Fragments of An Ecosystem

Jacmel, Haiti | Film Feature

Documentary, Science

Matthew McCoy

1 Campaigns | The Bahamas

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This campaign raised $4,030 for production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

25 supporters | followers

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This film will highlight the inseparable connections between a healthy environment and economic well being, and bring to life a vibrant culture that most audiences haven’t yet met. Could conservation in Haiti be a tool to turn subsistence fishing communities into sustainable economies?

About The Project

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Mission Statement

We will empower Haitian storytellers to tell these stories intimately and honestly, while presenting the perspectives of fishing communities struggling to find ways to sustain their livelihoods.

The Story

Pierre Ulstead is a fishermen from the remote Haitian island of Île-à-Vache. His handmade sailboat plies the idyllic, ultramarine waters of the Caribbean. Yet even a skilled fisher and expert sailor like Pierre struggles to support his family, because the island has depleted its fisheries. For Pierre and many on the island, making a living is a daily challenge.

Dr. Jacob Allgeier is an ecologist from the United States. With the help of Pierre, he has been constructing artificial reefs off the coast of Île-à-Vache since 2014 in order to understand how they may be used to increase fishery production. Pierre, like many fishers, understands the benefits of conservation, and his energy and local knowledge help to guide the building of the artificial reefs.

Four years on, the project is showing promise. The reefs support a diversity and abundance of fish and other sea life. Now Jake is working with Pierre and other fishers to construct a network of small-scale marine protected areas, by encouraging fishing on certain reefs but not others, in the hope that they will see an increase in productivity from the protected reefs. Through outreach, education and community buy-in, Jake hopes this idea will spread and lead to long term benefits that include better local management of Île-à-Vache’s resources.

If Jake’s idea is successful, could this model be used on the natural reefs? Could preserving parts of a reef help heal an entire system? And could this model of local management of small protected areas be applied to other ecosystems? Wetlands, rivers, or forests on other islands, in other countries?

While the initial findings are positive, many challenges exist. On an island that suffers from poverty, food shortages, and resource scarcity, long-term conservation is often secondary to pressing short-term needs. But what if there was a way to reverse that process? What if the people of Île-à-Vache had the tools to improve the health of their environments and build sustainable economies with natural resources?

I'm a Bahamian filmmaker, and I've been documenting Jake‘s artificial reef project for the past four years. In that time, I've gotten to know many of the residents of Île-à-Vache who are directly connected to its fisheries. Their daily struggles to provide for their families and the promise of a conservation tool that could change that is a story worth telling. However there is a very real cultural and language barrier that I want to break down. I want to get the residents of Île-à-Vache to tell their own story, in their own words, their own actions. I want to involve local filmmakers, musicians, writers, and translators.

With your help I will make a film about this island’s attempts at conservation, but from the perspective of those directly affected, like Pierre Ulstead. How did he get involved in building the artificial reefs? What is his outlook for the future and does he sees conservation efforts playing a role in it? I want to make a film that documents his struggles, and those of others like him, as they work for the fisheries and the future of their communities.

There is a common misconception of tension between the environment and the economy, as if by protecting natural resources we suffocate market growth. This film would powerfully address how ecology and economy are not in conflict, but necessarily interdependent, and bring to life a culture that most audiences haven’t yet met. The challenges faced by Île-à-Vache are not unique, but my access and insight into this island community presents a unique opportunity to expose these tensions from the inside out. Today, there are murmurs for conservation. With this film, I want to make those murmurs an undeniable call to action.



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Costs $2,000

Help with the expenses of finishing the film.

Haitian Cinematographer

Costs $1,000

Hire, train, and work with a Haitian filmaker for a month.


Costs $1,000

Creole to English, and English to Creole for Haitian presentations of film.


Costs $1,000

Hire local musicians to score the film and make a music video.

Cash Pledge

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About This Team

Matthew McCoy has been making documentaries in the Bahamas and Haiti for 10 years. He has worked with many organizations including The Nature Conservancy, National Audubon, The National Science Foundation, The Bahamas National Trust, and Friends of the Environment. 

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