Floating To Goat Islands: The “Goatilla” (Plus Thoughts on Eco-Tourism)

Last Saturday morning was magical, inspirational and emotional all at the same time.

56 Jamaicans, led by the intrepid founder and CEO of Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) Diana McCaulay and with other scientists and activists on board, clambered into seven boats on the beach at Old Harbour Bay early yesterday morning. (I say “clambered,” because some, like me, were less than nimble). We were headed for Goat Islands, in the Portland Bight Protected Area. The air was thick with the smell of freshly caught fish. The water glittered silver and blue.

Saturday morning reasonings in Old Harbour Bay.
Saturday morning reasonings in Old Harbour Bay.

We were a motley crew – old, young and in-between, but all united in our enthusiasm. Included in the group were members of the 51% Coalition (Women in Partnership for Development and Empowerment through Equity), the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition, youth activists, environmentalists, scientists and academics – as well as amateur enthusiasts like me, and others who just wanted to see for themselves “what all the fuss is about.” 

Members of the Women's 51% Coalition at Old Harbour Bay. Women representing!
Seven members of the Women’s 51% Coalition at Old Harbour Bay. Women representing!
Teal Point, which is one tip of Little Goat Island. Beyond is mangrove and the Hellshire Hills.
Teal Point, which is one tip of Little Goat Island. Beyond is mangrove and the Hellshire Hills.

It took a few minutes to get ourselves organized, and our boat was the last to leave, but we were happy to have JET’s Diana McCaulay on board. To me, Diana is one of Jamaica’s greatly under-appreciated heroes. She loves and cares about her country very deeply. A graduate of the University of the West Indies, Diana is one of Jamaica’s distinguished group of Humphrey Fellows (in 2000). She studied a range of environmental subjects at the University of Washington in the U.S., and went on to complete a Master’s Degree in Public Administration, with majors in environmental policy and international development. She founded JET in 1991 and has been a persistent advocate for environmental issues over the years, with a number of great successes to her credit. And she has a young and talented team of “Jetters.”

One of the seven boats that carried the group of concerned Jamaicans around Goat Islands.
One of the seven boats that carried the group of concerned Jamaicans around Goat Islands.

Little Goat Island is low and flat, fringed with lush mangroves on one side. On the south side of the island there is a stretch of pale sand beach, dotted with trees and young mangrove plants – a beautiful, peaceful spot on the translucent blue open sea. Like other cays in the area, it would make a perfect spot for eco-tourism. I could imagine a small eco-lodge there – with very minimal environmental footprint. Eco-tourism activities might include kayaking and other non-motorized watersports, perhaps, hiking trails, bird-watching, boat trips to the larger island and to the other beautiful little cays in the Portland Bight Protected Area. Or, let’s see, a yoga/meditation centre and spa – visitors and locals will pay good money for such an exclusive location. Beautiful, simple and very eco-friendly…

The red pole over by the mangrove marks one limit of the fish sanctuary which surrounds the north sides of the Goat Islands and surrounding areas. The fish sanctuaries (there are three in total) were only established THREE YEARS AGO with full government support.
The red pole over by the mangrove marks one limit of the fish sanctuary which surrounds the north sides of the Goat Islands and surrounding areas. The fish sanctuaries (there are three in total) were only established THREE YEARS AGO with full government support.

Great Goat Island is very different – quite tall, rugged, heavily fringed with beautiful mangroves (which actually form a bridge between the two islands, so they look as if they are connected). The developers of the logistics hub would have to do quite a lot of dynamiting to flatten the island for their purposes.

Great Goat Island. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a Taino Museum at the top?
Great Goat Island. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a Taino Museum at the top?

This would be very sad, because at the top of Great Goat Island is a large Taino settlement. When one of Christopher Columbus‘ ships arrived in Galleon Bay (hence the name) they looked up and saw the Tainos on the hill. You can literally walk around and pick up artefacts, I understand. So, more of Jamaica’s indigenous heritage would be blasted out of existence by China Harbour Engineering Company. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to turn the top of Great Goat Island into a Taino Museum? There would be a marvelous view from the top there. What a superb heritage attraction it would be, for both locals and overseas visitors. A walking trail up to the top, or maybe a donkey ride. An organic cafe. Well, I am getting a little carried away with my imagination here, but these are just some ideas off the top of my head. Surely experts would come up with a greater vision than my random thoughts. But, it seems that as usual, the politicians have none. Their only vision is in their words (sometimes) – certainly not in their implementation. They have forgotten one of the lines in the Jamaican national anthem“Give us vision, lest we perish…”

We emerged from the mangrove waterways in the lee of the islands and out into the open sea. The water quality quickly changed from a dark and “soupy” quality to azure. Two kayakers passed us by. One of them tweeted later in the day: “Who knows what the future holds for you, Galleon Harbour and Goat Islands. But I’m honoured to have had the opportunity to make the most of you and will continue to do so as much as I can. We must all value our environment, especially the little we have left. I would love to be able to take my children here some day, some of the most stunning and untouched scenery here. Heroes Weekend you shall see me.”

Back in Old Harbour Bay, the fish market was busier. Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigate Birds swirled. A small group of men, some wearing semi-military garb, stood in a cluster on the beach and watched us. They were, apparently, officials of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), the government agency that owns Goat Islands. We could hardly miss the large sign that has recently appeared, telling “trespassers” that they cannot land there without first obtaining a permit. I thought the land belonged to the Jamaican people? The UDC men marched around for a bit, telling everyone within earshot that the islands are out of bounds, asserting their authority.

Apropos of that, I found a rather relevant quote on Facebook today from Guardian newspaper journalist, George Monbiot:

Never underestimate the willingness of powerful people to ignore the evidence they find inconvenient. Never underestimate their willingness to appease industrial lobbyists by repeating the nonsense they generate. Never underestimate their readiness to sacrifice the common interests of humankind for the sake of a belief they refuse to abandon.”   

I have nothing to add to that.

Brown Pelicans meditate on Psalm 23, Old Harbour Bay fishing beach.
Brown Pelicans meditate on Psalm 23, Old Harbour Bay fishing beach.

Show your support for Jamaica’s fragile and endangered environment, and especially the Portland Bight Protected Area:

Visit the Facebook page “No! To Port on Goat Island, Jamaica” for many more articles and discussions. Like and share!

Sign and share the online petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/no-to-port-on-goat-island-jamaica-no-trans-shipping-port-portland-bight-protected-area-jamaica?share_id=eqkTTbjcGd&utm_campaign=autopublish&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition

Watch the short video from Saturday’s tour: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zqzzrv-HQQU&feature=youtu.be There should be more to follow…

Visit these websites: http://www.jamentrust.org and http://www.ccam.org.jm and read more about the work of these two amazing Jamaican environmental NGOs. Their Facebook pages have much information, too! Join in their activities, become a member…

Read my blog posts: https://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/lets-save-jamaicas-portland-bight-protected-area/ and https://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/statement-from-the-jamaica-environment-trust-statement-on-the-portlogistics-hub-in-portland-bight-protected-area-including-goat-islands/

Browse through naturalist Ted Lee Eubanks’ wonderful photo album of the Portland Bight Protected Area, taken last year on the Caribbean Birding Trail, here: http://tinyurl.com/mnmmpt9

If you are in Jamaica, apply for a permit from the UDC and go and see for yourself the beauty of this area!

And join one of the many beach clean-ups taking place across the island on Saturday, September 21! Play your part!

Out on the open sea, heading back to Galleon Bay.
Out on the open sea, heading back to Galleon Bay.
By the way, our boat had to beg some gas from a companion boat...! (Sorry about the blur on this photo - got some seawater on it I think!)
By the way, our boat had to beg some gas from a companion boat…! (Sorry about the blur on some of these photos – got some seawater on my lens, I think!)
Oysters and other molluscs grow on mangrove roots - which I did during the visit.
Oysters and other molluscs grow on mangrove roots – which I did see during the visit.
We saw a few kayakers like this one, enjoying the morning air. This is another activity that could be a part of an eco-tourism thrust in the area.
We saw a few kayakers like this one, enjoying the morning air. This is another activity that could be a part of an eco-tourism thrust in the area.
Other benefits of mangroves: They are nurseries for baby fish, shrimp and crabs; they trap and break down pollutants; and they are good at carbon sequestration, which reduces the impact of climate change.
Other benefits of mangroves: They are nurseries for baby fish, shrimp and crabs; they trap and break down pollutants; and they are good at carbon sequestration, which reduces the impact of climate change.
One end of Great Goat Island, which has many plants and trees of value, including thatch palms (shown here), aloes and other medicinal plants. Many of the trees grow straight out of the rock, so they are slow-growing.
One end of Great Goat Island, which has many plants and trees of value, including thatch palms (shown here), aloes and other medicinal plants. Many of the trees grow straight out of the rock, so they are slow-growing.
The mangroves around the Portland Bight Protected Area (including those around Goat Islands) are designated as Wetlands of International Importance under the RAMSAR Convention, which came into force for Jamaica in 1998. Jamaica has four designated sites.
The mangroves around the Portland Bight Protected Area (including those around Goat Islands) are designated as Wetlands of International Importance under the RAMSAR Convention, which came into force for Jamaica in 1998. Jamaica has four designated sites. One of these, the Palisadoes/Port Royal mangrove, was already severely damaged by China Harbour Engineering Company’s wok on the airport road.
This is one end of the larger Goat Island - which is higher than I expected (700 feet) and consists of dry limestone forest.
This is one end of the larger Goat Island – which is higher than I expected (700 feet) and consists of dry limestone forest.
The mangroves play several important roles. One is that they protect the coastline from storms, providing a "buffer" (and Jamaica's south coast is particularly vulnerable to hurricanes). In the 2005 Asian tsunami there were no deaths on the coastline where there were mangrove forests, and huge numbers of casualties where the coast was developed.
The mangrove plays several important roles. One is that they protect the coastline from storms, providing a “buffer” (and Jamaica’s south coast is particularly vulnerable to hurricanes). In the 2005 Asian tsunami there were no deaths on the coastline where there were mangrove forests, and huge numbers of casualties where the coast was developed.
More of the beach on Little Goat Island.
More of the beach on Little Goat Island. Minister Omar Davies dismissed the island as a patch of worthless scrub. This is far from the case. Some sixty years or so after it served as a U.S. base, it is a beautiful place, with plenty of vegetation.
To the south of Little Goat Island.
To the south of Little Goat Island.
Diana McCaulay gave us much valuable information on the Portland Bight Protected Area, and the value of the mangroves and fish sanctuary, as we went along.
Diana McCaulay gave us much valuable information on the Portland Bight Protected Area, and the value of the mangroves and fish sanctuary, as we went along.

11 thoughts on “Floating To Goat Islands: The “Goatilla” (Plus Thoughts on Eco-Tourism)

    1. I am so glad you enjoyed it and even more importantly, that you absorbed some of the potential value of the area if left in its natural state. And it is protected, after all. I absolutely LOVED your photos and commented on your blog (now following!) Thanks for coming and please spread the word! Also please sign and share the petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/no-to-port-on-goat-island-jamaica-no-trans-shipping-port-portland-bight-protected-area-jamaica?share_id=eqkTTbjcGd&utm_campaign=autopublish&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition

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  1. The pelicans’ meditations, Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake…”

    The irony of it: that our Prime Minister, who professes to be a devout Christian, has absolutely no consciousness (or conscience) about the beauty and usefulness of nature.

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    1. Thanks, Wendy. Although I am not “religious,” these are truly beautiful words. It IS ironic, isn’t it? The fishermen themselves no doubt have more consciousness/conscience about nature than our PM… And the pelicans!

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