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Optimism over restoration of Caribbean reefs
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
WASHINGTON, USA: Counterpart International's team of environmental experts on coral reef restoration are optimistic about the possibilities for restoring the health of reef areas in Barbados and Jamaica through its award-winning Coral Gardens initiative, pioneered originally in the Pacific.

The team that visited the region last month included Counterpart's Fiji-based Program Scientist Dr. Austin Bowden-Kerby, Vice President Raymond Chavez and Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of the late ocean pioneer, Jacques Cousteau. They ! invited local, regional and international stakeholders to informal briefings organised by Counterpart Caribbean.

Visits to numerous sites concluded that transferring Coral Gardens successes from the South Pacific to the Caribbean was highly feasible. They were impressed with the Caribbean's progress in implementing hotel certification standards that foster environmental and social responsibility and sustainability in their operations. The Coral Gardens transfer is being made possible by European Union assistance.

"Both regions have much to learn from each other. We see great prospects for sharing Caribbean certification standards with our Pacific counterparts and transferring Pacific experience to the Caribbean in restoring marine environment systems while empowering local communities," said Counterpart International President, Lelei LeLaulu, himself a Pacific islander.

A community-based initiative developed by Counterpart and its partners, Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific International and Partners in Community Development Fiji (formerly FSP Fiji), Coral Gardens provide tools for community-based management and governance processes, conservation, fisheries and reef restoration. A key to its acceptance by communities is the fact that the Coral Gardens methodology seeks to promote opportunities for sustainable income generation.

Luxury resorts like the Shangri-La in Fiji are helping to conserve and highlight their local aquatic wonders by hiring local "reef guides" trained by the program to share the reef's beauty with thousands of guests who visit Fiji annually. Small coral mariculture enterprises owned by women are providing alternative livelihoods and technical training is helping to develop ecotourism enterprises to boost the Fijian economy.

"Community partnerships are essential to any successful environmental initiative," said Alexandra, daughter of the late Philippe Cousteau and herself an internationally respected oceans advocate. "I was thoroughly impressed with the Caribbean will, both at the political and community level, to revitalise reef resources and ensure that more fish is available to meet the demands of both today's and future generations," she said.

Last week, the Counterpart team was in the Dominican Republic, at the invitation of local government and the private sector, to assess the condition of the island's coastal systems in Puerto Plata, Punta Cana and Santo Domingo. While in the Eastern Caribbean last month, they met with chairman of the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST), Mr. Royston Hopkin in Grenada.

Counterpart's Fiji site, implemented by Partners for Community Development Fiji, was chosen in 2002 as a "model site for coral reef conservation" by the United Nations Environmental Programme's ICRAN Program (The International Coral Reef Action Network).


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