The Growing Conundrum of the Logistics Hub

I have been sitting at home today, struggling with the flu bug, reading a long series of live tweets from a forum intended to “educate” the Jamaican public on the wonderful benefits of the logistics hub. Some see the hub as the savior of the economy – a kind of magic bullet – while others do not want this development to take place within a major Protected Area, as projected. Residents appear concerned (and confused) about what benefits the hub will (or will not) bring them.

On one fundamental thing, most would agree: We know very little indeed about the logistics hub. 

C-CAM's Brandon Hay: Not even the author of the study knows any details of the logistics hub. (My photo)
C-CAM’s Scientific Officer Brandon Hay: Not even the author of the study knows any details of the logistics hub. (My photo)

At a joint press briefing earlier this week (I would have reported earlier, but the flu kicked in soon after) the Scientific Officer at the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM), the local non-governmental organization that manages the Portland Bight Protected Area told us that the project remains “mired in secrecy.” There is a total, and mystifying, lack of transparency. Not even the author of the so-called “scoping study” of the area, Dr. Conrad Douglas, has any details of the project. He just produced this study in a vacuum, it seems.

Several groups attended the briefing, hosted by the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) at its Earth House headquarters. Apart from C-CAM, Chairman of the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT) Robert Stephens was there; so were Professor Byron Wilson and Dr. Kurt McLaren of the University of the West Indies‘ (UWI) Department of Life Sciences. Representatives of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (of which JET is a member) were also present.

The scientists went on to critique aspects of Dr. Douglas’ study, as follows…

The literature review was totally inadequate. Dr. Douglas did not refer to some important studies that he should have consulted (see the list below, for your own research if you wish). A whole body of scientific work was ignored;

The scientific value of the study was seriously compromised by numerous factual errors and contradictory statements;

There was too much focus on Goat Islands, whereas the entire area should have been discussed. The Hellshire Hills, for example (where the Jamaican Iguana was “re-discovered” in 1990 after being considered extinct) was not even mentioned;

The author of the study did not consult at all with some pretty key entities, both government and non-government: C-CAM, which manages the area, and the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), for example. He seemed to be writing it in a vacuum;

In its rush to comply with the wishes of China Harbour Engineering Company, the scientists are afraid that the government is taking short cuts and circumventing the proper processes. Everything is happening in the wrong order. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should provide the basis for a decision to take the project for approval, not the ill-informed, hurried scoping study. They should not use the EIA afterwards;

There is no economic cost benefit analysis of this and several other alternative sites. This should also take place before any decision is made.

Radio talk show host Sharon Hay-Webster makes a point. (My photo)
Radio talk show host Sharon Hay-Webster makes a point. (My photo)
Television Jamaica's Janella Precius asks a question. TVJ did some good reporting on prime time news. (My photo)
Television Jamaica’s Janella Precius asks a question. TVJ did some good reporting on prime time news. (My photo)

Alternative sites were rejected out of hand. Why? In response to a question on this from Television Jamaica’s Janella Precius, Mr. Hay said it was hard to suggest alternative sites when it is not know what exactly is envisaged (the size of the project, for example). Bowden Harbour in St. Thomas (a huge harbor, by the way that was used in the colonial era); Kingston Harbour, where much infrastructure already exists; or even Montego Bay or the north coast might have been possible. Anyway, Robert Stephens added, the onus should not be on non-governmental organizations to suggest locations; what a disingenuous throwaway line that was from some politician, a few weeks ago: “Well, why don’t you guys suggest somewhere?” or words to that effect. It seems that China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) has said “We want the Portland Bight Protected Area,” and the Jamaican Government has said, “OK, we will get round things and make it happen.” Minister Omar Davies already said in Parliament that no alternative was under consideration by CHEC or its enabler, the Government. “The government says it’s all or nothing,” said Mr. Hay.

What next, it was asked at the briefing? Well, Jamaica has signed onto a lot of United Nations Conventions. It would be in breach of these. And there is a long list of those conventions. JET has already indicated the possibility of legal action. And, most importantly, as Diana McCaulay said: “Much more engagement by ordinary Jamaicans is needed. Otherwise, we will fail.”

By the way, a note on the “two likkle lizard” (Minister Davies’ words) – in other words, the highly endangered Jamaican Iguana. The Goat Islands were actually suggested as a sanctuary for them back in 2003, I understand. No, there aren’t any iguanas there right now – and no one ever said there were! But they could thrive there.

Professor Byron Wilson (left) listens to a point made by his colleague Dr. Kurt McLaren, who teaches Forestry in the Life Sciences Department. (My photo)
Professor Byron Wilson (left) listens to a point made by his colleague Dr. Kurt McLaren, who teaches Forestry in the Life Sciences Department. (My photo)

And it’s not possible to do a  “Noah’s Ark,” as Professor Wilson called it. You cannot simply transplant mangroves, or seagrass, from one area to another and expect it to thrive just like it was doing somewhere else. It was doing well somewhere else for a reason. (On our trip to Goat Islands, we saw a great deal of very healthy mangrove and seagrass). It has been proven, all over the world, that removing mangrove will reduce the coastal defenses against climate change – storm surges and so on. Also, did you know that mangrove forests retain the highest levels of carbon? In fact, the United Nations will buy your mangrove forests under its REDD program (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries). You can find more details at www.un-redd.org.

And how exactly do you “relocate” a fish sanctuary? The study was very dismissive of the “degraded” fish sanctuaries. We don’t know how lucky we are, said Dr. McLaren – we have rich resources. Volunteers come from around the world to study our biodiversity; he has a Colombian student doing research at the moment. Environmental awareness should be much more deeply embedded in the school curriculum, as we are “failing to excite public interest in the environment,” the panelists agreed.

Another participant, who came later in the conference, noted also that there will almost inevitably be pressure on the area’s fresh water supplies. Such matters were not mentioned in the Douglas study, by the way.

JET's Diana McCaulay listens to a question. (My photo)
JET’s Diana McCaulay listens to a question. (My photo)
The program for today's forum on the logistics hub and the environment. (Twitter)
The program for today’s forum on the logistics hub and the environment. (Twitter)

Now, today’s forum went on all day. (Incidentally, out of a total of 24 panelists there was only one woman – the patriarchy ruleth?) Dr. Douglas declared that his study was not an EIA (well, clearly) and that nothing – nothing – could be concluded from it. What was the point of doing it then, if it is so inconclusive? He did, however, betray his bias towards development, said Diana McCaulay. But at the end of it all, my friends on Twitter seemed as baffled as ever (even those who were vaguely in favor of the hub).

(l-r) Robert Stephens, JCDT; Diana McCaulay, JET; Professor Byron Wilson; Dr. Kurt McLaren; and Brandon Hay, C-CAM. (My photo)
(l-r) Robert Stephens, JCDT; Diana McCaulay, JET; Professor Byron Wilson, UWI; Dr. Kurt McLaren, UWI; and Brandon Hay, C-CAM. (My photo)

There was a Jimmy Cliff song called “Sitting in Limbo.” One of the lines goes, “…waiting for the dice to roll…” Well, here we all are. Plenty of time for soul-searching.

Or is it too late?

Two postscripts… more (unedited) comments from the petition website. They speak for themselves… One from a Jamaican, another from a scientist who has done much research in Jamaica and across the Caribbean.

This is pure natural beauty in it’s natural state, why provoke it? It help protect the main land shore land from storm surges and have some rare fauna and flora not seen anywhere else on the island and are breed ground for animals. I love my country very much and it means so much to me and others out there. We need to protect what we have left that is ours. When we destroy it for cash, what do we have left? and just imagine the consequences yet to come if we do so. Life is so precious and what we have others around the world would love to have what we are taking for granted. Please save the little beauty we have. – Andrae Treleven

As Executive Director of the nonprofit Avian Research and Conservation Institute in Gainesville, Florida, USA, I believe the trans-shipping port in Portland Bight would undoubtedly be harmful and potentially destructive to the ecology and large numbers of birds of many species that rely on the Portland Bight. This area, quite justifiably, is recognized internationally as being of great conservation significance to a high diversity of species, not only birds. This is yet another reason Jamaica has gained recognition internationally for having high regard for protecting vital natural resources. I respectfully implore you to identify all possible alternatives to damaging this ecosystem of international acclaim and importance.  – Kenneth D. Meyer, Ph.D.

For more information, please contact:

Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (CCAM): Brandon Hay, Scientific Officer. Tel: (876) 382-8543

Jamaica Environment Trust (JET): Diana McCaulay, CEO. Tel: (876) 469-1315

Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT): Robert Stephens, Chairman. Tel: (876) 873-8191

Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC): Jeanette Calder, Acting Executive Director. Tel: (876) 878-3778

Professor Byron Wilson, Department of Life Sciences, UWI. Tel: (876) 870-2392

Dr Kurt McLaren, Department of Life Sciences, UWI. Tel: (876) 399-2315

Here are some of the important scientific studies that Dr. Douglas did not consider for his scoping study – omitted from the literature review:

Wilson, B. S. (2011). Conservation of Jamaican amphibians and reptiles. Conservation of Caribbean Island Herpetofaunas, 2, 273-310.

Davis, Suzanne Mae Camille, “Rethinking Biodiversity Conservation Effectiveness and Evaluation in the National Protected Areas Systems of Tropical Islands: The Case of Jamaica and the Dominican Republic” (2010). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive).

Tietze, U., Haughton, M., & Siar, S. V. (Eds.). (2006). Socio-economic indicators in integrated coastal zone and community-based fisheries management: case studies from the Caribbean (No. 491). FAO.

Cesar, H., & Chong, C. K. (2004). Economic Valuation and Socioeconomics of Coral Reefs: Methodological issues and three case studies. Economic Valuation and Policy Priorities for Sustainable Management of Coral Reefs, 14-40.

Linton, D., Jones, L., & Edwards, P. (2003). Preliminary Report of Coral Reef Monitoring of the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA). Centre for Marine Sciences, 10.

Wilson, B. S., & Vogel, P. (2000). A survey of the herpetofauna of the Hellshire Hills, Jamaica, including the rediscovery of the Blue-tailed Galliwasp (Celestus duquesneyi Grant). Caribbean Journal of Science, 36(3/4), 244-249.

Cesar, H. S. J., Öhman, M. C., Espeut, P., & Honkanen, M. (2000). An economic valuation of Portland Bight, Jamaica: an integrated terrestrial and marine protected area. Working paper 00/03, Institute for Environmental Studies, Free University, Amsterdam.

Cesar, H., Ohman, M. C., Espeut, P., & Honkanen, M. (2000). Economic Valuation of an Integrated Terrestrial and Marine Protected Area: Jamaica’s Portland Bight. Collected Essays on the Economics of Coral Reefs. CORDIO. Kalmar University, Kalmar, Sweden, 203-214.

Lazell, J. (1996). Careening Island and the Goat Islands: Evidence for the arid–insular invasion wave theory of dichopatric speciation in Jamaica. Contributions to West Indian Herpetology: A Tribute to Albert Schwartz, 195-205.

Vogel, Peter (1994). Evidence of reproduction in a remnant population of the endangered Jamaican iguana, Cyclura collei (Lacertilia: Iguanidae). Caribbean Journal of Science, 30(3-4), 234-241.

Woodley, J. D. (1980). Survival of the Jamaican iguana, Cyclura collei. Journal of Herpetology, 45-49.

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7 thoughts on “The Growing Conundrum of the Logistics Hub

  1. The reality that no formal economic impact study is bizzare.This is an essential. While focus is on environment..first need to deterime if there will be any true economic gain.
    When that argument concluded..site issues should come into play.
    Missing is strong vocal opposition INSISTING on economic realities

    Like

    1. Hi Barbara! I wish I could tell you! As I noted in my post, they spent the whole day talking about it yesterday and still no one has any details! Some private sector people are saying it is going to be our salvation…but they don’t have any info either. Yes, I am doing much better today. Flu is definitely retreating…slowly…

      Like

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