World Wetlands Day 2016 – in Jamaica and on Planet Earth

Happy World Wetlands Day!

High school students engaged in some birdwatching activities sponsored by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) at the Port Royal Marine Laboratory today. (Photo: NEPA)
High school students engaged in some birdwatching activities sponsored by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) at the Port Royal Marine Laboratory today. (Photo: NEPA)

The National Environment and Planning Agency is busy today, with groups of eager schoolchildren (no doubt happy to have the day off) exploring what is left of the Port Royal mangroves (a Ramsar site) and learning all about the value of wetlands at the Port Royal Marine Laboratory. NEPA also sponsored a poster competition for all ages. Good for them – they always work hard on this day to spread some knowledge. Public education is vital!

The fact remains that our wetlands are in serious retreat. This is a worldwide phenomenon, sadly. Globally, half of all mangrove forests have been lost since the mid-twentieth century, with one-fifth since 1980 (Spalding et al. 2010). In Jamaica, our wetlands are shrinking rapidly, with disastrous results. The destruction of mangroves around Hellshire in St. Catherine is plain to see. It has contributed to the decline and now complete disappearance of what was once a beautiful white sand beach and has left this low-lying area exposed to storms in the future.  Truth be told, wetlands in Jamaica have been in steady decline since they were drained during the colonial era for agricultural production.  Our four Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance are under severe threat from development, pollution and agriculture. The Great Morass in Negril has even been drained, adding to the resort’s problems.

A young Amercian crocodile, Crocodylus acutus, among mangroves in a lagoon in Portland Bight Protected Area in Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)
A young American Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus (a protected species) among mangroves in a lagoon in Portland Bight Protected Area in Jamaica. This area, rich in mangroves forests and including three fish sanctuaries, remains threatened by a planned transshipment port that would cause tremendous destruction on land and sea and leave the area exposed to storms. (Photo: Robin Moore)

By “wetlands” in general we are not talking about mangrove forests alone. Wetlands are rivers, swamps and marshes; springs that may come and go but provide vital water resources in arid areas; glacial lakes, wet grasslands and peat marshes at high altitudes; river deltas; and Arctic wetlands. There are all kinds of wetlands; those in the tropics are under extreme threat. 

Why are wetlands so important? For a start, they do provide livelihoods for around one billion people worldwide, according to the non-governmental organization Wetlands International. The theme for today is “Wetlands for our Future: Sustainable Livelihoods.” A question is often asked: What is the environment worth in actual dollar terms? Well, it’s been estimated that just one hectare of mangroves is US$12,392. If you add that up…

Secondly, with climate change well in the forefront of our concerns, coastal wetlands provide protection from floods, storms and tsunamis. Mangroves in particular are great storers of carbon (as are our rain forests).Thirdly, the loss of biodiversity is of growing concern worldwide – that is, the vast numbers and range of species of animals, birds, insects, plants and trees that thrive in these special habitats. For example: According to BirdLife International, at least 12 per cent of globally threatened bird species depend on wetlands for their survival. This includes several Caribbean species. Wetlands also have an important role to play in purifying our water and preventing the intrusion of saltwater into our water supplies (which is already happening in some parts of the south coast).

The Zapata Swamp National Park is home
The Zapata Swamp National Park in Cuba is rich in biodiversity. It has been a protected area since 1961.

While on the subject of birds, the International Waterbird Census (IWC) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year; it covers over 25,000 sites in 100 countries. Take a look at their beautiful Facebook page. In this region, you can find more about BirdsCaribbean’s West Indian Whistling Duck and Wetlands Conservation Project here: http://www.birdscaribbean.org/west-indian-whistling-duck-and-wetlands-conservation/ It includes a fabulous teaching resource: a publication called “Wondrous West Indian Wetlands.”

The beautiful West Indian Whistling Duck is endemic to the Caribbean. It is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of its shrinking habitat. It is entirely dependent on wetlands. (Photo: Anthony Levesque)
The beautiful West Indian Whistling Duck is endemic to the Caribbean. It is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of its shrinking habitat. It is entirely dependent on wetlands. (Photo: Anthony Levesque)

In the Caribbean, mangrove restoration projects are under way – including along Kingston’s Palisadoes airport road, where construction by China Harbour Engineering Company destroyed a considerable area of mangroves; some replanting has now been done. One keeps one’s fingers crossed that these will grow into healthy forests again. The Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) Wetlands Interpretation Centre in the Portland Bight Protected Area (in Clarendon) is built and seeking more funding to get going on important educational and training programs. The Grenada Fund for Conservation and partners in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are involved in a project called At The Water’s Edge, funded by The Nature Conservancy, looking at the conservation of coastal areas and the restoration of mangroves and reefs.

So, things are happening. If you or anyone you know wants to learn more – and to get actively involved in wetlands conservation projects – do get in touch with any of the organizations mentioned above.

Our wetlands need all the help they can get.

Black River Morass is one of four Wetlands of International Importance in Jamaica. The others are the Port RoyalMason 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. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
Black River Morass is one of four Wetlands of International Importance in Jamaica. The others are the 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. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
C-CAM's Wetlands Interpretive Centre is seeking funds to expand its programs. (My photo)
C-CAM’s Wetlands Interpretation Centre is seeking funds to expand its programs. (My photo)
In Grenada, mangroves have been planted in PVC pipes. (Photo: Grenada Fund for Conservation Inc).
In Grenada, mangroves have been planted in PVC pipes. (Photo: Grenada Fund for Conservation Inc).

6 thoughts on “World Wetlands Day 2016 – in Jamaica and on Planet Earth

  1. This is a WONDERFUL post Emma, thank you so much for this!

    And also for holding down the social media fort while I was away in Cuba – GREAT job!!!!!

    more to come on Cuba, frantically trying to catch up after being completely offline for 8 days – a record for me!!! i have to say it was lovely being disconnected but a nightmare to come back to!!!

    Big hug,

    – Lisa

    Like

    1. Thanks, Lisa! My pleasure. I am glad you like it – I tried to bring in some references to the work of different groups. Looking forward to hearing much more about your Cuba trip! It’s hard for me to imagine being offline for eight whole days! It must be a strange feeling… Best, Emma

      Like

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