"We explored the coastal environment, wading in the shallow waters and photographing the tropical Caribbean paradise."
A perfect Caribbean day found us riding in an open boat on a calm leeward marine sea from the coastal Dominican Republic town of Bayahibe to the beach at Parque Nacional del Este. The two-hour boat ride took us past other sailboats, tourist catamarans and dive boats, all enjoying the light winds and calm sea. We delighted in watching schools of bottlenose dolphins and flying fish pass our boat as we proceeded towards the park, and upon arrival we carefully beached our boat taking great care not to disturb corals and coastal marine life.
A short walk brought us to the home of Pelagio Paulino who is dedicated to protecting and hatching sea turtle eggs he has collected. Pelagio gave us a tour of the compound he built to protect the eggs and told us how he carefully protects and guides the young turtles back to the sea when they hatch. During the laying season, Pelagio spends his days walking the shoreline of the park looking for fresh turtle nesting sites where he retrieves the eggs and takes them to his protective compound for hatching in sand filled coolers.
We enjoyed lunch with Pelagio and then explored the coastal environment, walking along the beach, wadding in the shallow waters and photographing the tropical Caribbean paradise.
Parque Nacional del Este is situated on the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic. The park’s intact coastal ecosystem provides prime habitat for hundreds of species of plants, birds, fish and other marine animals. The Conservancy and its partners are working to unite a coalition of representatives from the private and public sectors to guide conservation planning and management at the government-owned park. The first step is to design a plan to reduce threats to the park's natural resources. If successful, this collaborative model can be replicated in other protected areas of the Dominican Republic and throughout the Caribbean. Four species of sea turtles use the park's shores as nesting sites. Manatees, bottlenose dolphins, numerous fish species and an immense coral reef system live in the park's offshore waters.
Mark Godfrey is The Nature Conservancy's director of photography.