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Population: 7,492,000.
Land area: 27,750 sq km.
Tourist arrivals by air: 148,735 (-0.9% on prev. yr.)
Tourist arrivals by cruise ship: None.
Total Tourist Expenditures: $57 million USD.
Tourism Budget: Not reported.
GDP at factor cost: $266.8 million USD.
1994 figures on whale watching: Nil.
1998 figures on whale watching: Nil.
Whale-watching ports (current or potential): Cap-Haïtien.
Land-based viewing sites: Limited information.
Whale-watching potential: Minimal to moderate.
(Figures above are latest figures for 1997, except as noted.)

The poorest country in the Caribbean, Haiti is sometimes overlooked in Caribbean tourism plans and recommendations. The infrastructure for mass tourism is minimal — especially compared to that of its neighbour and fellow occupier of the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic. There is no whale and dolphin watching to date, but the humpback whale areas north of the Dominican Republic are also accessible from Cap-Haitien on the north coast of Haiti. Windward Pass to the northwest of the island — separating Haiti from Cuba — provides a passage for some whale species, including some sperm whales. Haiti has 1,500 kms of coastline. At present there are few diving and marine nature cruises or even charters taking place in Haitian waters, so there is little available even to start an industry. As well, the inshore waters are suffering from pollution and over fishing, and while there are some general laws applying to fishing, navigation and marine pollution, they are mostly not enforced. Since 1995, Jean Wiener, a US-trained marine biologist from Haiti, has worked to bring Haiti's near shore waters and beaches back to life. Setting up the Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity (FOPROBiM), he has raised money from UNESCO's platform for Environment and Development in Coastal Regions to create a remarkable outreach education programme that works hand-in-hand with fishermen and local people. The hope is that this may lead to appreciation of the local marine waters. The Centre de Recherches et de Sciences Océanographiques (IRSO) conducts studies of coastal resources and has spent parts of the last four years evaluating the future potential for marine ecotourism around Haiti. In the course of their research, they have frequently encountered bottlenose and other dolphin species, sometimes in large schools, as well as manatees and occasionally whales. According to IRSO director Ernst Wilson, at present there is no conviction or political view in Haiti that marine ecotourism is worth supporting or developing. Therefore, whale watching potential at present is minimal, but it could certainly be developed in future. Marine ecotourism could be a valuable way to foster marine conservation and bring income to local communities.

Acknowledgments: Ernst Wilson, Directeur IRSO, Port-au-Prince, Haiti; L'Homme 1999, CTO 1997.

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