Of Flamingoes and Water Boots: A Birding Trip

A view across the salt marsh from Portland Cottage, Clarendon. (My photo)
A view across the salt marsh from Portland Cottage, Clarendon. (My photo)

My problem with birdwatching trips (as I may have said before) is that they start way too early. I would rather ease into them at, say, eleven o’clock, having had a good breakfast and a good jolt of coffee. But alas, by then the birds would be busy doing whatever birds do at that time of day, and barely visible. So, when we do birding trips with BirdLife Jamaica, it’s meet at 6 a.m., or you’re a sissy. But as we drove through Clarendon in convoy to our destination, we gradually woke up. There are parts of the Portland Bight Protected Area where you just start to absorb the sense of nothingness. OK, that may sound weird – but as we drove down small, dusty side roads with the early morning sun in our eyes, we slowed into a more relaxed pace and started to observe the spiky trees, the pale sky. Enjoyable, and possibly even worth getting up in the dark for.

Dead trees are beautiful, too. (My photo)

Dead trees are beautiful, too. (My photo)

We emerged in Portland Cottage, which had hardly woken from its Sunday morning slumber. It’s a small and scattered community, but one or two residents acknowledged our presence and chatted. We disembarked hastily from our cars, hoping to immediately see, on the doorstep of Portland Cottage…flamingoes. Alas, what we saw was a wide expanse of mud. Some of it was dry, forming mosaic-like patterns. Some of it was…well, muddier, as we were soon to find out. Beyond were the shallows of the salt marsh, dotted with artistic clumps of mangrove.

Dried mud - Nature's design. (My photo)

Dried mud – Nature’s design. (My photo)

Why were we looking for flamingoes? Because they had been seen several times in the area recently; it is quite unusual to see them in Jamaica, although they are fairly common in patches elsewhere in the Caribbean. The Greater Flamingo lives in large colonies in the Bahamas, in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, in particular areas. It does not breed in Jamaica, although interestingly one or two juveniles had apparently been spotted. There is a scattering of them elsewhere in the Caribbean; but like almost everything else that lives and breathes (except for humans of course) they are not as common as they used to be. This little group may be Cuban migrants.

So, they were not in the place we had hoped they would be. We would have seen them, if they were, in their shocking pink plumage. They are also four feet or so tall. They would be sticking out a mile, as the saying goes. We shrugged our shoulders, a trifle disappointed, but proceeded to potter around quite a bit, to see what else we could see.

A Reddish Egret goes for a run. (My photo)

A Reddish Egret goes for a run. (My photo)

The Reddish Egrets proved to be a delight. These elegant birds are also not seen so often, and they are nothing like the extremely common Cattle Egret in their behavior. They pirouetted on the salt flats, in the shallow water that mirrored their long slender legs, in search of their food. They made quick dashes, stretching their long necks and sometimes lifting their wings in their excitement. Their pursuit of food is not the motionless pose of the heron, waiting for its prey to come close. No, the Reddish Egret loves the thrill of the chase. (Reddish? You may ask. Well, those we saw – which are more common I understand – were the “white morph.”)

Abandoned water boots. Waiting for high tide? (My photo)

Abandoned water boots. Waiting for high tide? (My photo)

I mentioned above that we pottered around. Well, I am not sure if “potter” is the word. Let us say we negotiated our way, with some trepidation, around the edge of the salt marsh. Occasionally, a birder would find him/herself in a dead end situation and have to pick his/her way carefully back the way he/she came. Sometimes, we stopped to laugh at the condition of our boots or shoes, which acquired a thick (and increasingly heavy) fringe of steel-grey, sticky mud. If you stayed in one place for too long – depending on how heavy you were – you felt yourself slowly becoming embedded in it. It’s clingy, and doesn’t want to let you go once it has taken hold.

As you can see, we also had a good laugh over a pair of abandoned water boots. Obviously their owner had grown tired of them. Indeed, we saw some residents (young men) walking in bare feet. It actually makes more sense, so long as you don’t mind a certain squelching feeling between your toes.

I found this beautiful photo of a Peregrine Falcon, taken from a cruise ship near Jamaica. They fly extremely fast (at least 30 mph) and when they stoop for prey considerably faster! (Photo: preview.com)

I found this beautiful photo of a Peregrine Falcon, taken from a cruise ship near Jamaica. They fly extremely fast (at least 30 mph) and when they stoop for prey considerably faster! (Photo: dpreview.com)

We did see a Tricolored Heron – which, for one tremulous moment, I thought was a brownish Flamingo – another elegant bird, but only half the height. Remarkably, also, we spotted a Peregrine Falcon on the wing – a decided rarity, a beautiful hawk with pointed wings, flying with rapid wingbeats over the mangroves. I have seen them in England many times, but they are unusual in this part of the world, mostly frequenting coastal areas. Shorebirds, ducks and seabirds are their prey; I suspect they would not tackle a Flamingo, though.

An artistic mangrove, admiring its reflection in the water. (My photo)

An artistic mangrove, admiring its reflection in the water. (My photo)

Then we had some excitement in a nearby patch of mangrove, which was alive with migratory birds. A Yellow Warbler seemed interested in us – such a pretty golden bird in the dark foliage. A Hooded Warbler (another rarity) darted out so fast that our able guide Ricardo Miller was only able to burst out its name before it was gone.

Well, we did as much as we could. The salt flats were serenely quiet, subdued even, and I longed for a flash of pink. But it was not to be, at least, not this time. We had to return to Kingston – but some of the birders pressed on, and yes, found the Flamingoes! How envious we were.

Our marvelous guide Ricardo Miller consults with Leon Barnaby and Paula-Ann Porter Jones over a bird identification card. (My photo)

Our marvelous guide Ricardo Miller (center) consults with Leon Barnaby and Paula-Ann Porter Jones over a bird identification card. (My photo)

Eureka! The Flamingos were found by our intrepid fellow birdwatchers, later in the morning. (Photo: BirdLife Jamaica/Facebook)

Eureka! The Flamingoes were found by our intrepid fellow birdwatchers, later in the morning. (Photo: BirdLife Jamaica/Facebook)

I was happy, though, to enjoy the dance of the Reddish Egrets.

Ballet dancing on water…at Portland Cottage. (Photo: BirdLife Jamaica/Facebook)

Ballet dancing on water…at Portland Cottage. (Photo: BirdLife Jamaica/Facebook)

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Change Awareness Week, UNEP Champions of the Earth, More Environmental News: December 3, 2016

Professor John Agard from the Department of Life Sciences at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine, makes a point at the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Conference in Kingston this week. Professor Agard is Lead Author of the Small Islands Chapter of the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC. (My photo)
Professor John Agard from the Department of Life Sciences at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine, makes a point at the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Conference in Kingston this week. Professor Agard is Lead Author of the Small Islands Chapter of the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC. (My photo)

Well, a lot has been happening in Jamaica and there’s lots of news further afield, too. Please click on the links for more information.

Jamaica and the Caribbean:

Serious talk: Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Dr. Hoesung Lee (left) in discussion with Professor Emeritus Anthony Chen at the IPCC Conference at the University of the West Indies this week. (My photo)

Serious talk: Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Dr. Hoesung Lee (left) in discussion with Professor Emeritus Anthony Chen at the IPCC Conference at the University of the West Indies this week. (My photo)

Climate Change Awareness Week: It was an exciting week, organized by the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and following on from the Prime Minister’s recent participation in COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco. There were several events each day (including a great media workshop on November 29) and wide participation in the conference organized by the Ministry and hosted by the University of the West Indies. It coincided with the visit of the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Dr. Hoesung Lee and several other IPCC officials; if you recall, Professor Emeritus Anthony Chen was among those experts on the IPCC, which won the Nobel Peace Prize, together with then U.S. Vice President Al Gore, in 2007. Several journalists from elsewhere in the Caribbean were there to cover the event; but all the major Jamaican media houses were conspicuous by their absence – despite the high-level participation and opportunities for interviews with some brilliant minds from Jamaica, the Caribbean, U.S., across the region. The live stream of the conference – days one and two – is now posted on YouTube here and here.

Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Erik Solheim speaks at the opening of the new United Nations office on November 30. (My photo)

Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Erik Solheim speaks at the opening of the new United Nations office on November 30. (My photo)

UN Opens New Office downtown: All the UN agencies will be gradually moving in to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) space in the International Seabed Authority building, next to the Jamaica Conference Centre downtown. There was a delightful opening ceremony and ribbon-cutting, with UNEP’s Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General Erik Solheim and Minister Daryl Vaz participating, among others. Mr. Solheim identified pollution, oceans and ecosystems as the three key priorities for the Caribbean. I will be writing more about this in a subsequent blog.

Getting ready for a Caicos Pine Christmas tree lighting at Kew Corner in North Caicos. (Photo: Facebook)

Getting ready for a Caicos Pine Christmas tree lighting at Kew Corner in North Caicos. (Photo: Facebook)

Caicos Pine Recovery Project Gets Underway: It’s Christmas, so we are thinking about evergreen trees. In the Turks and Caicos, an effort to replant and restore the native Caicos Pine is underway and today (December 3) was their first annual Caicos Pine Awareness Day. The pine’s roots are covered in symbiotic fungi, seven species, called ectomycorrhizal fungi. These underground fungi help the pine roots absorb nutrients and water and the pine can’t survive without them. At least two of the species of fungi are new to science, and one is a species of truffle! The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the UK  and the Turks and Caicos Islands Department of Environment & Maritime Affairs (DEMA) are engaged in a project that seeks to mitigate against climate change and invasive species. Tree-planting (and of course, the lighting of a Christmas tree) are among the activities intended to revive the National Tree.

C-CAM's Fabian Lindo helps students identify birds. (Photo: C-CAM/Facebook)

C-CAM’s Fabian Lindo helps students identify birds. (Photo: C-CAM/Facebook)

C-CAM Celebrates International Migratory Bird Day: The Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM), which works in the Portland Bight Protected Area, recently celebrated International Migratory Bird Day at its Field Station in Salt River, Clarendon. Students from Portland Cottage Primary School, St.Margaret Mary Preparatory School and Mitchell Town Primary School participated in an information session, field work and creative activities.

15350707_10154692158343604_454661638903620720_n“Let’s Eat Them to Beat Them!” Rainforest Seafoods is calling all fisherfolk to help protect Jamaica’s coral reefs and marine life. It is buying all quantities of the invasive #LionFish! Let’s eat them to beat them, please call (876) 953-6688 or (876) 920-3148 for more details. Kudos!

Elsewhere in the World:

The courageous Berta Caceres campaigned against the construction of a hydroelectric dam project because of the impact it would have on the territory of the Lenca Indigenous people. She was murdered at her home in La Esperanza, Honduras on March 3, 2016. (Photo: Amnesty International)

The courageous Berta Caceres campaigned against the construction of a hydroelectric dam project because of the impact it would have on the territory of the Lenca Indigenous people. She was murdered at her home in La Esperanza, Honduras on March 3, 2016. (Photo: Amnesty International)

UNEP’s Champions of the Earth: UNEP announced the six winners of its Champions of the Earth awards on December 2. One of them, sadly will be awarded posthumously (for Inspiration and Action) to Berta Cáceres, the Honduran environmental and indigenous activist, who was murdered in March this year. The other worthy recipients are President Paul Kagame of Rwanda (for Policy Leadership), for his Government’s efforts to protect the highly endangered Mountain Gorilla and its rainforest habitat; the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (for Entrepreneurial Vision) for its huge project, the Morocco Solar Plan NOOR, the first large-scale capture of solar energy in the Middle East and North Africa; Leyla Acaroglu (for Science and Innovation), a New York-based Australian designer who instigates positive environmental and social change through innovation; José Sarukhán Kermez, founder of Mexico’s National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversityand Afroz Shaha young Indian lawyer from Mumbai, who started the world’s largest beach clean-up project (so far, over 4,000 tons of trash collected from a 2.5 kilometer beach!)

The giant kelp forests are part of the Great Southern Reef – a global biodiversity hotspot, with up to 30% of species endemic. Photograph: Thomas Schmitt/Getty Images

The giant kelp forests off the Australian coast are part of the Great Southern Reef – a global biodiversity hotspot, with up to 30% of species endemic. Photograph: Thomas Schmitt/Getty Images

Impact of warming oceans creates new ecosystem in AustraliaTropical fish that do not normally live in the huge kelp forests of northern New South Wales are now hungrily eating and destroying the kelp. There has been a threefold increase in these species and scientists are connecting this with a 0.6º temperature rise in the ocean. As a result, the ecosystem is gradually changing to a more tropical one. On Australia’s west coast, 100 kilometres of kelp forests were wiped out by a marine heatwave between 2010 and 2013.

Wild organic coffee in the Yayu Coffee Forest Biosphere Reserve. (Photo from an Oromo blog)

Wild organic coffee in the Yayu Coffee Forest Biosphere Reserve. (Photo from an Oromo blog)

Ethiopia’s Yayu Biosphere helps protect organic, wild coffeeThe Yayu Coffee Forest Biosphere Reserve, recognized by UNESCO, has had some challenges (including regular bush fires) but the Ethiopian Government and NGO partners are seeking to protect and revive the 50,000 hectare reserve, the  original home of the most popular coffee in the world (Cafea Arabica). The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Facility is working with NGOs such as the Ethiopia Population, Health and Environment Consortium to develop and market this organic coffee. Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy strategy aims to have for net zero carbon emissions by 2025.

COP13 in Cancun, Mexico. What a beautiful logo!

COP13 in Cancun, Mexico. What a beautiful logo!

UN Biodiversity Conference under way in Cancun, Mexico: At this important Biodiversity Conference (COP13-COPMOP8-COPMOP2) countries will work on strategic actions to enhance implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and promote the achievement of the Aichi Biodiversity targets. The Conference will focus on mainstreaming biodiversity across specific sectors, especially agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and tourism, to contribute to the sustainable development goals, climate action, food security and other human development goals. You can find the Draft Cancun Declaration on Mainstreaming the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity for Well-Being, currently being worked on by ministers and heads of delegations, here.   BirdLife International has also issued its own Policy Position on Mainstreaming Biodiversity here.

An illegally chopped down tree in Machadinho d'Oeste in the western Brazilian state of Rondonia. Photo: Kainaz Amaria/NPR

An illegally chopped down tree in Machadinho d’Oeste in the western Brazilian state of Rondonia.
Photo: Kainaz Amaria/NPR

Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest – Good and Bad News: The bad first: the Amazon rainforest’s rate of deforestation has risen for the second straight year, according to a Brazilian Government report. Very unimpressive. Last year the rate increased by 24 per cent; this year it has risen by 29 per cent. The report this week is based on satellite imagery from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). From August 2015 to July 2016, the Amazon rainforest was deforested at an estimated rate of 7,989 square kilometers (more than 3,000 square miles). Deforestation is a major factor in exacerbating climate change. Now the good news: Brazil pledged (just today, at COP13 in Cancun) to restore 12 million acres of deforested land under the Bonn Challenge, joining 38 other countries, organizations and companies in a global restoration effort spearheaded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Bonn Challenge aims to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.

The Amazon rainforest near Manaus, Brazil. (Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT)

The Amazon rainforest near Manaus, Brazil. (Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT)

 

 

 

 

 

Migratory Birds, and the Treaties that Protect Them, Celebrated on 20 Caribbean Islands

Thanks to educators at the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), youth in Jamaica were treated to a field trip that included birding and a nature scavenger hunt using BirdSleuth Caribbean materials published by BirdsCaribbean. (photo courtesy of NEPA)
Thanks to educators at the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), youth in Jamaica were treated to a field trip that included birding and a nature scavenger hunt using BirdSleuth Caribbean materials published by BirdsCaribbean. (photo courtesy of NEPA)

It’s been a busy time for BirdsCaribbean partners across the islands, as the migratory birds have arrived! Our own yard in Kingston (which is very green) is alive with migratory birds. As I write, I can see a Northern Parula taking a quick bath, and yesterday we watched a Black-and-White-Warbler (“Ants Bird”) creeping up the trunk of a mango tree! Here are just some of the birding activities that have taken place recently.

Students from the Jose Horacio Cora School, Arroyo, Puerto Rico, were delighted to learn how to use binoculars to spot feeding terns, gulls and Brown Pelicans in the waters at the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. (Photo by Ernesto Olivares)

Students from the Jose Horacio Cora School, Arroyo, Puerto Rico, were delighted to learn how to use binoculars to spot feeding terns, gulls and Brown Pelicans in the waters at the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. (Photo by Ernesto Olivares)

Migratory Birds, and the Treaties that Protect Them, Celebrated on 20 Caribbean Islands

December 2, 2016—As migratory birds arrived to settle in the Caribbean for the winter, a series of festivals celebrating these birds swept through the region’s islands as well. In Cuba, a group of local and international students learned about how birds are captured and banded for research, as well as identified a plethora of migrant warblers in a birding walk. Students in the Dominican Republic visited the National Botanical Garden to spot migratory birds and participate in a bird art competition organized by Grupo Acción Ecológica.

Members of the public in St. Martin were treated to a variety of presentations and activities in a day-long event, including learning about aquatic insects that sustain migratory birds in a Portable Pond Discovery Station, and how two women laid the groundwork for major conservation treaties in efforts to save egrets from exploitation by the fashion industry. Over in Puerto Rico, a group of students were delighted to learn how to use binoculars to spot different terns, gulls, and Brown Pelicans feeding in the waters of the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

What was all the fun about? It was the annual fall celebration of International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD), a hemispheric festival highlighting the fascinating story of bird migration. The festival is coordinated in the Caribbean by BirdsCaribbean, a regional non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about and conserving the region’s birds and habitats. Energetic partners at refuges, parks, museums, schools, botanical gardens and protected areas throughout the region hosted dozens of events, including birding walks and talks, art activities, games, tree plantings, clean-ups and more.

This year the IMBD theme was Spread Your Wings for Bird Conservation, in recognition of the Centennial of the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty, which made it unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell migratory birds. Local organizations and coordinators in each island highlighted how laws, treaties and protected areas help conserve our migratory birds, and what the average citizen can do to help, such as never buying wild-caught birds, reporting the capture and sale of wild birds to the authorities, planting native trees for birds, and supporting local environmental groups that work to conserve nature.

At IMBD events throughout the region, many participants were surprised to learn that the Caribbean islands provide a winter home for dozens of different migratory bird species. However, from ducks to shorebirds, warblers to hawks, many of these species have unfortunately been experiencing declines in recent years due to destruction of native habitats, pollution, hunting, poaching and other threats. “The annual festival provides a unique opportunity to involve people in learning about these birds, and how important our coastlines, wetlands, forests, protected areas and gardens are in sustaining these birds, as well as people,” commented Regional Coordinator, Ingrid Flores.

Abelardo Díaz Alfaro Elementary School of Puerto Rico celebrated a week-long Migratory Bird Festival, including the creation of a beautiful collage, a mural and presentations by students about how they can help conserve birds. Meanwhile, others visited protected areas like the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge in Puerto Rico, which held a week-long open house with presentations and videos about migratory birds and the value of the refuge and bird art activities for kids. Youth in Jamaica were treated to a field trip that included birding and a nature scavenger hunt, thanks to the National Environment and Planning Agency.

After a hugely successful 2016 festival, planning is already underway for IMBD celebrations in 2017, which will focus on the importance of “stopover sites’—places for migratory birds to rest and “refuel” during their long migrations. The Caribbean islands host a wealth of such sites, providing another opportunity to get people outside enjoying nature and our colorful and endlessly fascinating winter visitors.

Local and international students learn about how migratory birds are captured and banded for research in the Boca de Canasí Ecological Reserve in Cuba.  (Photo by Juan Luis Leal)

Local and international students learn about how migratory birds are captured and banded for research in the Boca de Canasí Ecological Reserve in Cuba. (Photo by Juan Luis Leal)

For more information please contact:

Ingrid Flores, Regional Coordinator of IMBD Caribbean, BirdsCaribbean

Email: imbdcoordinator.pr@gmail.com

NOTES TO EDITORS:

International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) is the largest-known bird conservation and education event of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. IMBD was initiated in 1993 by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. It is currently coordinated by Environment for the Americas, Boulder, Colorado, under the direction of Susan Bonfield, Executive Director. For more details, see: http://www.migratorybirdday.org

BirdsCaribbean is the largest regional organization devoted to wildlife conservation in the Caribbean. It is a non-profit organization whose goals are to promote the scientific study and conservation of Caribbean birds and their habitats, and to promote greater public awareness of the bird life of the region. For more details, see: http://www.birdscaribbean.org

Big Thank You to NCU Journalism Students!

Posing for a picture at Northern Caribbean University. The Communications Studies students are just great. (Photo: Andre Heslop, student)
Posing for a picture at Northern Caribbean University. The Communications Studies students are just great. (Photo: Andre Heslop, student)

Last week we popped up the road to Mandeville (it’s quite an easy trip from Kingston these days, apart from one painfully narrow and potholed stretch of road) – at the invitation of the Communication Studies students of the Northern Caribbean University (NCU).

Jovaney Ashman making a mini-speech that made me laugh.

Jovaney Ashman making a mini-speech that made me laugh. (Photo: Andre Heslop, student)

Now, NCU is a private, faith-based institution run by the Seventh Day Adventists (to be precise, by the Jamaica Union Conference and the Atlantic Caribbean Union Mission of Seventh-day Adventists). As such, I tend to think it is rather “straight-laced.” It has its rules. All that being said, visiting there has always been a great experience. Quite recently, in the U.S. Embassy/51% Coalition’s series of events prior to the U.S. presidential elections, we visited NCU and the discussion was lively, sharp and enjoyable.

And so it was last week, as I met with a group of around 50 journalism students in the Hyacinth Chen School of Nursing – a large, powder blue building perched on a hillside. It appeared to be quite empty, apart from the students, who arrived in bunches from the main campus over the road. Ms. Sasha Rowe, a Communications student, was the organizer of the event, as part of a day of presentations on Digital Journalism. It was the Department of Communication Studies’ Journalism Week.

It started with a Skype session with NBC’s Michael Spears Jr. (@MikeSpearsNBC6) – a Miami-based news reporter, who was quite recently in Jamaica when Hurricane Matthew was hovering around. I just noticed he is now in Medellín, Colombia – reporting on the football team’s plane crash, I suspect. He told the students they should get as much experience as they possibly can, even reporting at local rather than national levels, to acquire skills and experience in multimedia and straightforward journalism.

Mike on Skype at NCU. (My photo)

Mike on Skype at NCU. (My photo)

I talked to them about blogging – first pointing out that I am neither a journalist nor a “tech” person. WordPress is just the wonderful and amazing platform that I use to put my writings on. I stressed the importance of good writing!

Here I am, writing "Global Voices" on the whiteboard. Yes, I write for globalvoices.org (as well as gleanerblogs.com) roughly once a week - besides this blog!

Here I am, writing “Global Voices” on the whiteboard. Yes, I write for globalvoices.org (as well as gleanerblogs.com) roughly once a week – besides this blog! (Photo: Andre Heslop, student)

So, this is a short but heartfelt “thank you” to the lovely students for inviting me, for welcoming me to the big blue building and for patiently listening to my ramblings. And much more… especially, for asking many brilliant questions that kept me on my toes.

Special appreciation is due to Sasha and to Jovaney Ashman, who gave me a lovely introduction. It was a pleasure spending time with you, and I wish you all the very best in your studies and subsequent careers.

The quietly organized Ms. Sasha Rowe, Jovaney Ashman and me, after the talk.

The quietly organized Ms. Sasha Rowe, Jovaney Ashman and me, after the talk. (Photo: Andre Heslop, student)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact the Department of Communication Studies(DCS) at NCU:

Like us on Facebook : DCS(Department of Communication Studies) 

Follow us on Twitter : @DCSatNCU

Email our Department’s Chair Rhoma Tomlinson Whyte (rhoma.tomlinson@ncu.edu.jm)

Phone Number: 963-7445

 

 

JET Asks: Why No Information on Kingston Harbour Oil Spill?

This photo was posted on Twitter on Sunday, November 27.
This photo was posted on Twitter on Sunday, November 27.

A few days ago, photos started to appear on my Twitter timeline of a considerable oil spill near Gordon Cay, in Kingston Harbour. Now here is a release from the Jamaica Environment Trust, suggesting that it would be very nice if we could have some information from the relevant Government agencies. Who was responsible, and will they be held accountable? Can we have an update please, NEPA?

A very small boom apparently seeking to contain an oil spill near the Petrojam refinery. (Photo: Elisabeth Anne Levy/Twitter)

A very small boom apparently seeking to contain an oil spill near the Petrojam refinery. (Photo: @lizzielevy on Twitter)

December 1, 2016

LACK OF INFORMATION ON KINGSTON HARBOUR OIL SPILL IS UNACCEPTABLE – JET

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is concerned about the lack of information surrounding the oil spill in the Kingston Harbour last week Thursday. The spill was reported to have taken place on the afternoon of Thursday, November 24; but JET has received reports that an oil slick had been observed in the Harbour since Wednesday, November 23.

“The lack of information from the Government surrounding this major oil spill is unacceptable,” said Diana McCaulay, CEO of JET. “We have heard that the oil came from three different sources, but we have received no official word from either the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) or the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to confirm or deny this.” Ms McCaulay went on to say that there are also conflicting reports as to the origins of the spill and when it began.

On Friday, November 25, NEPA issued a press release saying that they were investigating a report of an oil spill in the Kingston Harbour which occurred Thursday afternoon. At the time, the agency said a preliminary report indicated that the spill took place in the vicinity of Gordon Cay and that ODPEM was coordinating the cleanup with containment activities being undertaken by the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coast Guard.

“There has been no word from the agencies involved in the cleanup efforts since last Friday,” said McCaulay “The report should have been completed and released to the public. We need to know who the responsible parties were, what steps will be taken to hold them to account, and the status of the clean up.”

Contact:
Diana McCaulay
CEO, JET
469-1315

Suzanne Stanley
Deputy CEO, JET
470-7580

Is Social Enterprise About to Take Off in Jamaica? Yes, With More Policy Support…

Panelists in discussion under the cozy, colorful tent at the SEBI discussion "Let's Talk Social Enterprise Policy" on November 17. (My photo)
Panelists in discussion under the cozy, colorful tent at the SEBI discussion "Let's Talk Social Enterprise Policy" on November 17. (My photo)

It was a distinctly chilly and wet night in Half Way Tree.

Yet, in the parking lot of Jamaica National Building Society, a glow of bright colors under a tent lit up the darkness. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming as we entered, for an absorbing rap session organized by the JN Foundation, Let’s Talk Social Enterprise Policy. How can one integrate the concept of social enterprise into government policies that foster development, growth, jobs?

Social Enterprise Boost Initiative

Social Enterprise Boost Initiative

This was part of the JN Foundation’s Social Enterprise Boost Initiative (SEBI), supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – now in its second phase – or an expansion of the first. You could call it SEBI 2.0.  The Foundation, chaired by Earl Jarrett, believes that growth must be encouraged at the micro level, while the institutional framework to facilitate it must be in place. Yes – that word growth, again. At the same time, community renewal and social inclusion is a necessary – indeed critical – feature in that evolving landscape of growth and (to coin a phrase much-used by the current administration) prosperity. Real and sustainable. As panelist Dr. Kadamawe K’nife (at UWI’s Office of Social Entrepreneurship) noted, it is “absence of wealth” that is crippling communities; we need to create that wealth.

Well, you may ask – what is social enterprise, actually? The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) – represented by Technical Specialist Ms. Charmaine Brimm on the panel that evening – defines social enterprise as “any business created to provide a social good or service.” This enterprise will likely have a value beyond the regular pricing mechanisms of business, and will generate wealth not just for shareholders, as SEBI Project Manager Ms. Opal Whyte pointed out. It is focused on social innovation; it is community-based; and it is an enterprise where the profits are reinvested in its further development. What is the Jamaican definition? Well, that is still being worked on. In June of this year at the launch of SEBI’s second phase, then USAID Director Dr. Denise Herbol described social enterprise as: “a new business approach to fair trade, social inclusion, community regeneration and job creation for those most marginalized in labor markets and those most vulnerable to environmental hazards.” So you see the ethical aspect of social enterprise is very important. Volunteerism (an area in which JN Foundation has contributed much) also adds considerable value. During the first three-year phase, volunteers contributed an estimated 2,171 days of support valued at J$6.3 million and SEBI leveraged over J$50 million.

This is not to say, however, that social enterprise is an “airy fairy” concept. It is a business, first and foremost (JN Foundation’s General Manager Saffrey Brown always stresses this point). The PIOJ formed a working group with JN Foundation, and believes that a new policy needs to be created or fitted into a current framework in one of the ministries; Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries Reginald Budhan participated in the conversation, noting that the working group’s review will be finalized by the end of December. Let’s see where things go from there.

The SEBI incubator project has now been extended for an additional five years, bringing new entities on board – alongside six SEBI “pioneers” from the first stage. With greater policy support, much more could be done. But let me stop here and list all the enterprises now in JN Foundation’s incubator. You can click on the links for more information.

Ackee Walk

Ackee Walk

  • Ackee Walk: A Jamaican-made and produced children’s television series focused on building the child’s self-esteem and cultural awareness. Their enterprise will be developing a cartoon series and Ackee Walk events. By the way, I wrote about Ackee Walk here.

se_leaflets_multicare_foundation

  • Breezy Castle (a Phase 1 Pioneer): The MultiCare Foundation’s all-inclusive recreational and cultural space on Kingston’s waterfront – the only green space in downtown. The Breezy Castle Centre uses sports and the creative arts to transform children’s lives – basketball clinics, “art on the street” programs, etc. It’s “A space for everyone.”
  • Council of Voluntary Social Services (CVSS)An umbrella organization that supports the social sector. CVSS’ enterprise will include business development services to the social and private sectors, hot desks, conference room rentals (they have some really good space) and more.
  • Carlyle Gabbidon at Deaf Can Coffee. I have one of these nice T shirts! (Photo: Deaf Can Coffee)

    Carlyle Gabbidon at Deaf Can! Coffee. I have one of these nice T shirts! (Photo: Deaf Can Coffee)

    Deaf Can Coffee (I wrote about them here): Creating employment for deaf people and generating income to fund their education. Their enterprise includes an Internet Coffee Shop (in Cassia Park, Kingston), a Mobile Coffee Shop and cool branded merchandise.  (Their dark roast Blue Mountain is just delicious by the way!)

  • Dress for Success (a Phase 1 Pioneer): This NGO supports women’s empowerment  by providing support, technical assistance and professional attire, helping women become economically independent through meaningful employment.
  • Educators: A team of young male University of the West Indies (UWI) graduates who are seeking to improve cultural awareness among Jamaican youth. Their enterprise is conducting educational tours for students, local and overseas guests and developing ramification apps to enhance the tour experiences.
  • Jamaica Association for the Deaf: A non-profit organization that provides education, hearing rehabilitation and human services for deaf people. Its enterprise is book restoration and binding services, including fine hand binding and gold leaf printing.
  • Trained Reef Guardians at the Montego Bay Marine Park. (Photo: MoBay Marine Park website)

    Trained Reef Guardians at the Montego Bay Marine Park. (Photo: MoBay Marine Park website)

  • Montego Bay Marine ParkA team of experienced scientists and tourism professionals dedicated to protect the Marine Park, which stretches from Montego Bay, St. James to Great River, Hanover. The team’s enterprise is edu-tourism tourism tours of the Park, snorkeling and diving lessons and Reef Guardian training.
The Alpha Institute has more than 120 boys between the ages of 15-18 years in its skills-training program. The school for under-privileged boys is famous for its musical history.

The Alpha Institute has more than 120 boys between the ages of 15-18 years in its skills-training program. The school for under-privileged boys is famous for its musical history.

  • Music Inc: A marketing company established to create employment for graduates of Alpha Institute (formerly Alpha Boys’ School) in the music industry. Its enterprise is artiste management for Alpha Institute students and graduates, copyright management and the use of music produced at the institution. It also offers individual and group music classes at the Institute, which has produced so many legendary musicians.
  • Mustard Seed cares for the most vulnerable in society, including many abandoned children with special needs. (Photo: www.mustardseed.com)

    Mustard Seed cares for the most vulnerable in society, including many abandoned children with special needs. (Photo: http://www.mustardseed.com)

  • Mustard Seed Communities (A Phase 1 Pioneer): A faith-based organization that operates 13 homes and numbers outreach programs, focusing on children (and adults) with disabilities. It is working to become entirely self-sufficient through a number of income-generating initiatives, including a tilapia fish farm and egg farm. It has plans for several other business initiatives including rabbit and goat rearing, an expanded vegetable garden and a commercial bakery.
  • 13415373_1738216696433516_1391550102034620137_oPetals ‘n’ Roots: Started by Carol Narcisse and the Mensana group to provide opportunities and income for people living with mental illness. There were beautiful floral arrangements created by them at the SEBI rap session. You can find them inside HiLo Supermarket in Liguanea, Kingston.
The wonderfully focused Bridgette Johnson of Portmore Self Help at the launch of SEBI Phase 2 in June this year. (My photo)

The wonderfully focused Bridgette Johnson, founder of Portmore Self Help Disability, at the launch of SEBI Phase 2 in June this year. (My photo)

  • Portmore Self Help Disability Mobility and Resource Centre: An amazing support group for people with physical challenges. Their enterprise is the repair of mobility aids (wheelchairs, walkers etc) and consultancy services on improving access and accommodation for people living with disabilities.
  • Positive Prints: Seeking to address issues of self-esteem and identity among inner city youth, producing lifestyle and cause-based apparel.
Working in the meat processing room at St. John Bosco Home. (Photo: Gleaner)

Working in the meat processing room at St. John Bosco Home. (Photo: Gleaner)

  • St. John’s BoscoA home and trade training school for at-risk and unattached boys in Hatfield, Manchester. The home’s enterprise is animal husbandry and a meat processing plant, producing premium cut meats including pork, beef and bacon).
The dynamic and highly skilled Superior Crafts and More. (Photo: SEBI)

The dynamic and highly skilled Superior Crafts and More. (Photo: SEBI)

  • Superior Crafts and More (A Phase 1 Pioneer): Visually impaired Jamaicans make furniture, craft and woodwork – including incredible cane work and the refurbishing of wicker. Their work is so beautiful!
  • The Source (A Phase 1 Pioneer): Established by the Jamaica National Building Society in 2012, The Source in Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland is the fifth community-based venture in the franchise, offering computer and Internet access, a document centre, homework classes, skills training and workshops, and more.
Yam Gizzadas from the Ulster Spring Women's Group.

Yam Gizzadas from the Ulster Spring Women’s Group.

  • Ulster Spring Women’s Group (A Phase 1 Pioneer): A group of women who live in the small farming village of Ulster Spring in southern Trelawny, making a variety of products (Cockpit Treats) – baked goods, drinks and more – from the parish’s main food staple, yellow yam. They are delicious!
The awesome Lanisia Rhoden, founder of Young Women and Men of Purpose.

The awesome Lanisia Rhoden, founder of Young Women and Men of Purpose.

Young Women and Men of PurposeBased in Manchester, this group seeks to assist young people aged 13 – 25 years in choosing career and making life choices, through mentorship. It is developing a mobile app that will help students match their skills and interests with the appropriate career path.

As in all business ventures, networking is key, as Co-Chair of the MSME and Entrepreneurship Policy Review Committee Onika Miller noted at the rap session. Dialogue like this is important in helping to develop ideas and focus – but also in helping to find a future direction. There is, however, a need for more data (how many times have I heard this before, in different fields?)

Meanwhile, Christmas is here and the New Year beckons. Let’s make a resolution to support Jamaican social enterprise as much as we can – and Jamaican businesses in general. There are some fantastic products and services out there!

For more information on the SEBI program, go to http://www.sebijm.com Email: sebi@jnbs.com Tel: (876) 926-1344 Twitter @sebijm Facebook, YouTube, Instagram

 

Digicel Foundation’s Mobile Science Labs Are Inspiring Students

A young scientist in the making gets to work on the Mobile Science Lab at Jose Marti Technical High School. (My photo)
A young scientist in the making gets to work on the Mobile Science Lab at Jose Marti Technical High School. (My photo)

It’s been a very long time since I last saw a Bunsen burner.

The lighting of the Bunsen burner. (My photo)

Preparing to light the Bunsen burner. (My photo)

However, I had a little frisson of recognition on November 17, at the Digicel Foundation’s official handover of a Mobile Science Laboratory to José Martí Technical High School. There was the lovely little burner I remember so well, being skillfully lit by a student during a demonstration of sugar reduction. No, I am not talking about eating fewer sweet things – one of my unattainable goals in life – I am talking about the reducing sugars. When heated up with a few drops of something, slowly turned from sky blue to brick red, thereby demonstrating that moderate amounts of reducing sugars are present. I think – if memory serves me right – this is called the Benedict’s Test.

I do hope that Mr. Lenford Johnson, Head of the Science Department at José Martí might give me full marks for this description of the experiment. He might not! I confess that I was completely hopeless at science throughout my school years. It’s something I regret, since I have developed a fascination for science in recent years (better late than never).

Lab technician Daniel McKnight sets things straight. (My photo)

Lab technician Daniel McKnight sets things straight. (My photo)

The Mobile Science Labs now being distributed to schools by Digicel Jamaica Foundation are helping to transform science education in Jamaica. To date, 32 schools have received labs, and in this, the third phase of distribution ten more schools will be the lucky recipients. Digicel Foundation Board Director Patrick King pointed out that each one costs J$1.4 million. They are worth every cent, I would say.

Mr. Johnson described their lab as a “game-changer, which has made a profound impact in just one year” (the school is already using it). The mobile labs are incredibly compact, and yet can do so much. The mobility is a key factor, of course. At José Martí, Mr. Johnson said, the Lower School was often “sacrificed” in terms of access to the science lab for the important CSEC examinations. Now, they simply wheel the Mobile Lab on a ramp to the Lower School. Students are showing more appreciation for science, Mr. Johnson added – “even the troublemakers” – and they are getting much better test results too.

Mr. Lenford Johnson, Head of the Science Department is happy that the Lower School now has full access to science lab facilities, thanks to the Mobile Science Lab. (My photo)

Mr. Lenford Johnson, Head of the Science Department is happy that the Lower School now has full access to science lab facilities, thanks to the Mobile Science Lab. (My photo)

Not only is the lab itself really neat  – it comes with something called a MimioBoard, which is a fully interactive whiteboard with a projector and appropriate software. It’s an incredibly cool piece of technology that has won many awards in the field of education. The projector projects the computer’s desktop onto the board’s surface where users control the computer using a pen, finger, stylus, or other device. The school uses it to view microscopic slides. Microscopes are very expensive, Mr. Johnson pointed out, and having to share one or two among a large class of students wastes time. Now they can all see the slides at the same time. Just brilliant!

Did I mention that the Mobile Science Labs are designed and produced in Jamaica? Product Support Engineer James Henry of Industrial & Technical Supplies has done a fantastic job. The science lab is “more than a metal box on wheels,” said Mr. Henry. He has been perfecting the design, making changes as he went along, and welcomes feedback.

Huge kudos to Mr. James Henry of Industrial & Technical Supplies Ltd., (far right) who designed and produced the Mobile Science Lab. He is continuously perfecting the design. (My photo)

Huge kudos to Mr. James Henry of Industrial & Technical Supplies Ltd., who designed and produced the Mobile Science Lab. He is continuously perfecting the design. (My photo)

By the time that student Roberta Archer had delivered an eloquent vote of thanks, the Bunsen burner, facilitating the mysterious workings of science, had done its work. The test tube now contained an orange-red solution, proudly held up for all to see. We all clapped.

Science education costs money, demanding resources that many schools just don’t have; they are already stretched. Yet, in 2016, science matters – more than ever. Thank you, Digicel Foundation for recognizing this need and for filling it.

Mr. Johnson summed it up nicely: “We feel very special.”

Digicel Foundation's Dane Richardson meets up with Ms. Astenett Ranger-Gordon, Teacher of Integrated Science and Biology at Jose Marti Technical High School. (My photo)

Director of Operations at Digicel Foundation Dane Richardson meets up with Ms. Astenett Ranger-Gordon, Teacher of Integrated Science and Biology at Jose Marti Technical High School. (My photo)