Did you know that the entire marine area of the southeast of the Dominican Republic is protected? It is the second largest protected area in the country, with an area of 7,862.59 km2, covering approximately 120 km of the coastline from the mouth of the Higuamo River (in San Pedro de Macorís) up to Cabo Engaño (in Punta Cana). It was declared as the “Southeast Reef Marine Sanctuary” (SAMAR, for short) in 2009, through the presidential decree 571-09.
The SAMAR is classified within management category IV according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “Conservation through active management”. Category IV protected areas are intended to maintain, conserve and restore species and habitats of international, national or local importance. In the case of the SAMAR, the objective is the conservation and protection of biodiversity and marine ecosystems located in the southeastern part of the island. Within the sanctuary are fringe, barrier and patch reefs that exceed the average level of reef health in the region. It is also home to important endangered marine species such as the manatee (Trichechus manatus) and the elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) corals.
The ecosystems that make up SAMAR offer countless ecosystem goods and services. The coral reefs dissipate currents and waves, recycle vital nutrients for the development of flora and fauna, regulate the climate, and act as an economic source for local communities through tourism and fishing. Mangroves filter sediment and pollutants, improving water quality. In addition, they are an important habitat for fish, invertebrates, manatees, turtles, and birds. Both mangroves and seagrass beds remove and store carbon from the atmosphere, thus helping to mitigate climate change. Finally, seagrass beds serve as food for endangered species such as manatees and sea turtles.
In 2018, a group of 15 organizations allied with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MIMARENA) to sign a co-management agreement for the SAMAR, in order to jointly manage this protected area. Due to the large size of the sanctuary, these co-managers decided to distribute themselves into three management units, each in charge of a different zone: the Southern Zone Unit, the Central Zone Unit and the Eastern Zone Unit. The Cap Cana Foundation leads the Central Zone Unit and, together with all the co-managers of the three zones, works together to ensure the good health and ecological functioning of the marine ecosystems within the sanctuary.
Shamwari Anseeuw & Ana Carolina Hernández