Celebrating Wetlands: Sunday, February 2

I am sharing with you this article from the “Jamaica Observer.” The link is at http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/environment/Celebrating-wetlands_15900770  

Just to remind you of the beautifully healthy state of the mangroves surrounding Goat Islands (go and see for yourself if you don’t believe me) I have also included some of my own photographs, taken during a trip there last year. The declaration by one scientist (who has no expertise in the field) that the wetlands are severely degraded is erroneous. Environmental scientists at the University of the Wests Indies have suggested that he do some research into the matter. The Portland Bight Protected Area was declared a Wetland of International Importance in 2006 under the Ramsar Convention, to which Jamaica was the 104th signatory. Please read this description from the Ramsar website:

The National Environment and Planning Agency of Jamaica is celebrating World Wetlands Day 2006 by designating a rich and varied coastal Wetland of International Importance. Portland Bight Wetlands and Cays (24,542 hectares, 17º49’N 077º04’W) is a protected area located on the south coast of the island, in St Catherine and Clarendon parishes just west of Kingston, and it includes some 8,000 ha of coastal mangroves, among the largest contiguous mangrove stands remaining in Jamaica, as well as a salt marsh, several rivers, offshore cays, coral reefs, seagrass beds, and open water. The site constitutes a critical feeding and breeding location as well as a general habitat for internationally threatened species such as the cave frog (Eleutherodactylus cavernicola), the Jamaican boa (Epicrates subflavus), the endemic hutia or coney (Geocapromys brownii), and the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus). An endemic cactus (Opuntia jamaicensis) is also considered endangered under CITES. More than 3,000 fisher families make their livelihoods in the Bight, harvesting mostly finfish but also lobster, shrimp, oysters, and conch, and there are important sugar plantations in the surrounding area. Threats are feared from over-hunting and -fishing, pollution from sugar wastes, mangrove destruction for aquaculture, and invasive species. Ramsar site No. 1597.

Manatee Bay, part of the Portland Bight Protected Area that will be impacted by the construction of a major transshipment port at Goat Islands. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
Manatee Bay, part of the Portland Bight Protected Area that will be impacted by the construction of a major transshipment port at Goat Islands. (Photo: Jeremy Francis)

Observer article: This Sunday, February 2 will be recognized as World Wetlands Day — the campaign day of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, more commonly called the Ramsar Convention.

Jamaica became a signatory to the intergovernmental treaty in 1998, pledging to maintain the ecological character of its Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the “wise use”, or sustainable use, of its wetlands.

There are four such designated areas in the island: Black River Lower Morass in St Elizabeth; Mason River Protected Area, Bird Sanctuary and Ramsar Site in Clarendon and St Ann; the Palisadoes-Port Royal Protected Area in Kingston; and Portland Bight Wetlands and Cays in St Catherine and Clarendon. Together, they cover an area of 37, 847 hectares.

The mangroves that connect Little and Greater Goat Islands, within the fish sanctuary. (My photo)
The mangroves that connect Little and Greater Goat Islands, within the fish sanctuary. (My photo)
A part of the extensive mangroves that surround Goat Islands, inside one of the fish sanctuaries. This would be destroyed by the construction of a transshipment port.
A part of the extensive mangroves that surround Goat Islands, inside one of the fish sanctuaries. This would be destroyed by the construction of a transshipment port. (My photo)

The Convention says “wetlands should be selected for the list on account of their international significance in terms of ecology, botany, zoology, limnology or hydrology” and should be “of significant value not only for the country, or the countries, in which they are located, but for humanity as a whole”.

“Joining the Convention,” the Ramsar website explains, “signals a commitment on the part of the national government to work actively to support the three pillars of the Convention: 1) ensuring the conservation and wise use of wetlands it has designated as Wetlands of International Importance, 2) including as far as possible the wise use of all wetlands in national environmental planning, and 3) consulting with other Parties about implementation of the Convention, especially in regard to transboundary wetlands, shared water systems, and shared species.”

A close up of some of the mangroves surrounding Goat Islands.
A close up of some of the mangroves surrounding Goat Islands. The mangroves are breeding grounds for a wide variety of fish, shrimp and other marine animals, as well as birds. (My photo)

But last week’s confirmation by the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) that Goat Islands will be transformed into a transshipment port as part of Government’s logistics hub initiative has raised questions about the relationship between Jamaica and the Ramsar secretariat.

Goat Islands is the name of two cays off the St Catherine coast which are part of the Portland Bight Wetlands. The PAJ has not yet given any details about the scope of the planned works, but environmentalists have argued that any large-scale port development in the area will destroy the ecosystem in Portland Bight, which is already threatened by over-fishing, improper sewage disposal, illegal harvesting of trees for charcoal, among other things.

This year, using the global theme “Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth”, the National Environment and Planning Agency and environmental NGOs including the Jamaica Environment Trust, will host a week of activities to raise awareness of the value and benefits of wetlands.

They begin with a church service at Swallowfield United Chapel on Sunday and wrap up on Friday, February 7 with an Open Day at Swamp Safari, Black River, St Elizabeth. A series of educational sessions at schools in St Thomas is also planned.

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“Wetlands are extremely valuable to society,” NEPA told the Jamaica Observer. “They can decrease flooding, remove pollutants from water, recharge groundwater, protect shorelines, provide habitat for wildlife, and serve important recreational and cultural functions. Taken as a whole, it is estimated that the aggregate value of services generated by wetlands throughout the world is US$4.9 trillion per year.”

World Wetlands Day 2014 provides the opportunity to discuss the impact of agriculture on wetlands and some of the successful methods used to reduce negative impacts, and sustain wetland health, the agency continued.

The Ramsar Convention was adopted on February 2, 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar. It has 168 parties or signatories around the world and 2,171 sites covering 207,291,271 hectares.

For more on the Ramsar Convention and World Wetlands Day, look at the website: http://www.ramsar.org/cda/en/ramsar-home/main/ramsar/1_4000_0__

Skirting round the beautiful Greater Goat Island. (My photo)
Skirting round the beautiful Greater Goat Island. (My photo)
Portland Bight, in southern Jamaica, was designated a Wetland of International Importance on World Wetland Day, February 2, 2006. The Jamaican Government is now seriously considering a demand from Chinese investors to build a transshipment port in the area, which is protected by law and includes recently established fish sanctuaries.  (Photo: Gleaner)
Portland Bight, in southern Jamaica, was designated a Wetland of International Importance on World Wetland Day, February 2, 2006. The Jamaican Government is now seriously considering a demand from Chinese investors to build a transshipment port in the area, which is protected by law and includes recently established fish sanctuaries. (Photo: Gleaner)
Magnificent Frigate Birds in Portland Bight, southern Jamaica, which was designated a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention seven years ago. (Photo: Gleaner)
Magnificent Frigate Birds in Portland Bight, southern Jamaica, which was designated a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention seven years ago. (Photo: Gleaner)
Beautiful mangrove in the fish sanctuary on Goat Islands.
Beautiful mangrove in the fish sanctuary on Goat Islands. (My photo)

5 thoughts on “Celebrating Wetlands: Sunday, February 2

  1. Hi Emma – the photo you have as being the Jamaica Observer’s is actually Jeremy Francis’s photo – they did not credit him. Would you mind making that change, please?

    And as for celebrating World Wetland Day – I am not sure what there is to celebrate… 😦

    Like

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