Coral Reefs, Fish and People: More Thoughts on the Portland Bight Protected Area

I wrote recently about the 2014 assessment of the coral reefs in the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA) (including several sites around Goat Islands, which are threatened by a transshipment port development). The University of the West Indies survey, funded by the Waitt Foundation, concluded that the reefs are in fairly good shape, although their condition varies from place to place. What was also abundantly clear was the need to preserve the PBPA’s fish sanctuaries – including the one adjoining Goat Islands. These, scientists from the University of the West Indies say, are “critically important nursery areas.” Indeed, during their dives the researchers saw thousands of young fish, despite an almost total lack of larger fish.

UWI scientist doing a bit of advertising for the funder of the PBPA research. (Photo: Twitter)

UWI scientist doing a bit of advertising for the funder of the PBPA research, the Waitt Foundation. (Photo: Twitter)

What measures did the scientists recommend would help restore the fish populations and nurture healthier coral reefs? Reducing the fishing of important herbivores (such as parrot fish) is important. Protecting key nursery habitats near Goat Islands was another “must.” Fishers must also allow fish to reach breeding size; don’t catch small fish that have not had a chance to breed. Catching snapper during its spawning period should be prohibited. And very importantly, the reefs should be regularly monitored; this was a “one off” assessment.

Old Harbour Bay fisherman Charles Moodie makes a point at the presentation of the coral reef assessment.

Old Harbour Bay fisherman Charles Moodie makes a point at the presentation of the coral reef assessment.

One Jamaican who has been keeping an eye on the reefs (and the fish) for decades is Old Harbour Bay fisherman Charles Moodie. He assisted the scientists with their field work. He has a deep understanding of the water, and the underwater landscape of Goat Islands – its shoals and banks and reefs. He told those gathered to hear the results of the survey that over the years many cays had eroded, and some have disappeared. And, he confessed, “We fishers had bad practices in the past,” – including dynamiting, which was incredibly destructive to reefs and marine life.

Mr. Moodie reflected on Goat Islands, and what they had to offer. “We have things there that people have not discovered yet,” he mused. “We are not doing enough research into the mangroves at Goat Islands.” He believes there is a freshwater well on Great Goat Island (and significant Taino remains). “It is the environment versus the economy,” Mr. Moodie concluded. That’s a hard conclusion.

The pellucid waters around Goat Islands where the UWI team dived and surveyed coral reefs. (My photo - September 2013)

The pellucid waters around Goat Islands where the UWI team dived and surveyed coral reefs. (My photo – September 2013)

According to Caribbean Community (CARICOM) records, Jamaica has the most over-fished waters in the Caribbean. And fish sanctuaries “definitely work,” said Jamaica Environment Trust CEO Diana McCaulay. “They make a dramatic difference – but they need more support.” She cited the example of the Pedro Cays, those far-flung islands that are also home to colonies of wonderful seabirds such as the Masked Booby and Brown Noddy (wonderful names, too!) Each sanctuary has its own special characteristics, added Brandon Hay of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM), especially in terms of the social structure of surrounding areas. The sanctuary at Oracabessa, St. Mary has had a “very good turnaround,” he noted. Hay, who conducts baseline surveys for all Jamaica’s fish sanctuaries, said, “It’s happening, but we are still learning. We know this is where we are going to build our recovery [of fish stocks]…I am optimistic, but weaknesses in the system could still derail the sanctuaries.”

Support from government agencies for fish sanctuaries has been “intermittent,” environmentalists say. Will it continue? And when will the outdated Fishing Industry Act of 1976 actually come up in Parliament for repeal? I understand new legislation has been under discussion for fifteen years or more, and has still not been tabled. Clearly it is not a priority. What say you, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries?

Researchers in the Portland Bight Protected Area smile for the camera. In the background is Mr. Charles Moodie. (Photo: Twitter)

UWI researchers in the Portland Bight Protected Area smile for the camera. In the background is local fisherman and guide Mr. Charles Moodie. (Photo: Twitter)

The non-governmental organizations are playing their part. Founder and former head of C-CAM Peter Espeut recalled that earlier assessments of the PBPA coral reefs in 1995 and during 2003 – 5 had been less encouraging than last year’s survey. He pointed out that C-CAM had been working with fisherfolk in the protected area for the past twenty years or so. Could it be that this close co-operation and dialogue is starting to pay off?

So where next? Dr. Suzanne Palmer and her UWI colleagues will produce a full scientific and technical report, along with associated scientific publications. The group is planning regional presentations, and a local meeting at the Old Harbour Bay fishing beach. They need to share the data, inform and educate Jamaicans about the value of the coral reefs.

Yes, the people connection” is important. We are not separate from our environment. We are a part of it. Perhaps recent events at the Riverton dump and other experiences will eventually convince everyone of this.

A secluded mangrove lagoon at Goat Islands.

A secluded mangrove lagoon at Goat Islands. (My photo)

“One Law, One Justice for All”: The NIA’s Trevor Munroe At Spanish Town Church Rally

Last Sunday, March 22, 2015, Founder and Executive Director of National Integrity Action Professor Trevor Munroe spoke to a huge crowd of church members – men, women and children – who rally once a year for their “Ten Thousand Men and Their Families Peace and Love March.” The theme the organizers (Spanish Town Revival, the Spanish Town Ministers Fraternal and Spanish Town Development Area Committee) chose this year was “Spanish Town: No Violence, Forgiveness Is a Must, No If’s, No But’s.”

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In this powerful speech, Professor Munroe pointed to two examples of “violence against the laws of Jamaica”: Tax evasion, by large companies in particular; and the operations of a government agency, the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA), which is responsible for the Riverton dump. He called on the good citizens of Spanish Town – a city that has been torn by gang-related crime in recent years – to fight against corruption and violence in all its forms.

I hope you will find Professor Munroe’s words enlightening, as I did. Please feel free to share.

MESSAGE FROM PROFESSOR TREVOR MUNROE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTEGRITY ACTION; HONOURARY VISITING PROFESSOR, SIR ARTHUR LEWIS INSTITUTE (SALISES), Mona, UWI

Let me first thank Bishop Rowan Edwards for inviting me to bring a message to you on this very special occasion. He and I have spoken many times on my radio program, Jamaica Speaks, about the “ Ten Thousand Man March”. And each year, as I learnt more I had to congratulate him and his team ‘ on air’ for their growing success. It is the first time however, that Bishop Rowan invited me to bring a message; naturally, I readily accepted and again thank him for the opportunity to share this occasion with you. I now also wish to offer public congratulations on behalf of myself and National Integrity Action (NIA) to Bishop Rowan, to the Spanish Town Revival , to the Spanish Town Ministers Fraternal , to the Spanish Town Area Development Committee and to all of you who each year contribute to this splendid effort.

And you, here in Spanish Town, may not be alone; you may leading the way. I say say so because within recent months and over the last two years, I have had occasion to deliver messages in a number of churches – at Boulevard Baptist, at Sts. Peter and Paul, at St. Andrew Parish Church, to the Moravian Synod in Malvern, to the Anglican Men’s Fellowship in Mandeville and to dialogue with the Executive of the Umbrella Group of Churches. From these experiences, from observing the congregations, from listening to the pastors, I sense a new wind beginning to blow in the church, a new movement beginning to emerge in Jamaica for peace and love, for integrity, against violence and hate and corruption.

When I look at this gathering here this afternoon, I think the time is coming to take this fledgling movement from the church hall and the pulpit, into the highways and byways, into the communities and into the streets. In this, Bishop, I believe you are a pioneer, a harbinger, and not a voice crying in the wilderness. Again I congratulate you and your team.

Just imagine not if, but when, every pastor up and down the length of Jamaica follows suit! Remember we have many records, not only Usain Bolt in the 100 and the 200; amongst our records is one in the Guinness Book of Records – Jamaica has the most churches of any of the 192 countries in the world per capita. On last count, over one thousand six hundred churches (1600); almost three for every single square mile! Just imagine that day when all sixteen hundred were to do what you are doing today in Spanish Town and in St Catherine, galvanizing men and families to march and to gather for peace and love and integrity against violence, hatred and corruption to begin a revival in Jamaica. What an impact it could have!

Can it be an accident that in South St Catherine, between January 1 and March 7, 2015, compared to the same period in 2014, murder and shooting is down by over a half, robbery is down, break-ins are down. We have to do the same in the North so that your theme may become a reality: “Spanish Town No Violence”.

And don’t tell me it is not possible in Spanish Town, and indeed all over Jamaica, for a revival of values, of peace and love and forgiveness ! It is not going to be easy and the men and young boys have to play a key role in turning away from violence and from wrong-doing. But it can be done. Just look at our history. In 1860 one hundred and forty five years ago we Jamaicans came together in a vast revival movement, from Negril to Morant Point, in every single Parish, and that revival did make a difference at that time.

What a difference such a revival would make in Jamaica today. Would not the powers that be have to listen, take note and mend their ways? And their ways need to be mended so that the top of the stream and the river may be made clean! So that violence against the law may stop.

Take two issues – the issue of National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA)/the Riverton Dump and the issue of Tax Evasion.

Regarding Riverton many of us, in my family and in yours, are still suffering from the after effects of the fire. Now we are hearing from the Board Chair that there may be corruption at the NSWMA. Who can be surprised? For too long the laws governing the NSWMA have been broken, repeatedly, over and over again and with impunity; no one has been called to account. If you want to know what I mean, read the most recent report of Jamaica’s Auditor General 2013/2014. The report is on-line. It tells us NSWMA failed to table ten years audited financial statements and annual reports in the Houses of Parliaments. Ten years breaching the law, sections 12 and 13 of the NSWMA Act, which requires such reports to be prepared and tabled in Parliament. Yet no one in the leadership of the NSWMA has been brought before the courts, prosecuted nor fined (in accordance with the Public Bodies Management Accountability Act). This is violence against the laws of Jamaica; it cannot be condoned because it is committed by people in high places.

To add insult to injury the Office of the Contractor General in a Special Investigation of the NSWMA in February 2014 found that contracts were awarded “to unregistered contractors…” and contracts were awarded in an “irregular manner” in 2007/2008. The budget for the NSWMA each year is about one billion dollars, no doubt less than is needed, but for that very reason we must make sure that the money is properly spent; that the law allowing the checks to be done is no longer violated yet there is proper accounting for how the money has been. I see where the Mexican Government is helping us with 30 million in this year’s budget to help improve Riverton. Let us make sure that no violence is done to this grant and that it too does not go up in smoke!

Take the second issue of tax payments. Recently the Minister of Finance told the Parliament and us the people about corporate tax payments by companies earning one billion dollars and more per year. He said three out of every four are paying corporate income tax,. That is good. Those companies must be commended for living up their obligations, for behaving with integrity in difficult times. But what about the 40 odd very big companies , the one out of every four which are neither paying nor filing, depriving government of funds to provide water supply, to fix the roads, to equip the clinics and to outfit the schools- in effect doing violence to the public purse. These large tax payers must be investigated and where the evidence exists must be prosecuted and punished. Some cannot get away scot free while the rest of us, big, medium and small, live up to our obligation. We all must pay our taxes!

Our 10,000 man march must cry out: one law, one justice for all; for the man who steals ackee from the Governor General’s residence and the man who steals revenue from the people’s treasury. Persons at the top must be punished for breaking the law, just like those at the grass roots.. This is one critical way for leaders to practice what they preach, to set an example for the man in the street, to encourage integrity at the middle and at the base of the society. And we certainly need less corruption there as well, particularly in the family and home, where us men have a critical role to play.

Just a few days ago, on March 9 our Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen, shared with us the following insight. Very often a child’s first introduction to corrupt practices is in the home. They witness parents or guardians stealing water and electricity and eluding the authorities for those and other illicit activities. In these instances they are used as the ‘look out’ and later forced or enticed into crime. Is this not too often too true? It has to stop and we men and our families must rise to the occasion..

So too we must come together in gatherings like this across Jamaica to replace the murder and mayhem , the violence against one another, the breaking of the law, at the top and at the bottom of our society with peace and love in the home , the community, at the work-place and the school . It cannot be accepted that between January 1 and March 7, 2015 two hundred and seven (207) Jamaicans were killed by Jamaicans, thirty odd more than in the same period of 2014. In St. Catherine North alone thirty two (32) murders were committed during this period in 2015, almost 80% more than the same period last year. It has to stop and this ten thousand man and their families gathering has in the past and shall in the present and future advance the cause of peace and love and help cut down this unacceptable spate of killings. We have to “Unite for Change” and I commend the Minister for this initiative. I also commend the police for the significant reduction in fatal shootings and call on them to intensify their investigations and the gathering of evidence against the wrong doers. I call on the prosecutors and the Courts to make sure that criminals do not get away but locked away for a long time as punishment for their crimes.

Again allow me to commend Bishop Edwards and his team for this extraordinary event and for inviting me to be a part of this occasion. More and more Jamaicans are indicating their willingness to get involved in building integrity and fighting corruption. This gathering is one response. Another is National Integrity Action opening its doors to membership from all walks of life, to all those who stand for integrity.

The massive 1860 Revival began in St. Elizabeth. One hundred and forty five years later, let the 2015 Revival begin in St. Catherine.

The march against crime and violence in Spanish Town on March 22 gets under way. Huge numbers convened at

The march against crime and violence in Spanish Town on March 22 gets under way. Huge numbers convened for a rally with speeches, prayers and gospel music at the end of the march. (Photo: Spanish Town Revival Facebook page)

The Lawyers Are Busy, The Fire Smolders and a Speech is Interrupted: Thursday, March 26, 2015

Well, what a week it’s been. Blustery weather (figuratively and literally) and our dry stretch continues. And the smoke, you may ask? Smoke? Well, since you asked…

The more things change...A hilltop view of Riverton dump smoke. When was this taken? Oh, back in February, 2012. (Photo: Matthew Hall/Gleaner)

The more things change…A hilltop view of Riverton dump smoke. When was this taken? Oh, back in February, 2012. The headline then: “Riverton Nightmare.”  (Photo: Matthew Hall/Gleaner)

Rumor has it that the fire at the Riverton Dump is finally out, fifteen carcinogenic days later. It is apparently “smoldering” and some businesses downtown reported smoke nuisance this morning.The air quality test results finally came back, and the anxiety, alarm, and questions began. The report showed record-breaking levels of benzene, from the fire. Plus about twenty other chemicals. Health officials then went on to say benzene is always present in our air to some extent, from traffic fumes. But why, may I ask, did a senior health official tell us there would be “no long-term effects” from the fire (before we even got the result of the air quality tests from Canada?)

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Trying to obtain information from any of the government agencies involved has been like getting blood out of a stone. This week, updates and bulletins on the fire have been almost non-existent – from the Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) for example, which clearly does not believe that  social media might be useful for this purpose. The last tweet from them was two days ago. Another communication “fail.” After some persuasion, the Health Ministry had the air quality report posted here: http://jis.gov.jm/riverton-city-disposal-site-air-quality-report/it’s a lot of numbers that need analysis and interpretation. The opacity of the Government’s response reminds me of another major health issue that happened a few months back now – chik v. And yes, I know people still suffering pains.

Perhaps, as with the very successful MAJ/Health Ministry Public Forum on Chik v, one on air quality in Kingston might help? As I said, there are still many questions. This would be appreciated by the Jamaican public, I believe.

Fiona Richards of Buff Bay High prepares to launch the shot put during the girls' Class Two final at the GraceKennedy/ISSA Boys and Girls' Athletic Champio ships at the National Stadium yesterday. Ricrahds won with a throw of 15.21 meters. Another great photo by the Gleaner's Ricardo Makyn.

Fiona Richards of Buff Bay High prepares to launch the shot put during the girls’ Class Two final at the GraceKennedy/ISSA Boys and Girls’ Athletic Champio ships at the National Stadium yesterday. Ricrahds won with a throw of 15.21 meters. Another great photo by the Gleaner’s Ricardo Makyn.

But the planned (and postponed) GSAT examinations went ahead today, and the Education Ministry says it all went fine apart from “residual smoke.” The Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships also started yesterday at the National Stadium, with Jamaica College currently leading for the boys and Edwin Allen for the girls. 

Trying to obtain information from any of the government agencies involved has been like getting blood out of a stone. This week, updates and bulletins on the fire have been almost non-existent – from the Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) for example, which clearly does not believe that  social media might be useful for this purpose. Eventually, the air quality report was put up on the website here: http://jis.gov.jm/riverton-city-disposal-site-air-quality-report/but it’s a lot of numbers that need analysis and interpretation. The opacity of the Government’s response reminds me of another major health issue that happened a few months back now – chik v. By the way, I know people who are still suffering pains from the side effects.

Meanwhile, the (much smaller) dump in Montego Bay was also set ablaze. Twice. I am not sure whether the media has really investigated the situation there. Suffice it to say that this was not the first time, either. The Jamaica Environment Trust has posted a lot of past reports on Riverton, air quality etc here, for those who want to delve deeper into all of this: http://www.jamentrust.org/advocacy-a-law/campaigns/riverton-city-dump.html

How about something like this - a hazardous waste drop-off center? (I hear terrible stories about syringes etc. on the dump).

How about something like this – a hazardous waste drop-off center? (I hear terrible stories about syringes etc. on the dump).

Hazardous waste: The issue of e-waste (computers and all kinds of other technology that may contain harmful substances) remains a difficult question – asked by a participant at the recent Green Economy Conference. No one seemed able to address it then, which surprised me. Jamaica has no legislation on storing and treating hazardous waste. There does at least seem to have been a project to process and treat used lead batteries and the Government seems to think people could start a business that way. Meanwhile the University of the West Indies is working on storing and eventually destroying e-waste. We shall see. There is so much talk. If I hear the phrase “waste to energy” one more time I will scream. Don’t talk, let’s get it done, Minister Paulwell! Thank you.

Jennifer Edwards' contract expired today, but she is taking legal action against the Board, it appears.

Jennifer Edwards’ contract expired today, but she is taking legal action against the Board, it appears.

The dump is political (in many senses of the word): Now, the CEO of the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA) Jennifer Edwards was effectively dismissed when the Board decided not to renew her contract, which ends today. However, bear in mind: As head of the People’s National Party (PNP) Women’s Movement Ms. Edwards has strong support in the party (including, I believe, from the Minister of Local Government and the Prime Minister herself). She may not go without a fight – in fact today she sought a court injunction to block the Board’s action, which her lawyers called “arbitrary, oppressive, unlawful and unreasonable.” The aggrieved Ms. Edwards says she did not know what the “allegations” were against her. The judge refused the injunction but said they could serve documents on the Board and return to court on April 2.

Citizens protested outside the offices of the NSWMA this week. However, another group of supporters of Ms. Edwards also demonstrated and got plenty of air time on local television.

Citizens protested outside the offices of the NSWMA this week. However, another group of supporters of Ms. Edwards also demonstrated and got plenty of air time on local television.

Oh, and don’t forget: The Ministry of Health is suing senior officials of the Local Government Ministry over the fire, and Minister Arscott (he who wore the monstrous gas mask at the dump the other day, while others wore flimsy dust masks) is not amused by this. That court date will be set in the next week or two.

Former Opposition Spokesman on Justice Delroy Chuck, MP resigned immediately after the court ruling. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Former Opposition Spokesman on Justice Delroy Chuck, MP resigned immediately after the Court of Appeal’s ruling. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

And talking of court cases: The inevitable happened yesterday. The Court of Appeal upheld the Supreme Court’s decision on Andrew Holness’ messing around with Senate appointments. This means that, as the Supreme Court stated pretty clearly in the first place, Senators Arthur Williams and Christopher Tufton always were, and will remain Senators. For those who like the legal stuff, the Appeals Court ruling is here: http://www.courtofappeal.gov.jm/content/holness-andrew-v-williams-arthur Opposition Justice Spokesman Delroy Chuck resigned from his position immediately after the ruling; he had suggested he would if the appeal was denied.

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness was thoroughly embarrassed by the Appeal Court's ruling.

I think Opposition Leader Andrew Holness was thoroughly embarrassed by the Appeal Court’s ruling. He jumped into a car to avoid journalists outside the court.

I cannot understand why the Opposition Leader a) did that secretive undated signed letters thing (and why did the senators agree?) b) took legal action and c) appealed the court’s decision, which seemed as clear as daylight to me. It was a series of incredibly bad decisions that make him look like a most unsuitable leader. I still believe Mr. Holness should step down. Most disappointing, as he did set himself up to be “new and different” in the way he went about things, and he occasionally showed promising signs. One had hopes. But he has shown himself to be immature and clearly had incredibly bad (legal?) advice – or was it also mixed with political advice? Was he advised this was a smart move?

The Jamaica Labour Party’s former leader and Prime Minister Edward Seaga told the media today that Holness should “not give up this fight” and should take his appeal to the UK Privy Council; he then added “But I’m not a lawyer.”  I understand however the Privy Council is not an option under the Constitution. I feel the Attorney General must be right in his view that “the matter is, in fact, settled.” But then, I’m not a lawyer, either.

Seems to me only the lawyers are benefiting from all of the above; good business for them, and our media houses have  lawyers all lined up to offer their views, ad nauseam. I’ve never known a place to be so fascinated with lawyers and their opinions. How are any of these legal shenanigans helping the progress of Jamaica, and Jamaican citizens? Maybe I am missing something. In that case, please tell me. Is this what governance is all about in 2015? It’s all nonsense, and egos, and distractions. What about the people’s business?

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller cut short her meeting, which turned out not to be a "town hall" - no questions. (Photo: Twitter)

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller cut short her meeting, which turned out not to be a “town hall” – no questions. (Photo: Twitter)

A speech, interrupted: Our Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is in New York. She made a nice speech for the UN International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, when the rather beautiful memorial “Ark of Return” was unveiled. This evening she spoke to a group of Jamaicans in a church in Lower Manhattan. A group of LGBT activists interrupted her speech, reportedly shouting “Gay lives matter” and accusing her of breaking her “promise” to the LGBT community to do something about the archaic law against buggery. I am afraid they expected far too much from Ms. Simpson Miller in the first place. The ground is littered with broken promises of all kinds, sadly. I understand the audience was sparse in Lower Manhattan, and no questions were taken.

I nearly forgot: Before she left for the Big Apple, the PM made a speech to close the Budget Debate in Parliament. On the oppression, trafficking, abuse and murder of our women and girls, she said: “We must speak with one voice: It is wrong! It must stop!” Yes, ma’am. It must stop. I agree with you. What is your government going to do about it? Any ideas? Remember, you are in charge. Here is the full speech: http://jis.gov.jm/prime-minister-hon-portia-simpson-miller-20152016-budget-presentation/

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller speaking at the unveiling of the Ark of Memory memorial at the United Nations in New York yesterday.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller speaking at the unveiling of the Ark of Return memorial at the United Nations in New York yesterday.

Oh, by the way, tourism to Cuba increased by nearly 250% this month. But we’re not worried, are we?

Bubbling under… Public sector wage talks have started with the Government after years of wage restraint, and I foresee some snags – as I have noted before. It seems highly unlikely the Government will grant anything near what the likes of our teachers will be demanding. This is going to be a tricky one.

“I don’t watch the news…” About a year ago, our Prime Minister disclosed to a journalist that she gets local news from her husband because she doesn’t watch it herself. More recently, a former Attorney General said she didn’t watch local news either (at the Enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre). So I laughed out loud when a Barbadian friend on Twitter shared this quote from their own Prime Minister, Freundel Stewart. Do our politicians really expect us to take them seriously? What if President Obama made a comment like that?

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The residents of West Kingston are not happy. And I don’t blame them. They are going to lose the awesome SSP Steve McGregor (who is always put in charge of the toughest police divisions, and is now being sent to St. James). He has been doing great work in the often crime-ridden community, with regular meetings with residents. He has also settled a lot of problems in the transportation sector there, which was targeted by extortionists. Big ups to him!

What is happening in small rural towns like Steer Town/St. Ann, Annotto Bay/St. Mary, Linstead/St. Catherine? They are struggling with endemic crime, and have been doing so for quite a long time. Our small towns are underdeveloped and lacking in opportunities for young people – and mostly ignored by their political representatives who are busy in Kingston.

There have been a number of murders since I last posted on Sunday. My deepest sympathies to all those who are mourning these Jamaicans who died:

Akeem Stewart, 22, Cheshire Village/Elletson Flats, Kingston (Killed by police)

Ransford Lewis, 38, Collie Smith Drive, Kingston

Jovan Wallace, 20, Hall’s Delight, St. Andrew

Wadeworth Briscoe, 23, March Pen Road/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Esperanzo Hines, 38, Nugent/Adelaide Street, Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Gary McGregor, 46, Porto Bello Meadows, St. Catherine

Unidentified woman, Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Marlett Briscoe, 29, Steer Town, St. Ann

Unidentified man, Steer Town, St. Ann

Unidentified man, Pantry Pond/Bunkers Hill, Trelawny (mob killing)

Unidentified woman, Pondside/Yallahs, St. Thomas

Akeem Stewart, a student of Excelsior Community College, was killed by the police, sparking an angry protest and road block near the University of the West Indies campus on Monday. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Akeem Stewart, a student of Excelsior Community College, was killed by the police, sparking an angry protest and road block near the University of the West Indies campus on Monday. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

 

Professor Verene Shepherd at the UN: Let’s Learn From History on Racial Discrimination

I almost missed this, but for those who did – March 21 was the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to be followed by a week of awareness. 

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As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted,”This year marks the 50th anniversary of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the launch of the International Decade for People of African Descent…We have seen the end of colonialism, the dismantling of apartheid and the rise of a global movement for equality. Yet, as history and current events attest, racial discrimination still presents a clear danger to people and communities in all regions.” A statement from three UN human rights specialists adds, “Only by recognising and learning from history can we make past successes a contemporary reality.” 

A woman holds a placard during a march to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in London March 21, 2015.     REUTERS/Neil Hall

A woman holds a placard during a march to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in London March 21, 2015. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Do we learn from history? Or is it just repeating itself in different ways, around the world?

Jamaica’s Professor Verene Shepherd, who heads the University of the West Indies’ Institute of Gender and Development Studies at the Mona Campus in Kingston, gave the keynote speech on this year’s theme at the UN General Assembly in New York last Friday, March 20. I am happy to share this with you, for your interest.

Keynote Speech Delivered at the United Nations on the Occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Theme: “Learning from Historical Tragedies to Combat Racial Discrimination Today”

©Professor Verene A. Shepherd

The University of the West Indies, Jamaica

Member of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

March 20, 2015

United Nations General Assembly, New York

Your Excellency, Suzanna Malcora, Chief of Cabinet to the Secretary General

Vice President of the General Assembly, Mr. Mahmadamin Mahmadaminov

Excellencies

Distinguished Guests

Friends all:

It is a privilege for me to address you as we approach this important International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, proclaimed by this United Nations General Assembly in 1966– six years after the tragedy in South Africa that inspired its proclamation, and marked annually on March 21.[1] I thank the President of the General Assembly, His Excellency Sam Kutesa, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and my colleague members of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, for this signal honour. I applaud all of you assembled here this morning for showing, by your presence, that you share a common concern for the creation of a world in which racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia and related intolerance play no part, either in our personal lives or in our international relations.

Like me, you believe in the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the group of international instruments adopted after World War II, as a response to the atrocities of the War, to protect the human rights and inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of the human family.[2] Within this context, racial discrimination is to be treated as abhorrent. So, I acknowledge the appropriateness of the theme chosen for this year’s commemoration: “Learning from Historical Tragedies to Combat Racial Discrimination Today”; and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (the ICERD) – the 50th anniversary of which we mark this year – is very explicit about what constitutes racial discrimination. It is,

any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.[3]

 Many of us here are familiar with the major historical tragedies or inhumane actions that have affected global history and which were related to racial or ethnic hierarchizing and discrimination, including conquest, colonization, genocide against indigenous and minority populations, the African Maafa (called by some the trans-Atlantic “slave trade” and African enslavement); wars to suppress enslaved-led protests, anti-colonial uprisings, the Jewish Holocaust; racial apartheid, the brutal suppression of civil rights and labour movements– and the list goes on.

There was untold suffering as a result of these tragedies and inhumane acts, including murder, torture, public flogging, imprisonment and general humiliation; and the descendants of those whose ancestors suffered, for example from the African Maafa and the Jewish Holocaust, have tried to find ways to memorialize their ancestors and seek redress for such tragedies, including through reparation.

Mr Vice President, I stand before you as a product of some of those historical tragedies, the most tragic of which were the forced relocation of my ancestors from Africa and parts of Asia to a life of enslavement and contract labour in the Caribbean and the post-slavery and post-indentureship regime of racial apartheid and neo-colonialism that so scarred Caribbean societies. But, I also stand before you as a living example of what the battle against such historical tragedies can produce – a scholar activist and human rights defender, with no hate in her heart, who can work in local, regional and international spaces with other committed advocates to try to banish the legacies of those tragedies from our landscape.

But, Mr Vice President, I do harbour some degree of anxiety; anxiety, Mr Vice President, because almost 50 years after the proclamation of this International Day, too many individuals, communities and societies continue to suffer from the injustices and stigma that racism brings. And those who suffer most from racism and racial discrimination are Africans and people of African descent. But the United Nations Programme of Activities for the Decade for People of African descent, launched right here on International Human Rights Day last year, with the theme “Recognition, Justice, Development”, offers us diverse strategies for righting the wrongs of the past so that we can build a more peaceful world.

Yes, Mr Vice President: we continue to be confronted with evidence that we are still some way from realising that goal of universal peace, inter-ethnic harmony and unbiased justice that so many have worked to achieve, indeed shed their blood to attain. We see the evidence today in the hands in the air [because] black lives and all matter campaign that has transformed itself from a local movement in the USA to a global movement; in the racial taunts directed at black players at football games where, on occasion, “macaco” (monkey) is shouted from the stands with complete disregard for the feelings of those affected; in institutional and structural racism; in racial profiling at international borders and within some countries; in messages and ideas based on racism, racial superiority or hatred that incite racism in differential access to quality education, employment and justice; in biased textual and visual representations, cartoons and journalistic pieces that disrespect others’ religion and ethnicity; in everyday speech and attitudes that reflect xenophobia and bigotry; in cultural practices that humiliate particular ethnic groups; in the iconic symbols placed in some spaces that remind formerly oppressed populations of the perpetrators of the tragedies of the past — and in so many other areas.

So, today, I join with the international community in the global call for concrete action for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia and related intolerance, and the comprehensive implementation of, and follow up to, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (the DDPA).[4]

This year, 2015, is a timely reminder to all of us of our responsibilities to those who are the victims of racism and racial discrimination, as there is a coincidence of anniversaries that remind us of the tragedies of the past. It is the 51st anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the USA; it is the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, that March 7 day in 1965 when police beat voting-rights activists as they attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to insist on voting rights; it is the 150th anniversary of the 1865 Morant Bay Massacre in Jamaica, when over 400 Jamaicans were murdered by colonial forces; it is the 200th anniversary of Simón Bolívar’s “Carta de Jamaica,” in which he explained his mission to liberate Latin America from colonial oppression; and it is the 211th anniversary of Haitian Independence – won by enslaved and free black people in a country that made the colonial oppressor rich but impoverished a whole nation.

But, Mr Vice President, there is hope amidst the painful memories. As we reflect on 21 March 1960 when police opened fire and killed 69 men, women and children at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa against the apartheid pass laws, let us celebrate the fact that since that tragic day, the apartheid system in South Africa has been dismantled and South Africa has made great efforts to ensure that never again will such an evil system as racial apartheid ever raise its ugly head in their country.

The global community has also made strides in terms of the elimination of racism and racial discrimination. Colonialism has ended in many more countries since 1960 and the superstructure of slavery and racial apartheid has been dismantled. Racist laws and practices have been abolished in many countries, and the United Nations has built an international framework for fighting racism, guided by the ICERD, as well as by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other rights-based instruments.

Let us commit ourselves today to the fight against the repetition of historical tragedies. The USA has its Edmund Pettus Bridge, the scene of the Bloody Sunday clashes, but we can build our own metaphorical or symbolic bridges – bridges of understanding – and extend such bridges – across the human family- from Alaska to Argentina; from the Norwegian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea; from Scotland to Siberia; from Algiers to Cape Town; from Jordan to Japan and from Russia to New Zealand- hands across the world for the good of us all and in memory of victims of historical tragedies and the revolutionary struggles against various injustices. And so today we remember some of the victims of the Sharpville Massacre, among them, Wiggi Bakela, James Beshe, Ephraim Chaka, Gilbert Demo, Eliot Kabe, Miriam Lekitla and Paulina Mafulatse.

The Americas – the region in which one of the most heinous crimes against humanity was committed and where each day we struggle to eliminate the remnants of historical tragedies and racial discrimination – also had victims of revolutionary struggles to end slavery and racial apartheid. We must sing praise songs for these men and women whose revolutionary ideology and programmes were clearly anchored in their experiences and in their sense of what had become, as the late Professor Rex Nettleford often termed it, a derided and emasculated ancestral culture.

May Nelson Mandela’s impassioned words forever ring in our ears: “Never, Never, and Never Again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another”. [5] And may we modify those words and make our own commitment and pledge “Never, Never and Never again will our beautiful world, continue to be scarred by racial hatred and intolerance of diversity and descend into chaos because of obduracy and intolerance.” But there can be no peace without justice. Robert Nesta (known to you as “Bob” ), Marley, that revolutionary icon, using the philosophy of His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie the 1st long cautioned (and I paraphrase; I dare to paraphrase):

Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; everywhere is war. Until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation; until the colour of a person’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his/her eyes; until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all, without regard to race – Dis a war. That until that day, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship and rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained.

To avoid any such consequence, let us do today what we did in the past to end slavery, apartheid, colonial rule, discriminatory laws and practices and various unjust wars – form a united front comprising all nations, ethnic and religious groups, genders, classes and castes to end racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia and related intolerance and let us do it now in a spirit of mutual respect and tolerance, and  by so  doing demonstrate  our commitment to the foundational principle of the inherent dignity of the human person.

I thank you, Mr Vice President.

[1] Resolution 2142 (XXI))

[2] Expressed in the preamble and Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the preamble to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights and in the preamble to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)

[3] Article 1, Para. 1 of ICERD

[4] A mandate given us by this United Nations on 18th December 2014 by GA Resolution 69/162.

[5] Nelson Mandela, 10th May 1994

Mourners at a funeral ceremony in Cape Province for those who were killed by the South African police at Langa Township in Uitenhage (1985). UN Photo

Mourners at a funeral ceremony in Cape Province for those who were killed by the South African police at Langa Township in Uitenhage (1985). UN Photo

 

 

Daryl in a Dust Mask, Darth Vader at the Dump and Hurry up, Easter: Sunday, March 22, 2015

I think Jamaicans will be glad to reach the Easter holiday; some will enjoy the Carnival festivities, others the traditional Easter bun and cheese. But we Kingstonians need a break. We have had enough of this month, which has been wretched. And the rain refuses to fall; our lawn is thickly strewn with dry leaves.

Riverton “updates”: I put that word in quotation marks because there has been a notable paucity of bulletins and updates from the Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) – all now back from their long overseas trip, one presumes. CEO of the National Solid Waste Management Agency Jennifer Edwards, who is set to step down next week after being elbowed out by her board, is still wringing her hands over a lack of resources – a constant complaint from her. “We need 274 trucks, each doing two trips per day, to collect the garbage that is generated in Jamaica every day. We have 55 broken down old ones,” she complains. But how about this: According to an audit on the NSWMA the media got its hands on last week, very large amounts were paid out for “meals” for those helping put out the annual fire in March 2014. And no receipts for said meals provided. The audit report was damning, showing extreme negligence in book-keeping and proper procedures (including the splitting of contract awards into several smaller contracts, to circumvent procurement rules). What say you, Ms. Edwards (and the board?) An unknown number of unknown people were benefiting from the fires. It was “eat a food” time again, but this year it got out of hand.

So this was NOT a public health emergency. Right.

So this was NOT a public health emergency. Right.

Where are the test results? Air quality samples were sent to Canada, and were due back last Thursday – three days ago. Where are they? 

Minister of Local Government Noel Arscott visited the dump on his return from far-away Japan.

Minister of Local Government Noel Arscott visited the dump on his return from far-away Japan.

The reappearance of our Local Government Minister: Yes, the man with overall responsibility for the dump – the Minister “in charge” – Noel Arscott made an appearance on TV the other night. It was quite disturbing; he was wearing a huge gas mask that made him look a little like Darth Vader. As a result, when a reporter asked him a question you could barely hear the response; I half-expected to hear that hollow, deep breathing. Well, no fear of the man responsible inhaling any carcinogens, anyway. As for us…

Oh. When interviewed earlier, the Minister informed us that Japan is “far away.” Yes, he was far away for almost all the nearly two-week long crisis.

I don’t care about “management styles”: While the fires were still burning, media houses immediately started to focus on alleged personality clashes, who supports who etc. within the NSWMA. At that point I didn’t care. The main point was to get the fire O.U.T. Kudos to Deika Morrison, who campaigned on Twitter and spoke on radio several times about the incredible (and as yet unknown) dangers of the pollution (more than mere “smoke”) which affected the quality of our air, and no doubt water and soil, too.

Should the dump be privatized? The Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) led by Christopher Tufton thinks this might be the answer, and I think it’s well worth considering. 

 Jermaine Barnaby Opposition MP Daryl Vaz created a stir last Thurssday went he entered Parliament with a dust mask on his head in what he said was solidarity with the people of Kingston and St Catherine suffering with the smoke from the Riverton dump. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

Opposition MP Daryl Vaz created a stir last Thursday when he entered Parliament with a dust mask on his head in what he said was solidarity with the people of Kingston and St Catherine suffering with the smoke from the Riverton dump. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

Opposition MP Daryl Vaz went to Parliament on Thursday wearing a dust mask on top of his head.

There were fifteen murders in three days, this week. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around this. What has happened to the long-awaited DNA legislation, I wonder? 

The U.S. State Department’s annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) just came out. It notes: “Jamaica is emerging as a transit point for cocaine leaving Central America and destined for the United States, and some drug trafficking organizations exchange Jamaican marijuana for cocaine.” I didn’t know that. Read more here: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2014/vol1/222912.htm 

img_7129

All talk and no action: I have written about the great work the United Nations Environment Programme – Caribbean Environment Program is doing in Jamaica in previous blog posts. Now – rather unusually I think – one member of the team, Alessandra Vanzella-Khouri, had some pretty strong words for our political leaders, who stand up and talk about their commitment to the environment but do nothing. On the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) programme that she administers in the Caribbean, Ms. Vanzella-Khouri added: “I have sat in several conferences regionally and internationally and unfortunately Jamaica is one of those countries used as an example of what not to do, especially when it comes to reef fisheries. The reefs have been over fished and this is known all over.” Jamaica signed the SPAW Protocol in 1990 but has not ratified it. Why, I asked in my blog post in February 2013; and I ask again. There are benefits to be had. Meanwhile (see previous post on the Portland Bight Protected Area) our coral reefs are struggling, without any help.

World Water Day 2015.

World Water Day 2015.

It’s World Water Day, and sadly the National Water Commission (NWC) is often nominated for the (very competitive) spot of the Most Inefficient Government Agency in Jamaica. The NSWMA may well have pushed it off that top spot, at least for now. The NWC struggles with huge debts, aging equipment and pipes, and of course climate change, amongst a myriad of problems. But they are doing their best to rectify things for the citizens of Washington Gardens and Cooreville Gardens in Kingston, who have not only been helping bear the brunt of the toxic fumes but have also had no water running in their pipes. Life in the tropics is hard.

The Moon Palace in Ocho Rios still seems to be in need of skilled workers. Jamaicans with the required skills should hurry up and apply – they have a deadline to meet. Otherwise, they might import more Mexican workers – something which has caused some upset. But the workers must have the right skills! That’s the point, too.

Huge bouquets and thanks to:

The iguanas have numbers painted on them, but still look incredibly cool, don't they? (Photo: Twitter)

The iguanas have numbers painted on them, but still look incredibly cool, don’t they? (Photo: Twitter)

  • The amazing team of scientists involved in bringing back the Jamaican Iguana from “extinction” (it was actually considered extinct). This is an incredible success story. To date 278 iguanas have been returned to the wild in Hellshire Hills (in the Portland Bight Protected Area). Keep up the brilliant work!
An iguana released in the Hellshire Hills recently. (Photo: Twitter)

An iguana released in the Hellshire Hills recently. (Photo: Twitter)

  • The Government of Japan, which donated six new ambulances to the Health Ministry through its Grass Roots Human Security Project. The health sector needs all the help it can get, so this is hugely appreciated. (Health Minister Fenton Ferguson may not be very high on the average Jamaican’s popularity list, but the Pan American Health Organization gave Jamaica a thumbs up for “huge strides” in tackling non-communicable diseases, the cause of 70 per cent of deaths). Also many thanks to the Japanese Embassy for their grant to Jamaica AIDS Support for Life to expand their services.
Photographer Ray Chen with his latest publication, "Jamaica: My 50 Years in Photography." (Photo: Brian McCalla/Gleaner)

Photographer Ray Chen with his latest publication, “Jamaica: My 50 Years in Photography.” (Photo: Brian McCalla/Gleaner)

  • Chinese Jamaican photographer Ray Chen, who is celebrating fifty years in photography. Amazing! His beautiful coffee table books have been a “must-have” – especially for visitors. We always loved giving them as gifts as they truly reflect the beauty of the land and the people. Congrats, Mr. Chen!
 Dr Erin MacLeod at the launch of her book, ‘Visions of Zion: Ethiopians & Rastafari in The Search for The Promised Land’. (Photo: Gleaner)


Dr Erin MacLeod at the launch of her book, ‘Visions of Zion: Ethiopians & Rastafari in The Search for The Promised Land’. (Photo: Gleaner)

  • The awesome Erin MacLeod, lecturer at the Institute of Caribbean Studies, University of the West Indies, on the launch of her book “Visions of Zion: Ethiopians & Rastafari in The Search for The Promised Land.” I am really sorry I missed the launch, but am happy to report that Erin will be doing a reading from the book at Bookophilia in Kingston on April 8 at 6:00 p.m. Do go along and listen in. 
Maia Chung will be the new General Manager of Mello Television. She has tremendous TV experience and I am sure she will be great. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Maia Chung will be the new General Manager of Mello Television. She has tremendous TV experience and I am sure she will be great. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

  • Ms. Maia Chung, who will take over at the helm of the new Mello Television, a new free-to-air station in Montego Bay (there is already a Mello FM radio station). Maia also has her own Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation, and was a stalwart on CVM Television for some years. She’s a bright spark! Congrats, Maia!
National Security Minister Peter Bunting visits August Town. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

National Security Minister Peter Bunting visits August Town. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

The first quarter of the year has seen an alarming increase in murders; last year, as we recall, there was a sixteen per cent decline on 2013. Opposition National Security Minister Derrick Smith has expressed concern that 42 more Jamaicans have been murdered up to March 20 than the same period in 2014 (from 206 to 248), an increase of nearly fourteen per cent. As you may have noticed from my weekly calibrations, these murders are taking place right across the island and are not restricted to one or two urban areas. What is happening, exactly? I am glad the Security Minister visited August Town, where the teenage boy was shot dead by the police; and that the Commissioner of Police, during a visit to Richmond Hill where a little girl and three adults were murdered, condemned the sexual exploitation and killing of children and promised to do something about it. I hope he can.

Two policeman charged: In connection with the shooting death of Garfield Coburn in Lawrence Tavern, St. Andrew – one has been charged with murder, and a second with giving a false statement to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). The shooting was captured on video and aired on television news. Compared to years gone by, this is remarkably speedy. INDECOM has made a difference. Thank you.

Meanwhile, my deepest sympathies to the families of the following:

Unidentified man, Tavern, St. Andrew (killed by police)

Damion Gray, 36, Central Village, St. Catherine (killed by police)

Junior Scott, 26, Bickersteth/Richmond Hill, St. James

Lois Lorraine Watson, 28, Bickersteth/Richmond Hill, St. James

Shaya Riana Prince, 8, Bickersteth/Richmond Hill, St. James

Kemali Walker, 22, Bickersteth/Richmond Hill, St. James

Tarrick Bucknor, 30, Montego Bay, St. James

Lincoln Barrett, 44, Duanvale, Trelawny

Unidentified man, Brumalia Road, Mandeville, Manchester

The Coral Reefs of the Portland Bight Protected Area are in “Reasonable Condition,” Scientists Say

When my father first went snorkeling in Jamaica many years ago, he compared the experience to peeping into a “wonderland” of glowing color. He was thrilled to bits.

What of the coral reefs in the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA) – especially in the waters surrounding Goat Islands, where the Government of Jamaica (or rather, China Harbour Engineering Company) is threatening to create a transshipment port, dredging the seabed to create deeper channels for the huge ships expected to dock there? The reefs are facing some of the challenges other coral reefs around the world experience: the chemical makeup of the sea is changing (becoming more acid) and there are high levels of nutrients from agricultural runoff, sewage systems and so on. It’s climate change, and human activity, that threatens the corals.

Survey team during surface interval time at Pigeon Island, from left: Achsah Mitchell, Kimani Kitson-Walters, Suzanne Palmer, Ivana Kenny (Photo: caribbeanenvironments.com)

Survey team during surface interval time at Pigeon Island, from left: Achsah Mitchell, Kimani Kitson-Walters, Suzanne Palmer, Ivana Kenny (Photo: caribbeanenvironments.com)

That said, scientists at the University of the West Indies concluded recently that the PBPA reefs are not doing too badly, overall.

An endangered Green Turtle seen at Big Pelican Cay. (Photo: Twitter)

An endangered Green Turtle seen at Big Pelican Cay in the PBPA. A nice surprise. (Photo: Twitter)

On February 25 UWI’s Centre for Marine Sciences, in partnership with the Waitt Foundation, the Atlantic Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) program and Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) presented the results of the 2014 (July to November) scientific survey of the coral reefs in the PBPA. Up until then no one had produced any evidence about the marine habitats and ecosystem services that would be impacted by the proposed transshipment port at Goat Islands in the PBPA. There had been no survey of all the coral reefs across the PBPA for about ten years, nor was there any data on fish stocks in its fish sanctuaries. You can find the assessment overview online at http://savegoatislands.org/wpcontent/uploads/2015/02/Waitt_UWI_PBPA_Coral_Reef_Assessment_Feb2015.pdf  By the way, JET’s savegoatislands.org is a great reference website that is regularly updated with a wealth of information – relevant documents, background information, videos and photos and press links.

In 2014 Dr. Suzanne Palmer, a lecturer in coral reef ecology at UWI, received funding from the Waitt Foundation to do the PBPA study, working in partnership with the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM), JET, and Dr. Judith Lang (AGRRA Scientific Coordinator). @CaribbeanEnv shared many enthusiastic tweets from their dives late last year. The “virtual dive” slide show was a great prelude to Dr. Palmer’s overview; we were mesmerized by the vivid underwater photographs.

virtual-dive

Dr. Palmer described coral reefs as “underwater cities,” complex 3-D structures with astonishing biodiversity – and coral itself is a living thing, let’s remember. The UWI team examined and assessed twelve individual reef sites, including around Little and Great Goat Islands, Pigeon Island, Big Pelican Cay, Tern Cay, Wreck Reef, Pigican Shoal and Morris Shoal. They also examined the mangrove prop roots in the fishing sanctuaries, including the sanctuary in Galleon Harbour near Goat Islands. They compared the data they gathered to a regional database and found the different sites varied considerably – but the reefs were fairly close to, slightly below or even above the regional average. Coral that had recently died was 1.1% (the benchmark for “stressed” reefs is 2%) and coral mortality from longer ago was below the regional mean. The reefs are generally in better condition than those in Mexico, Honduras or the Bahamas, Dr. Palmer suggested. However, there are “early warning” signs that we should pay heed to – and Jamaica needs to “aim higher” in protecting the reefs of the PBPA, she added.

Some examples of the coral seen by the UWI team. (Photo: Twitter)

Some examples of the coral seen in the PBPA by the UWI team. (Photo: Twitter)

So what does a healthy coral reef look like? It should include reef-building corals and algae that provide the “cement” for the coral; spaces where coral larvae can settle; complex structures that can withstand wave energy and provide good coastal protection; and plenty of those long-spined sea urchins grazing the algae that can swamp the coral. The PBPA’s coral cover is higher than average for the region, the survey notes; but it has too many elements (fleshy and coralline micro algae) that are harmful to the reef if left unchecked. The waters are generally shallow, and the reefs have flattened out, but there are some large coral outcrops.

Spotted moray eel in the PBPA (Photo: Twitter)

Spotted moray eel in the PBPA (Photo: Twitter)

And what of life on the reefs of the PBPA? Achsah Mitchell (a young environmentalist currently working on the Coral Gardening Initiative in Oracabessa Fish Sanctuary, who also received a Waitt Foundation grant) gave an excellent presentation on the fish and other marine life the team recorded. There were very few large fishes throughout the area – whether herbivores (parrotfish) or carnivores (yellow-tailed snapper, grunt). There were large shoals of very small fish (the striped parrotfish was most common) including many juveniles – so the fish are breeding in the sanctuaries, but larger fish have been greatly overfished. Snappers and jackfish (which eat smaller fish and invertebrates that feed on corals, keeping things in balance) were much rarer. However, in the dense mangroves around Goat Islands they did see at least 2,000 small fry and larvae – mostly grunts and snappers; and counted over 16,000 fish among the mangrove prop roots, as well as nurse sharks and spiny lobsters.

And lion fish? This notorious invasive species was happily pretty much absent!

Are there important endangered/critically endangered species in the PBPA? The team could only comment on what they observed, and there are probably more; but they saw these species, listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List: the Hawksbill Turtle; Staghorn Coral (colonies at Little Goat Island); and Elkhorn Coral – both important reef-builders. Endangered species they spotted were the Green Turtle and the Lobed Star Coral – the latter in “large, reasonably healthy colonies.” It should be noted that a lot of funding is going into restoration projects for these species, worldwide.

The scientists saw a whole family of nurse sharks (they are harmless by the way) near Tern Cay. (Photo: Twitter)

The scientists saw a whole family of nurse sharks (they are harmless by the way) near Tern Cay. (Photo: Twitter)

By the way, the U.S. Geological Survey scientists recently pointed out another strategy to save reefs: First save the mangroves. The PBPA comprises the largest area of mangroves in Jamaica and these have an annual estimated value of approx. US$45 million in terms of carbon “fixing.” Apart from that, the mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs of the PBPA are “functionally and ecologically linked,” the UWI scientists say. They depend on and support each other.

There is much more to say, and I will continue in a further blog post with the discussions and recommendations from the UWI team. But here is one comment from them, which I hope all the politicians and technocrats will bear in mind: “As the largest environmental conservation area in Jamaica, the PBPA is unquestionably a valuable national resource that must be preserved.”

That’s it, in a nutshell.

A shot of mangrove root in Galleon Harbour, near Goat Islands. (Photo: Twitter)

A shot of mangrove root in the fish sanctuary at Galleon Harbour, adjoining Goat Islands. (Photo: Twitter)

The PBPA's beautiful mangroves enhance the health of coral reefs, provide sheltered breeding grounds for fish and marine life and protect the coast from damaging storms. They prevent floods and store huge amounts of carbon. (Photo: Twitter)

The PBPA’s beautiful mangroves enhance the health of coral reefs, provide sheltered breeding grounds for fish and marine life and protect the coast from damaging storms. They prevent floods and store huge amounts of carbon. (Photo: Twitter)

Documentary Film “Miss Representation” Examines Media Images of Women

MISS REP INVITATION (2)

The way women are portrayed in traditional media (and now, I dare say, in social media) has been the subject of complex and often heated debate around the world for decades. In Jamaica and across the Caribbean, this is still very much a burning issue. For example, Women’s Media Watch (now WMW Jamaica) has worked with journalists to develop gender-aware media practices, and to influence broadcast policy and legislation. The organization also provides training programs for diverse audiences on the prevention of gender based violence and the promotion of gender equality. Now the documentary film “Miss Representation,” an official selection at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, will receive a public airing in Jamaica on Monday, March 23 at the Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies, Mona at 6:00 p.m. Admission is free. A discussion with a rather substantial panel will follow (including UWI’s Filmmaker in Residence Storm Saulter). Although this is from a U.S. perspective, I think you will find many of the issues raised are most relevant to Jamaica, too. This is worth going to see.  Here is the press release, below:

Miss Representation first premiered in the documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival where it caught the eye of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. It made its television debut as part of the OWN documentary film club with over 1.3 million people tuning in to its multiple broadcasts. Additional screenings with corporations, non-­‐profits, religious groups, government organizations and communities are happening every day all over the world.

The film includes stories from teenage girls and provocative interviews with famous politicians, journalists, entertainers, activists and academics like Condoleezza Rice, Lisa Ling, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Jane Fonda, Rosario Dawson, Cory Booker, Jackson Katz, Jean Kilbourne, and Gloria Steinem. The film offers startling facts and statistics that will leave audiences shaken and armed with a new perspective. For more information visit: http://www.missrepresentation.org

Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Miss Representation exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-­‐representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. The film challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of females of all ages, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman to feel empowered. “We are thrilled to have so many outreach opportunities for Miss Representation. This film was made to be a change agent in our culture, to inspire both women and men to recognize women’s collective voice, leadership capacity and equal rights,” says Newsom.

In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality-­‐-­‐and not in her talents, skills and capacity as a leader. While women have made strides in leadership over the past few decades, the playing field is still not level. The glass ceiling remains difficult to crack.

The distribution of the film has been the catalyst for a social action campaign led by MissRepresentation.org. The campaign seeks to empower women of all ages and provide them with new opportunities to realize their full potential.

Local Screening: In support of their on-­‐going work in women’s empowerment, and in celebration of International Women’s Day, Nadine Spencer, Ambassador to the Representation Project, along with community partners, will host a debut screening of the award-­‐winning documentary Miss Representation in Kingston, Jamaica, on Monday, March 23, starting at 6:00 p.m. The screening will be free of charge to attendees, and will take place in the lecture theatre, Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies, Mona. Community partners include Canada’s High Commissioner to Jamaica, Kazembe & Associates, Nursing and Homemakers Inc., University of the West Indies, BrandEq Group, Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS), Eckler (Consultants + Actuaries), BrandEq Group, and The Gleaner Company Limited.

Following the screening, a panel comprising film director Storm Saulter; Kay Osborne (CEO of Kay Osborne Associates Ltd.); Aubyn Hill (CEO of Corporate Strategies Ltd.); Dr. Pamela Appelt (Retired Citizenship Court Judge, Canada); Kamina Johnson Smith (Attorney and Senator); Marlene Malahoo Forte (Senator); Pat Ramsay (AL Harvard Fellow 2014, Director, International Women’s Forum) will discuss the film. Television broadcaster, Fae Ellington, will moderate the panel.

“I am pleased to see this film screened in Jamaica, and am proud to be involved in this dialogue. This is a step in the right direction, and will have an influence on how women are viewed in Jamaica in the future,” said Nadine Spencer. “The issue of women’s representation and accessible pathways to leadership is quite important, and both the film and panel will inspire constructive conversation. Conversation is a critical part of the solution.”

MissRepresentation.org is igniting a cross-­‐generational movement to shift the cultural mindset of communities, interrupt and stop patterns of sexism, change the way women are represented in the media and ensure a tipping point that will lead to gender parity in leadership.

If you would like to attend, please contact Tasheena Mangal, Email: Tasheena@brandeq.com. Tel: (876) 507-4548.