advance,

Ari Hershowitz
Director, BioGems Project, Latin America
Natural Resources Defense Council
(202) 289-2388

The Dominican Republic legislature is now rushing through this legislation, which would reduce the size of many protected areas, eliminate others, and introduce a series of additional measures that would undermine the integrity of the protected areas system.  For example, mining would be allowed in all protected areas.  The Congress approved the first reading of the law yesterday, and is expected to give final approval Thursday.  It will then go to the President for signature.  

This proposed law has raised great concern among scientists, conservation and tourism groups in the D.R., who have asked for international assistance.  Among the groups that signed a letter to the press in the D.R. are the IUCN National Committee and World Commission on Protected Areas.

Among other changes new law would:

a) -National Park del Este: Reduced by more than 1/4 partes (un 71%). 

b) -  Jaragua National Park: Reduced by 16%.  This park is a UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve.

c)  Monte Cristy National Park: reduced by 2/3. From 1,309 km2  to 887 km2.

d) Lago Enriquillo National Park: Reduced by 1/3, particularly the wetlands and arid areas on the southern side of the lake.

e) Cabo Cabrón National Park : Reduced by 2/3.

f) - Eliminate completely, among other protected areas: Biological Reserve Padre Miguel Domingo Fuertes Lorens, Biological Reserve Gran Estero, Juan Ulises García Bonnelly National Park and the Laguna Mallén Wildlife Refuge.

Contacts in the D.R.:
Yvonne Arias, Grupo Jaragua   jaragua at tricom.net <mailto:jaragua at tricom.net>
Rosa Lamelas, Consorcio Ambiental Dominicano cad at verizon.net.do <mailto:cad at verizon.net.do>

President Hipolito Mejía
c/o Embassy of the Dominican Republic
1715 22nd Street NW
Washington DC 20008 
Telephone: (202) 332-6280
Fax: (202) 265-8057 
We the undersigned, marine and terrestrial scientists, write to express our deep concern about the proposed Protected Areas legislation that is now being considered by the government of the Dominican Republic.  According to a review by the Dominican Republic's Academy of Science, the new law would eliminate a number of protected areas, and significantly reduce the size of others, including Parque Jaragua, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and Parque Nacional del Este, nominated for designation as a World Heritage Site.  The law would also allow mining exploration throughout the protected areas system.  Despite these significant alterations to the existing system, there has been no comprehensive assessment to date of the law's potential effects.
We urge the government to take the utmost care and to refrain from approving changes in the country's protected areas system until a full evaluation can be conducted of the potential environmental and economic impacts of this new law.

The Dominican Republic has played a leading role in supporting regional efforts to protect the remarkable biodiversity of the Caribbean.  As a party to the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) of the Cartagena Convention, the Dominican Republic has recognized the overwhelming value of Caribbean ecosystems, and the importance of protected areas to the preservation of these ecosystems.  The Dominican Republic's own unique ecology, and its geographic location near the center of the Protocol's focal area makes it critical to the conservation of regional ecological systems.

The development of the protected areas system in the Dominican Republic resulted from decades of planning and effort at all levels of society, and provides essential safeguards for many of the country's unique wildlife species.  Any decision to reduce the size and character of these protected areas could have serious adverse consequences for the biodiversity and integrity of ecosystems on the island and throughout the region.  

Therefore, we encourage you to postpone any decision to approve the Protected Areas legislation until the proposal can be analysed in the context of adequate scientific and technical information.  We offer our assistance to work in conjunction with the many able scientists in the Dominican Republic to provide this information.

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