UPDATE: 04/28/2011 Open Letter to the the President of Operation Blessing International:
Dear Mr. Horan,
I am writing to you in response to the press release put out by Operation Blessing today which quotes you in an denunciation of “false and misleading information” being circulated about the organization’s operations in Haiti. While I will not be so bold as to assume that the “widely circulating blog” that is ambiguously referenced in the press release is my own, I will assume that at least some of the “false and misleading information” that you denounce comes from my recent article, “Playing God with Haiti’s freshwater ecosystems“, which is rather cunningly not cited by the press release. I hesitate, though, in that it is entirely unclear what exactly the “false and misleading information” is that is being spread and where exactly it is coming from. You mention, for example, that the species of mosquitofish that your organization is introducing into Haiti is Gambusia affinis, and not Gambusia holbrooki, but the difference between the two closely related species of mosquitofish is trivial from the standpoint of invasion biology, and throughout my article, I have followed the common practice of referencing the literature on both species interchangeably. You also assert that G. affinis is already in Haiti. If perhaps you do have unpublished information suggesting that this is the case, the onus would be on you to share this information.
But if it is the case that populations of G. affinis are already established in Haiti, why did you fly thousands of fish into the country from the United States? Why not use fish from the populations that are already in Haiti, which are probably genetically separate from those in the U.S., and which are already adapted to local environmental conditions? And whether G. affinis is actually established on the island or not, why not use fish from native species, which would work just as well? Ironically, the press release “blasts” an ambiguous “false report” that your organization is introducing a species of invasive mosquitofish into Haiti, but also confirms that your organization is actually introducing a species of invasive mosquitofish into Haiti.
Interestingly, the press release also includes the first public evidence of what appears to be a consciousness within your organization of the ecological impact of the project, clarifying that Operation Blessing does not plan to introduce fish into “open water systems such as rivers and lakes”, although this certainly does not guarantee that the fish won’t be able to spread to such systems. This is nevertheless encouraging, but the press release then concludes with yet another unfortunate statement from you asserting that this plan to introduce a species of invasive fish to the island is somehow going to reduce human suffering “on a large scale”. This, as I have previously pointed out, is a fantasy, and ignores the fact that successful mosquito control comes from actual work engaging with communities and managing stagnant waters. And while I applaud the work that your organization has done in New Orleans in identifying a critical problem (i.e. the breeding of mosquitoes in the large number of abandoned swimming pools there) and using an effective and non-disruptive method (i.e. a native species of fish) to make a big impact, this is fundamentally the opposite of what your organization seems to be doing in Haiti.
As of the posting of this letter, my original article has been edited to reflect the fact that it was G. affinis aboard the aircraft in your promotional video, and not G. holbrooki. My analysis which is contained in that article, however, remains unaltered. I will, however, offer this: if you can show proof that populations of G. affinis were actually established in the river basins where you operate prior to your arrival, proof that there is no species of small live-bearing freshwater fish endemic to Hispaniola that is equally suitable for mosquito control, OR proof that your introduction of G. affinis to Haiti has made any impact at all on the spread of malaria in Haiti, I will gladly take down my article and this open letter to you and replace them with a public apology and a call to the organizers of the online petition to immediately cease their campaign. But until then, I can only hope that you have actually read my article and the literature that I cite, that you are aware of the consequences of what you are proposing to do and are considering alternatives, and that in the future your organization will use its vast resources to work with impoverished communities instead of recklessly altering the landscapes and ecosystems that they depend on without their consent.
Below is the full text of the press release...
RELIEF ORGANIZATION BLASTS FALSE REPORT ON ITS HAITI MOSQUITO CONTROL PROGRAM
Operation Blessing Did Not Import Gambusia Holbrooki Fish Into Haiti; Haitian Government Allowed Group to use Gambusia Affinis
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (April 26, 2011) – A widely circulating blog containing false and erroneous information prompted Bill Horan, president of the charitable relief organization Operation Blessing International (OBI), to issue the following statement regarding its relief effort and its mosquito control program in Haiti:
“There is false and misleading information currently circulating on the Internet, and it is important to correct and set the record straight. Operation Blessing International did NOT bring gambusia holbrooki fish into Haiti. As we have done with every mosquito control project we undertake, we painstakingly researched the presence of different species of gambusia in Haiti’s waters. We do this to ensure that only fish already present are introduced. OBI did this research in Haiti and never introduced gambusia holbrooki as is being incorrectly reported,” said Horan.
Moreover, Horan noted that OBI’s partner on the project is Dr. Val Abe, an esteemed Haitian aquaculture expert, founder of the Haitian charity Caribbean Harvest, and one of Time Magazine‟s 100 Most Influential People 2010.
“Dr. Abe specifically requested gambusia affinis, since his research showed that the affinis had previously been introduced into Haiti’s waters and also because they are the most effective at mosquito control,” Horan said.
Furthermore, both Haiti‟s Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Environment spent over a year thoroughly vetting the charitable relief organization‟s plan to bring gambusia affinis into Haiti. Both Ministries approved the plan in writing, giving OBI full permission to import the gambusia affinis.
“OBI’s intention is to only release the fish into mosquito-infested water that will completely dry out in the warm weather, such as drainage canals, large puddles and standing water around tent camps. OBI has no plan to distribute the fish into open water systems such as rivers and lakes,” Horan said.
Operation Blessing International’s mosquito fish program in Haiti is modeled after its successful “Bug Busters” program in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Beginning in 2006, OBI staff and volunteers worked with local and federal authorities to raise and stock gambusia in thousands of stagnant swimming pools around the city. As a result of this project, OBI was credited by the City of New Orleans as having averted an outbreak of West Nile Virus. In fact, a portion of OBI’s program in New Orleans is ongoing, five years after Katrina, now being managed by The City of New Orleans Mosquito Control.
Steve Sackett, retired City of New Orleans entomologist and marine biologist for the State of Louisiana said, “New Orleans came to a standstill after Hurricane Katrina. Operation Blessing came in, offered to help with mosquito control using an environmentally friendly approach, and knocked the ball out of the park with its “Bug Busters” program.”
Horan concludes; “The fact is gambusia affinis are the most effective in controlling mosquitoes and are used in many countries around the world to help relieve human pain and suffering from malaria and other diseases on a large scale, which speaks directly to the mission of Operation Blessing International.”
Operation Blessing Response to Un.Chemyst blog and Petition from Haitian-Americans worldwide;
Please sign this petition to help raise awareness of "Operation Blessing International - OBI" activities in Haiti, that risk introducing invasive and destructive mosquitofish into freshwater ecosystems all over Haiti. They say their goal is to help prevent malaria, but by introducing this predator fish, they can also kill many other forms of life, causing phytoplankton in water to increase and even cause algal blooms that totally destroy water quality. These fish are a potential threat to Haitian water security if they reach streams and rivers, as are many mis-managed aquaculture projects in Haiti's past. In December 2010, a fishkill occured on a lake where Operation Blessing introduced Tilapia "floating farms" a year earlier; independent investigation would be required to determine a causal relationship, but the damage has already been done. The current Mosquitofish project is very close to Port-au-Prince in a more densely populated area which is very severely degraded. Therefore flooding of the ephemeral water bodies where Operation Blessing plans to place the fish, is an iminent risk. Some ecologists and watershed managers believe mosquito populations are uncontrollable, even through intensive management and oversight (which is lacking in Haiti).
Operation Blessing, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, has annual revenues of more than $400 million. Pat Roberson is famous for spreading the lie that the Haitian Revolution was won through a pact with a devil, instead of oppressed people coming together to stand up for their rights as human beings on Earth.
Robertson is also known for his large investments in mineral extraction of foreign countres, his use of OBI resources for personal business ventures, and close ties to right-wing dictators who violently expropriate land from and enforce crippling economic policies on the people they rule.
The bare-bones truth is that this experimentation with Haiti's fragile ecosystems is a ploy that when unexamined for the reality of it's ineffectiveness and potentially severe consequences, is sure to win over the hearts of North American donors.
Malaria is a problem, yes! But this is an inefficient and dangerous "solution." Why and how is this the mythical "silver bullet?"
Mosquitofish populate the ecosystems they invade at high densities, and since zooplankton constitute the overwhelming majority of their diet, their presence often results in elevated phytoplankton levels, and even algal blooms. They attack native fish in the ecosystems they invade, compete with them for food, and eat their minnows. Amphibian species, some of which are also important mosquito predators , have been shown to be particularly threatened by mosquitofish introductions, as mosquitofish eat their eggs and tadpoles.
In the US, mosquitofish are strictly regulated in approved areas with a permit. For example, see California Department of Fish and Game regulations (Title 14 CCR, Fish and Game Code, Section 1.63, Section 6400, and Section 238.5). The mosquitofish need to be introduced under very controlled conditions -- definitely not in an environment like Haiti where there are almost no environmental regulations at all.
U.S. regulation of mosquitofish ( http://www.lawestvector.org/MosquitoFish.htm ):
"Where to use (and not to use) mosquito fish…
Mosquitofish are intended to be used for stocking ornamental ponds, unused or "out-of-order" swimming pools, and animal water troughs. Although a natural way of controlling mosquito larvae without the use of insecticides or chemicals, MOSQUITOFISH SHOULD NEVER BE PLACED IN ANY NATURAL HABITAT, SUCH AS LAKES, STREAMS, RIVERS OR CREEKS. Their introduction into certain natural habitats may disrupt the ecological balance that exists there. Recent studies suggest that mosquitofish may be reducing amphibians native to local streams. "
Malaria in Haiti can be solved in other, safer ways:
* "Fungus Knocks Out Malaria In Mosquitoes : NPR - http://www.npr.org/2011/02/25/134031191/fungus-knocks-out-malaria-in-mosquitoes AND
* Repelling Bugs With The Essence Of Grapefruit : NPR - http://www.npr.org/2011/04/18/135468567/repelling-bugs-with-the-essence-of-grapefruit?ft=1&f=1007
To express your objections to this attempt to play God with Haiti’s freshwater ecosystems, please contact OBI and the Haitian Ministry of agriculture & environment and OBI.
Operation Blessing International
P.O Box 2636 Virginia Beach, VA 23450
800-730-2537 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 800-730-2537 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Joanas Gué, Ministre
Michel Chancy, Secrétaire d’Etat à la Production Animale
Ministère de l'Agriculture, des Ressources naturelles et du Développement Rural
B.P. 2162 - Route Nationale No. 1, Damien,
Tél. 509-22-22-3599; 22-22-5221
For contacts in the Haitian government visit:http://www.haiticulture.ch/Haiti_gouvernement_adresse.html
SCIENTIFIC REFERENCES TO THE IMPACT OF MOSQUITOFISH IN THE TROPICS:
100 of the world's worst invasive alien species a selection from the global invasive species database:
Ecosystem alteration by mosquitofish:
An assessment of the introduced mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis holbrooki) as a predator of eggs, hatchlings and tadpoles of native and non-native anurans: http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/WR99028