Today, February 2 is celebrated as World Wetlands Day. Latest research shows that 64 per cent of wetlands globally has disappeared since 1900. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet report,76% of populations of freshwater plants and animals have disappeared in the last forty years alone. Wetlands provide services worth an estimated $15 trillion worldwide, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands notes.
So why are wetlands special? Why should we care about them? Because wetlands perform a number of vital ecosystem services. They act as a sieve to purify and replenish our water. Most importantly for us in the Caribbean as elsewhere they are a buffer, protecting our vulnerable coastlines from storms. This is even more crucial as we feel the effects of climate change on our islands; wetlands soak up flood waters and store water in times of drought. They also serve as nurseries for fish; marine mammals such as dolphins and manatees; crustaceans such as lobsters and shrimp; mollusks (oysters, etc) – and many other creatures that live in the sea or in fresh water. They provide shelter and nesting habitats for birds (in our region, including many tropical seabirds and the West Indian Whistling Duck, one of the rarest and most endangered ducks in the world).
And talking about climate change, mangroves are particularly good at storing carbon. According to senior marine scientist at The Nature Conservancy Mark Spalding, new research shows that “mangroves are natural carbon-scrubbers, taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and packing it away, for millennia or more, in their rich soils.” You can read more here: http://blog.nature.org/science/2013/10/11/new-science-mangrove-forests-carbon-store-map/#sthash.JyJt2kPF.dpuf
Ramsar is an international convention (signed in Ramsar, Iran in by Jamaica in 1971 and by Jamaica in 1998) that offers a framework for signatory countries to take action to conserve and use wetlands wisely. It protects over 2,000 wetland areas globally. There are three Ramsar Sites in Jamaica: The Black River Lower Morass; the Palisadoes-Port Royal Mangroves; and the Portland Bight Wetlands and Cays, including Old Harbour Bay and the mangroves surrounding Goat Islands. All three sites are severely threatened by development at this time. You can find out much more about wetlands and World Wetlands Day at http://www.ramsar.org.
Oh, by the way, the World Wetlands Day website has an online photo contest with great prizes. Jamaica, get on board!
The Portland Bight Protected Area, where Goat Islands are located, (which is, by the way, legally protected under Jamaican law) contains the largest mangrove area in Jamaica and is a designated Ramsar Site of International Importance. It has also been declared an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International. This is about two thirds of what we have left that has not been chopped down for hotel and other developments, firewood, charcoal and so on. It includes three important fish sanctuaries; many livelihoods and our food security depend on the mangrove areas. Considering the value of the wetlands (estimated at millions of U.S. Dollars annually) how can we even think of destroying all this for a port (which will involve dredging of the sea floor and degradation/destruction of sea grass beds and coral reefs)?
In Negril, the draining and drying out of parts of the Great Morass for agriculture has caused major problems and is seriously affecting our vulnerable tourism industry and the famous beach. When I stayed there about ten years ago, the morass was on fire, causing the evacuation of our hotel! The situation has worsened since, I gather. A decision was made to dredge the Negril South River (which used to drain the Morass only when it overflowed in the rainy season) and let it flow to the sea. As a result, the Morass is drying up. The natural “filter” of pollutants and other impurities is lost. According to the residents, frequent surface fires and deeper peat fires sometimes burn for weeks in the dry season. Then the South Negril River was dredged to make it bigger. The Morass, including the Royal Palm Reserve, is drying up even faster.
So, can we help to restore and conserve our wetlands? Doesn’t it make sense? Think about it! Get involved!
Please share this information. Go to savegoatislands.org for more local information on the situation there, including a number of relevant documents.
Last, but not least: If you are in the Clarendon area, please remember to support the Caribbean Coastal Area Foundation’s (C-CAM) celebration of World Wetlands Day on Friday, February 6, from 9:00 am to 2:30 pm. For further information, contact C-CAM at 985-3327; 289-8253; and firstname.lastname@example.org or take a look at their Facebook page!