Saona Island inhabitants and environmentalists urge Ministry of Environment to act to ensure resource conservation

The president of the Junta de Vecinos de Mano Juan, the main town of Saona Island, Dolores Mota, complained that the Ministry of Environment has forgotten the island. Although it charges for the entry of tourists, local inhabitants complain the Ministry has not invested the funds in the community, potable water services, garbage collection, more medical services or better access to quality education.

Saona Island is the most visited tourist attraction in the country. Yet, the community says that the only support they have received is from the CEPM power company, Hoy reports. The company installed solar-powered capacity to generate 800 kw on the island.

Mota says that they are a depressed community that lives from fishing, coconut cultivation, subsistence agriculture, tourism, and related activities such as food and beverage services, handicrafts, and product sales. Mano Juan inhabitants complain despite the mass visitations to the island, few visit the town. The government has authorized 14 beach concessions and tourists are taken to beach stretches on the island, far from the town.

In an interview with Hoy, Luis Javier Cordero (Félix), community member and fisherman of the area, called for greater protection and care of the island by the Ministry of Environment and denounced the permanent and increasing incursion of many fishermen from La Romana and Boca Chica. He also criticized that poaching by island outsiders, affects species such as lambí, lobster, grouper and parrot fish, that are vital for the corals.

Saona Island is 22 km long by 5-6 km wide and 110 km2. It is part of the Cotubanama National Park (former Parque Nacional del Este) and is a protected area. On and off the coasts of Saona Island you can observe marine species such as manatees, dolphins, humpback whales, jackalopes, turtles and others.

Saona Island receives an estimated one million tourists per year and these pay Environment between RD$200 and RD$500 per Dominican and foreigner.

Environmentalists and the National Hotel & Tourism Association (Asonahores) also call for treasuring Saona Island. The Coalition for the Defense of Protected Areas says this area should be treasured, because it is one of the best preserved and most important forest masses in the Caribbean.

Kelvin Guerrero, a member of the Coalition and of Ecoparque, told Hoy that this park is the only protected area in the East and is a climate regulator. He called for limiting construction on Saona Island because damage to this protected area and to the park, in general, could have very negative consequences that could be regretted later.

He recalled that an example of this is all the forest fires that are occurring now in the country and in other nations due to bad decisions.

The president of the Association of Hotels and Tourism of the Dominican Republic (Asonahores), David Llibre, emphasizes that norms and conditions established by law must be adhered to, especially in vulnerable destinations such as Saona Island. “It must be taken care of because it is a protected area and those who work there must do so with the necessary permits for tourism,” he said.

Llibre is in favor of regulating visits as happens in all countries and establishing a limit to the number of allowed visits. “We have to use the natural resources that God has given us, but in a way that will last in time based on norms and care.” Llibre spoke when consulted on Wednesday, 15 March 2023 during when attending the breaking of ground for a hotel in Uvero Alto, northern Punta Cana beach area.

In the same scenario, Frank Rainieri, founder of the Punta Cana Group, expressed that Saona Island must be taken care of as all the areas of the country. He expressed his confidence that the ministries of Environment and Tourism will act and reach out to the communities to see the problems and how to solve them to benefit its inhabitants and this destination as a whole.

He emphasized that the problems mentioned by the inhabitants of Saona about the lack of control of the boats arriving to the island, are true. He says there is disorder in the management of mass tourism to the island. He recalled that on 3 January 2023, a 15-year old Peruvian girl died after being hit by the propellers of a boat operating on a beach of the island.

Local municipal governments complain that of the US10 charged to each tourist that visits Saona, the fee is distributed among the port, and the ministries of Environment and Tourism, leaving nothing to the island of Saona or Bayahibe, where mass tourism visitations leave the garbage.

A biologist, Kelvin Guerrero emphasized that all constructions in protected areas must first have environmental impact studies and then permits from the Ministry of the Environment, otherwise, the laws and procedures are violated.

Guerrero emphasized that the complaints of the island’s inhabitants are old and recurrent. “If all of this is happening right now before the authorities’ eyes in the most visited park in the country, what will become of the other areas of the national system of protected areas,” he asked.

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Listin Diario

DR1 News

16 March 2023