Jamaica Selling Out Its Paradise: CNN Op-Ed by Wendy Townsend


I am reposting this article from CNN’s website. Please share it widely.

You can find it online at http://edition.cnn.com/2014/07/02/opinion/townsend-jamaica-iguana/

Editor’s note: Wendy Townsend writes for children and young adults, and she and her family raise lizards as pets. Her third novel, “Blue Iguana,” has just been released by namelos. The opinions in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) — Kenroy Williams, also known as “Booms,” is “Guardian of the Reptiles” in Hellshire, located near the Goat Islands in Jamaica. The region is centered in the Portland Bight Protected Area, an area of ocean and land set apart in 1999 to protect its rich biodiversity of birds, reptiles, plants, trees and marine life.

Mangrove trees in a lagoon at sunset in the Portland Bight Protected Area of Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)
Mangrove trees in a lagoon at sunset in the Portland Bight Protected Area of Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)

But now, the Jamaican government is preparing to sell the Goat Islands to the China Harbour Engineering Co. to build a megafreighter seaport and industrial park.

“They’re destroying what should be preserved,” says Booms, who has been working to protect exceedingly rare reptiles in the area for seven years, including the critically endangered Jamaican iguana.

The specifics of the development are being withheld, but Jamaica Information Service reports it involves dredging and land reclamation, and a coal-fired power plant built to service the facilities. Environmentalists expect the mangrove forest on the two Goat Islands to be clear cut and the surrounding coral reef dredged.
With the threat to Goat Islands looming, Robin Moore, a fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers, flew to Jamaica to record images of wildlife and people who may soon see the destruction of their beaches, mangrove forest ecosystems and their livelihoods.

Paulette Coley holds up an aloe plant, abundant on Goat Islands. (Photo: Robin Moore)
Paulette Coley holds up an aloe plant, abundant on Goat Islands. (Photo: Robin Moore)

In a short film by Moore, Booms talks about what’s at stake: “Portland Bight Protected Area consists of a beautiful beach and things that are here in Jamaica and found nowhere else, like the iguanas …

“When the mangroves are destroyed, the earth won’t stay together and then the water will take over. And that’s the problem. And we won’t have any beaches, and we can’t do without beaches. If we have no beaches, we have no turtles. We won’t have any crocodiles …”

Booms especially fears for the Jamaican iguanas, Cyclura collei, thought to be extinct until 1990, when Edwin Duffus found one while hunting pigs in the Hellshire Hills. The Goat Islands are right off the Hellshire coast. At the time, surveys of the area revealed fewer than 100 iguanas remaining.

Hope Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Kingston, teamed with the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas and others, set up a program to rear baby iguanas until they’re big enough to be safe from predators. After release, the iguanas are tracked and observed to see how well they fare.

The Jamaican iguaua, Cyclura collei, is a critically endangered species from the Hellshire Hills in Portland Bight Protected Area, Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)
The Jamaican iguaua, Cyclura collei, is a critically endangered species from the Hellshire Hills in Portland Bight Protected Area, Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)

The number of nesting females has grown from just six in 1991 to more than 30 in 2013. About 255 head-started iguanas have been released into Hellshire, the only place on earth — other than the Goat Islands — that they can survive. The Jamaica Iguana Recovery Project believes the islands are the sanctuary necessary to save the animal.

During the past 24 years, millions of dollars, plus the sweat of countless biologists and research volunteers, have been invested in bringing Cyclura collei back from the brink. Although many released iguanas are breeding and nesting in the wild, the animal is still critically endangered.

Jamaican iguanas can live for 40 years or more. They distinguish between strangers and researchers who come to the forest regularly and may show themselves once they feel safe.

There is still time to help the Jamaican people save their national treasure.

The Jamaican iguaua, Cyclura collei, is a critically endangered species from the Hellshire Hills in Portland Bight Protected Area, Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)
The Jamaican iguaua, Cyclura collei, is a critically endangered species from the Hellshire Hills in Portland Bight Protected Area, Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)

Imagine a 4-foot long, 15-pound dinosaur-like animal walking out of the bush, sitting down nearby, and making eye contact with you.

“There is indeed something special about making eye contact with a Cyclura,” herpetologist Rick Hudson, of the Fort Worth Zoo, said. “Back in the 1990s, you rarely saw an iguana; you might hear one crashing through the bush but glimpses were a special sight. Now, you go out in Hellshire and see big healthy iguanas that are habituated and come and hang out with you. It’s the most incredible story I have ever been a part of.”

The Jamaican Constitution states that the nation’s citizens have “the right to enjoy a healthy and productive environment free from the threat of injury or damage from environmental abuse and degradation of the ecological heritage.”

Some argue the project will bring jobs, but as fisherwoman Paulette Coley told Moore: “The government claims it will bring jobs and opportunity to the area, but we are not qualified, and we are not being trained for the jobs that will need to be done. They tell us what they want us to hear, but the reality is that we will be worse off.”

Diana McCaulay, CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust, says that in past projects with Chinese contractors, most of the employees have been Chinese. “What is the benefit to Jamaica? That’s not clear.”

A yellow warbler on a small island in Portland Bight Protected Area, Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)
A yellow warbler on a small island in Portland Bight Protected Area, Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)

McCaulay says developing Goat Islands extends the global crisis of unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. “Jamaica is a small island,” she says, “but this is happening all over the world, relentless pressure for high impact development that doesn’t benefit local populations, particularly those who use the resources.

“Although global climate change is a clear danger to island nations, we are still building on the coast and taking out natural protections like mangroves. Our regulatory agencies simply cannot cope, especially with players like China who have huge financial resources and care little about the environment.”

The rediscovery of the Jamaican iguana and the success of the recovery program has generated a huge conservation movement that draws international funding and ecotourism to the West Indies.

This ecotourism could be developed. In 2012, tourism contributed close to $4 billion to the economy of Jamaica and 25% of jobs in the country are tourism-based.

Tourists travel to see unspoiled beaches and native flora and fauna, and ideally, to see people living in a healthy relationship with their land. But if the Jamaican government sells out to Chinese developers, reversing its environmental protection laws and going against its own constitution, it will send the message that investing in tourism in Jamaica is unwise.

There is still time to help the Jamaican people save their national treasure. Both Jamaica and China care about international opinion. Letters expressing concern and signatures on a petition may persuade Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller to stop the proposed development.

Kenroy "Booms" Williams holds an Amerrican crocodile, Crocodylus acutus, a Vulnerable species from the Portland Bight Protected Area of Jamaica in the palm of his hand. (Photo: Robin Moore)
Kenroy “Booms” Williams holds an Amerrican crocodile, Crocodylus acutus, a Vulnerable species from the Portland Bight Protected Area of Jamaica in the palm of his hand. (Photo: Robin Moore)

Of his work as guardian of the reptiles, Booms says, “My family and friends? Some of them think it’s awesome. … Some of them ask me if I really touch the lizards and some think I’m crazy when they hear about the crocodiles. But the truth of the matter is that they don’t understand, and I know that. ‘Cause if they were here like me, they would understand. We are at one with nature.”

A young Amercian crocodile, Crocodylus acutus, among mangroves in a lagoon in Portland Bight Protected Area in Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)
A young Amercian crocodile, Crocodylus acutus, among mangroves in a lagoon in Portland Bight Protected Area in Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)

18 thoughts on “Jamaica Selling Out Its Paradise: CNN Op-Ed by Wendy Townsend

  1. The biggest fear in this deal is CHINA. We all know their development practices in Africa and elsewhere and fear they will not only do the same in Jamaica, but that Government is making Chinese investors into Most Favoured People, above the native population, free to destroy both the land with dredging and the air with coal power. We just can’t sit back and let it happen without making an effort.

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    1. I am afraid you are right, and I really, really don’t want to sound like a xenophobe. But I have read so many reports about what they have done in Cameroon, Kenya and other African countries in particular – they certainly have not uplifted the people of that country by providing jobs and opportunity. They have created enclaves and destroyed the environment. Even in St. Ann not long ago NEPA sanctioned China Harbour Engineering Company for clearing more land (pristine forest) than they were allowed to, to build the highway. No, we cannot sit back, although sometimes I think all I do is ring alarm bells…

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      1. I am adding comments from a Facebook friend, John Wyatt: Thanks for sharing Emma. Maybe you have some readers still unaware of the crisis in progress over the Goat islands. As always, trying to give a balanced viewpoint, two comments on the article. Whilst the No! campaign places huge emphasis on destruction of the Goat islands threatening a (proposed) Iguana refuge, there are no proven iguana there at present: I fear this campaign partly detracts from the main threat which is degradation of Hellshire by hunters, charcoal makers and human encroachment. More effort needs to be placed on preserving Hellshire intact. Secondly it is not true that Hellshire is ” the only place on earth — other than the Goat Islands — that they can survive.” I believe the ISIS report also identifies Portland Ridge as a less investigated but suitable environmental release site.. Ref follows: http://www.iucn-isg.org/species/iguana-species/cyclura-collei/

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  2. noooooo!

    through your blog i’ve come to love your country and often smile when you write about ‘goat island.’   there was a goat island across the water from where i grew up in mississippi = untouched until it was donated to a nature conservation, and they immediately sold it, and the new owner immediately cut the timber….

    china has its fingers in many countries, and it worries me…  surely public outcry will help save your beloved goat island?

    z

    ________________________________

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    1. Well, since last summer (August, to be precise, when the then Environment Minister let slip during a visit to China that he was “considering” giving Goat Islands to the Chinese) we have been campaigning and as you have probably seen I have written many blogs about it. There is also an online petition (I am going to add it to this article – I completely forgot to do that!) with thousands of signatures. There are actually two Goat Islands – a large and a small. They would be perfect for a nature/yoga retreat. There are dolphins, turtles, birds, all kinds of wildlife in and around the islands. They will be gone, IF the government has its way. But it is NOT a done deal! (How could nature conservation agency sell YOUR goat island back home?) I hope you are well and that Ecuador and its beauty will survive everything! Nice to hear from you..

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      1. when nature loses, everyone loses.. unfortunately money clouds the eyes of many leaders, and our precious resources are what suffer.

        mother ocean’s tides have already started their july attack on the shoreline.. july 12th will be another extra extra high tide..

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      2. Oh my goodness – rising sea levels are another huge issue for our small islands too, as you can imagine. Good luck with your high tide… Does it affect the river and wetlands where you live? Mother Nature will – and must – have her way… In the end, I think we will all be forced to realize that we are one with Nature and the Universe…

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      3. i am working on a post right now about the upcoming spring tides… is there any post of yours that you’d prefer that i link to, as i mention that it’s not just this little area in ecuador…

        our species has not been very thoughtful about mother nature, and she is certainly more powerful than we. i hope that she remembers those of us who fight in her behalf.

        thanks for all that you do, as you do an amazing amount of work in behalf of your country and our world.
        z

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      4. You know, the Caribbean is an area of low tidal activity. So tides per se are not a concern for us. Coastal erosion is still taking place, though, mainly due to storms, and our very strong trade winds. The south coast, where we live, is always very windy with waves two meters high at the moment. Here’s a link to an article I wrote six months ago that is about adapting to climate change and is of course still so relevant – for you in Ecuador and for our islands: https://petchary.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/coping-with-climate-change-adaptation-dialogue-stresses-urgency/ It would be nice if you could share it. Thank you so much and for sharing my concern for our planet!

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