White River Fish Sanctuary

Jamaican fishermen help decide the boundary line for the upcoming White River Fish Sanctuary in Ochos Rios, Jamaica. Clayton and Deb Korver of Orange City, who also reside in Jamaica, are part of the group starting the sanctuary. Photo submitted

OCHOS RIOS, JAMAICA—Rather than just kick back in the sun, an Orange City couple tries to make a difference in the tropical paradise they also call home.

Clayton and Deb Korver split their time between Orange City and the Hermosa Cove resort they own in Ochos Rios, Jamaica, and are two of the forces behind the upcoming White River Fish Sanctuary.

The White River Fish Sanctuary is a planned 134-hectacre water conservation area that will protect species within the habit’s boundaries on the Caribbean Sea by banning fishing in the area.

A 500 percent increase in the area’s fish stocks within five years — the overall goal — is intertwined with other objectives such as teaching people about conservation and protecting the environment.

Deb said they got involved in White River because their resort is located near a reef that is supposed to be under protection by Jamaican federal law; however, the protective effort has been lax.

“They didn’t have any system or money in place to actually to enforce the protection of this particular reef or any reef, actually, in Jamaica,” she said. “We saw right away the declining fish stock, we saw the reef dying over the last years we’ve been coming to Jamaica and owning property here since 2000.”

Environmental issues are important to the Korvers, who champion sustainable practices at Hermosa Cove. They intentionally built the resort around native trees in the area and commissioned habitat and geological studies prior to building.

Additionally, water issues always are important to Deb, whose father, Ken Huisman, helped create the Iowa Rural Water Association in the early 1970s.

‘Fishery conservation’

With a commitment to clean water in her blood, attempting to save the waters around Ochos Rios was crucial to Deb.

“The next generation isn’t going to have any coral reefs or fish if something doesn’t happen,” she said. “If we don’t stop the overfishing and if we don’t start to deal with other issues as well, such as pollution coming down from the hills to the ocean — that will have to happen at some point — but just the fishing alone will change dramatically the problem within five years.”

When researching solutions, Deb said they discovered the Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary, a privately funded no-fishing area that was established eight years ago.

The Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary is operated as a partnership between local fishermen and the Oracabessa Foundation, which focuses on conservation efforts in the region.

Sanctioned by the Jamaican federal government in 2010, the sanctuary has done wonders for the Oracabessa region.

Within the sanctuary’s borders, there has been a 1,700 percent increase in fish biomass, a 147 percent increase in coral coverage and a 45 percent increase in algae coverage, according to the Oracabessa Foundation.

Even Jamaica’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries — equivalent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture here in the states — lists Oracabessa Bay on its website to promote the success of what it calls “special fishery conservation areas.”

The dramatic improvement to the quality of the Oracabessa region’s marine life is considered a win-win for the fishermen and seaside businesses that share the waters.

‘It is their project’

Deb hopes to see similar results with the White River Fish Sanctuary when it launches in December.

For a little more than a year, the Korvers and other White River donors and supporters have met with Jonathan Gosse, who led the efforts to restore Oracabessa Bay.

“It’s just amazing when people get involved that really care and will give it the time — they do a much better job than any government agency ever does,” Deb said.

Buoys that will mark off the boundaries of the White River Fish Sanctuary have been purchased, and a partnership with the local fishermen has been forged.

Fishing is a crucial component to Ochos Rios’ economy, so educating fishermen about the sanctuary and its purpose was vital, Deb noted.

“That’s why we had to get the fishermen on board,” she said. “We meet every Monday, and have for a year, with the local fishermen and they know we need this. They have been fishing for years and the fish are getting smaller and smaller and their livelihoods are going away.”

The White River Fishermen Cooperative is an equal partner in the sanctuary. At least 10 of the fishermen will be hired to act as game wardens who are responsible for enforcing the habitat’s boundaries 24 hours a day. People found fishing in the sanctuary can be fined and may face jail time.

“We told them it is their project; it is not our project as a hotel,” Deb said. “They have to own it, and that’s why we are not hiring other people but just the fishermen.”

‘Combined effort’

Another strong component to the partnership with the fishermen was establishing the boundary line for White River Fish Sanctuary. Deb said both sides wanted to make sure it was fair, but also did not force the fishermen to go into the deeper waters to make a living.

“It was a combined effort to come out with a boundary that both of us could live with,” she said.

The startup cost for the White River Fish Sanctuary is $1 million, which Deb said should cover the program’s first five years.

Organizers hope the sanctuary eventually becomes self-sufficient, something that can be achieved by offering scuba lessons, coral planting and other services in the habitat’s waters to tourists — the same approach taken by the Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary.

Although the project required much work and funding, Deb thinks it will all be worth it once the sanctuary opens at the end of this year.

Her favorite part of the experience was bonding with the fishermen and learning about their “yard names,” which are similar to nicknames.

“You got to know them because the yard name says something about their characteristic,” she said. “I even have a yard name now: ‘Debz.’”


To learn more about the White River Fish Sanctuary, visit, spark.adobe.com/page/2tsRs/.