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By Jacqueline Charles and Curtis Morgan. Miami Herald

A multimillion-dollar port project billed as critical to Haiti’s economic development faces more U.S.-led environmental surveys.

With its disappearing tropical forests and ravaged wetlands, Haiti has a reputation as a barren wasteland for wildlife. Now, ironically, the discovery of endangered corals and a rare tiny lizard along its northern coast is threatening an ambitious vision to spur economic growth.While snorkeling in the overfished coastal area along Haiti’s Bay of Fort Liberté recently, biologists encountered rich marine life that could threaten government plans to build a modern, multimillion-dollar commercial port. The government has said the port is critical to revitalizing the economy.Ultimately, it’ll be up to Haiti’s government to decide whether to go forward with the project. But it is the latest conundrum confronting a nation struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake — one that once again pits environmental concerns against economic growth.“We are waiting to see results of these studies. We will make the right decision once we have all the elements,” Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told The Miami Herald.The discovery of elkhorn and staghorn corals, large branching reef-builders that are listed as threatened species by the United States, comes on the heels of a bleak study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The group’s research found coral reefs across the Caribbean are on the verge of collapse, under attack from global warming, overfishing, disease and pollution — an assault that has left just 8 percent of reefs with living coral growth.“Turning this natural resource into a port is a really bad idea,” said Gregor Hodgson, executive director of Reef Check Foundation, which has surveyed the eastern end of the north coast of Haiti including the bays of Fort Liberté, Caracol and Acul.
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