PACO went to meet an enthusiast, a passionate, Rita Sellares. Rita is the Executive Director of the Marine Foundation FUNDEMAR in the Dominican Republic.

Fundación Dominicana de Estudios MARinos, Inc.

In collaboration with other organizations of the region of Punta Cana and La Romana-Bayahibe including the CATALONIA Hotels and Resorts Group, the Foundation acts to protect and preserve the nature and the marine wildlife particularly. The development of corals is at the heart of the preoccupations of the foundation.

Rita and the Catalonia Bavaro Beach, Golf & Casino Resort in Punta Cana invited us to participate and take part of their envolvement in an outing at sea with their teams with the objectives of measuring the growth of corals on zone and to proceed to the maintenance of nurseries. Thus we took advantage of this day to ask to Rita to speak to us about the program that has been going on for several years.

FUNDEMAR is an organization dedicated to the promotion of the sustainable use of marine resources and ecosystems through research, education, and the development of conservation projects. Staffed with a multidisciplinary team of biologists, ecologists, and educators capable of acting with scientific rigor and a network of service-minded local and international volunteers, the organization is able to mobilize its knowledge, resources, and efforts in support of its goals.  

Created by Doctor Idelisa Bonnelly in 1991, formed strategic alliances with national and international organizations such as: The Nature Conservancy, World Society for the Protection of Animals, Humane Society International, and the Stellwagen Bank  National Marine Sanctuary in Massachussets, among others. 

FUNDEMAR possesses the ability to influence and mobilize actions and opinions in key aspects of its missions such as national marine resource and ecosystem conservation and the protection of coastal resources alongside local communities. The Dominican Foundation of Marine Studies, started the evaluation of the health of reefs in 2006, but it isn’t until 2011 when it strengthens and starts the reef restoration project. The program begins with funding from USAID-TNC (2011-2013),  and the support of the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation, who, to date, FUNDEMAR still maintains a collaboration agreement with. Even after the completion of the USAID_TNC project, the program continues to expand and growing daily thanks to the strategic partnerships established with the tourism sector, and surrounding communities.

All hotels that are part of the Romana-Bayahibe Hotel association as well as their respective dive centers, have their own nursery, or are in the process of building it. Hotels and dive centers actively support the FUNDEMAR coral restoration  project, as well as the Small Grants program (PPS) (2015-2016), and the Brugal Prize fund. With this aid, FUNDEMAR has been able to expand the number of coral gardens they manage from 2 to 8, with more than 60 structures in total; thus, increasing the  number of coral fragments in the nurseries. Currently, there are about 3000m of coral growing on our coral nurseries and transplant areas.

The program’s success lies in its long term maintenance, and its integration within the program of coral reef conservation that is kept by FUNDEMAR, which is composed of several components:

1 –  AGRRA Monitoring: Since 2011, the monitoring of reef conditions is performed (AGRRA ) in 3 key reefs of the area. In 2015 the number of stations (monitored reefs), went from having 3 stations to 10 stations, with the aim of having a greater representation of the reefs in the southeast region of the island.

2) Development of nurseries and transplant area, ensuring, through research, their functionality : one of the major success of the program was recorded on September 5, 2015 and August 24, where it was observed and recorded for the first time in the Dominican Republic the mass coral spawning of Acropora cervicornis in the FUNDEMAR nursery.  The process involved the collection of gametes, assisted fertilization and breeding of embryos, larvae and recruits. Reproduced coral polyps are currently in the FUNDEMAR nursery growing successfully.

3) Community Integration and continuous training: all these actions are accompanied by ongoing training to employees of the dive centers, and a team of five young individuals from the community of Bayahibe, responsible for carrying out periodic maintenance to nurseries and transplant areas.

4) Community Campaigns: As part of the program, several parallel awareness activities are held throughout the year, which is highlighted by the annual  environmental agenda held jointly with the Association of Hotels and Tourism Cluster La Romana-Bayahibe and the lionfish Fishing Tournament. In 2016, the fifth  edition of the tournament will be held, with an average catch of 500 lionfish per event, and the participation of over 40 fishermem/divers.


This year, FUNDEMAR will continue the restoration program, and continue to work on it’s research on the sexual reproduction of corals growing in nurseries, by developing improved techniques for breeding and maintenance of embryos, larvae and coral off springs. In addition, FUNDEMAR, will train the local dive centers to take part in this research and expand its reach.It is important to not that, the success of the program lies in the strategic alliance  with the hotel industry and surrounding communities, combined with the technical assistance of the FUNDEMAR researchers. Coral nurseries are part of a more extensive reef conservation program, and it is necessary to have all parts in check:  assessment of reef condition, nurseries, and transplant areas, as well as research and ongoing training to achieve a significant impact on conservation of future reefs.”

I will communicate regularly in the pages of Pepitas And CO to inform you about our programs. See also our website and our social networks. You too can help the planet to live better tomorrow. Do not hesitate to help us !



Photos and videos credits : FUNDEMAR