Protecting our Fish: Earth Day, Part 1

Earth Day approaches (Sunday, April 22), and yesterday we attended an event that was more a Song of the Sea than of the Earth.  We attended the opening of a field office, to be administered by the Caribbean Coastal Area Conservation Foundation (C-CAM), in Salt River, Clarendon.

C-CAM logo


C-CAM's new field office at Salt River
C-CAM's new field office at Salt River - a green building, soon to be greener.

The sparkling new green and white building is to be C-CAM’s base for patrols of three Fish Sanctuaries in the surrounding wetlands (Three Bays, Salt Harbour and Galleon Harbour).   There are six other sanctuaries across the island.   C-CAM’s Executive Director Ingrid Parchment hopes the field office will become a complete “green building” in the near future, one of a kind in the parish.

And Jamaica’s fish stock is declining drastically.  The island is one of the most over-fished areas in the world.  When we used to eat at Gloria’s, a well-known fish restaurant in Port Royal, some ten years ago or more, we used to eat one big snapper fish each.  When we ate there a few weeks ago, it struck me that we each had three or four much smaller fish on our plate.  Just a little indicator.

The building was dedicated, with prayers and a plaque, to the memory of Professor Aggrey Brown, a former chairman of C-CAM.  The professor was a dedicated fisherman in the area on holidays and weekends.  The building itself is situated next to a small, well-kept marina at the Monymusk Gun, Rod and Tiller Club – a charming backwater of the Salt River, where several well-kept boats awaited their next adventure, and another boat, upended on the shore, was being thoroughly scrubbed by a group of sturdy young men.  The sun shone brightly on the dark water, polished to bronze; and on the green hillside above, topped with billowing white clouds against the blue.  A perfect morning.

The project is the result of a valuable partnership with the California-based NGO Seacology, which has been working in Jamaica for the past two or three years and which Ingrid Parchment noted was very “understanding” of the issues involved.  Ms. Parchment recognizes the importance of partnerships – in Jamaica, NGOs can barely survive without them.  This is especially important when you are managing the protected area of the Portland Bight, which is a bump of land sticking out at the bottom of the island of Jamaica, on its south coast.

The Portland Bight Protected Area, established by the Jamaican government on Earth Day 1999, makes up 4.7 per cent of the entire island of Jamaica; it is larger than Barbados or Grenada or Antigua & Barbuda in the eastern Caribbean.  It includes 81 square miles of the endangered habitat called dry limestone forest and 32 square miles of coastal wetland and mangroves and coral reefs.  Most of the remainder of the land is sugar estates (we met several trucks with teetering loads of cane on the road) and small hamlets with a total of 50,000 inhabitants.  C-CAM works closely with community representatives and the local private sector – and on this project with WINDALCO, the nearby bauxite firm whose Russian managing director attended the event and spoke through an interpreter.  WINDALCO has a port at nearby Port Esquivel from where it ships its products.  The firm is funding a fisheries enhancement project in a coral reef area in one of the three fish sanctuaries, Three Bays – the “jewel in the crown” as Ms. Parchment put it.  The project involves a metal frame, which is electrified and somehow calcifies and creates excellent conditions for coral to grow, according to C-CAM’s Scientific Officer Brandon Hay.  The research for this was reportedly done at the University of the West IndiesDiscovery Bay Marine Laboratory on Jamaica’s north coast some time ago.   But, it’s never too late to put it into practice…

Boat scrubbing at Salt River
Boat scrubbing operation in progress...

A government minister arrived impossibly late; the proceedings had already started without him.  He arrived just in time to let us know that the government will be banning spear-fishing at night (or in the day too?) and that it would also provide funding for rangers to patrol the sanctuaries – very important.  So, he was clapped, and cut the ribbon obligingly alongside Thera Edwards, C-CAM’s Chairperson.  Reverend Elliston stood on the stairs and, Bible in hand, gave the building and all those who sailed in it his blessing.

And – last but by no means least – young Shemara and several of her small friends from the Salt River Basic School gave an irresistible “tribute item” – a rendition of the Jamaican folk song “Sammy plant piece a corn dung a gully.”  For those who don’t know it, this song is akin to one of those rather grim little nursery rhymes where the principal characters end up dead.  The children sang with much emphasis on certain words, accompanied by dramatic hand gestures.  Perfect.

There is a website which calls overfishing a “global disaster.”  According to the most recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, at least one quarter of all the world’s fish stocks are either overexploited or depleted.  Over half is fully exploited, which means just a step away from being overexploited.  And these are fairly conservative numbers. For an area like Portland Bight, which is heavily dependent on fishing, it is crucial to maintain and expand fish stocks, and to preserve the environment in which the fish breed.  The mangroves and coastal wetlands are nurseries for the fish that populate our reefs.  And of course, this protected area is also home to many endangered and protected species, including the crocodile (common in Salt River), the Jamaican Iguana, the Coney (Jamaica’s only endemic terrestrial mammal) and countless waterfowl and bird life.

And – it is beautiful.  Clear aqua-blue waters with waving seagrass; moorhen (or “water hens” as Jamaicans call them) scuttling in the bulrushes; open lagoons, still and quiet; spiky mangroves and limpid pools; thorny bushes cluttering the hillsides.

Learn more about this precious, unique part of Jamaica.  Learn more about the work of C-CAM, and support them.  Learn something new about the island of Jamaica that you can cherish, and help to preserve.

And please, do something for the Earth on Sunday, April 22.

Salt River Basic School children
The students of Salt River Basic School (including the irrepressible Shemara, in yellow) prepare themselves mentally for their performance.

Related links: Earth Day 2012 TVJ interview with Ingrid Parchment and Alicia Burnett of WINDALCO, April 17, 2012 C-CAM website Portland Bight Protected Area website Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory, University of the West Indies Seacology website Overfishing: A global environmental disaster


Danique and WINDALCO banner
The National Youth Service's Danique was a courteous usher.

5 thoughts on “Protecting our Fish: Earth Day, Part 1

  1. Reblogged this on Petchary's Blog and commented:

    During his current visit to China, the Minister of Environment (no less) said he was giving serious consideration to a proposal from the Chinese government to construct a logistics hub in Jamaica’s largest protected area, the Portland Bight. (He is also the Minister of Land, Water and Climate Change, by the way). This bolt from the blue prompted an urgent press conference held by C-CAM (the NGO that administers the area), the Jamaica Environment Trust and civil society supporters on August 22. JET plans to launch a legal challenge. The area is protected through a 1999 law. The issue has sparked tremendous concern in civil society and on the social media. Here is an article I wrote only 16 months ago about the establishment of a C-CAM field office to administer two fish sanctuaries, with support from the Ministry of Agriculture and a California-based organization as well as UC Rusal, owners of the nearby bauxite plant. These fish sanctuaries would likely be destroyed by the proposed Chinese project, sanctioned it seems by the Minister of Environment itself, despite his own government’s support for it just LAST YEAR. Well, s they say, “Go figure!” and please share widely.


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