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Tourism tangles a fishing lifeline

Loss of sea access hits the Dominican Republic’s already pressed fishermen.

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Fishermen’s association members (l. to r.) Rafael Castillo Mota, Luis Paulino, and Francisco Calpio worry that resort construction will end access to areas where they launch their boats..

Moises Velasquez-Manoff

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At the far eastern end of Hispaniola – an area famed for resorts and world-class golf courses that attract a globe-trotting international elite – a dirt road leads to a craggy, limestone shore. There, a few dinged and scratched – brightly painted fishing boats – lie overturned on the rock or moored in the ocean. Humming, churning, and banging noises of a construction site fill the air, drowning out the sound of waves hitting the breakwater.

The scene encapsulates the hopes and fears of local fishermen. Their hope is to make a decent living for themselves and their families. Their fears center on how that can be done sustainably given the pressures of expanding tourist development, the reality of chronic overfishing, and degraded reef ecosystems, which have lessened the number of fish.

Fishermen here also fret over another threat: losing access to the sea. This road is the only access to the ocean for miles. To the north lie established vacation spots; to the south, Cap Cana, a resort that’s partly finished.

The fishermen are concerned that as the construction of Cap Cana is completed, the road will close to them. Representatives of Cap Cana say this won’t happen, but loss of access to the ocean is indeed a growing problem in the Dominican Republic, say experts. By law, beaches are public, but in reality, most beaches – 70 percent, according to one study – are now off limits to ordinary Dominicans.

“Privatized beaches are a grave problem in my country,” says Felicita Heredia, a member of the commission on the environment at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) and author of the beach access study. She contrasts the situation with what she observed during a visit to Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. At the end of each street, people could access the beach.

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