World Environment Day 2016 in Jamaica: Time for Action!


Today is World Environment Day, with a very important theme: Fighting illegal trafficking in wildlife.

Here in Jamaica, we have some birthday greetings and candles to blow out. Firstly, it’s the 15th anniversary of the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA). The government agency has certainly had its ups and downs and frankly has not always been as effective as it could – but I wish NEPA a happy birthday! Still only a teenager, I guess… Meanwhile, NEPA is planning a “Croc Adventure” on July 2. Colleagues from BirdLife Jamaica and I had a bit of a croc adventure last weekend, by the way, at the Greater Portmore Sewage Ponds!

During a fantastic bird-watching session at Greater Portmore Sewage Ponds, we were being eyed by crocodiles… (My photo)
During a fantastic bird-watching session at Greater Portmore Sewage Ponds, we were being eyed by crocodiles. Here is just one of our companions. (My photo)

Happy birthday too, to Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), founded by the intrepid Diana McCaulay 25 years ago. Here is JET’s celebratory press release of today’s date. Look out for its weekly (Sunday) commemorative posts of “25 places and projects” on social media. What a lovely way to celebrate.  A huge round of applause for the hard-working “Jetters”!

The first in JET's anniversary series of "25 Places and Projects" is the Black River Morass. JET notes: "The Black River Lower Morass Ramsar site was declared protected in 1997. Several fish kills have occurred in the area in the past as a result of improper waste disposal from industrial facilities. JET continues to advocate for improved water quality and standards at this and other sites." (Photo: Kurt McLaren)
The first in JET’s anniversary series of “25 Places and Projects” is the Black River Morass. JET notes: “The Black River Lower Morass Ramsar site was declared protected in 1997. Several fish kills have occurred in the area in the past as a result of improper waste disposal from industrial facilities. JET continues to advocate for improved water quality and standards at this and other sites.” (Photo: Kurt McLaren)

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) celebrates its 25th year in operation this year. The non-government environmental organisation, which was founded in 1991, has kicked off its anniversary celebrations with a campaign reflecting on its environmental education, advocacy and conservation work over the past 25 years. The 25 Places & Projects campaign is being launched on JET’s social media networks on World Environment Day, Sunday, June 5. The campaign highlights 25 places and 25 projects which have benefited from JET’s work to protect Jamaica’s natural resources. A new JET project and place will be featured every Sunday over the next 25 weeks.

“Anniversaries are often a time for reflection and all of us at JET are reminding ourselves of the work we have done,” said JET’s founder and CEO, Diana McCaulay. “I’m very proud of JET and every one of the Jetters, who have worked so hard to secure a sustainable future for Jamaicans.” 

JET has undertaken a wide range of projects and advocacy campaigns over the years including school-based and public education initiatives, cleanups, environmental competitions and awards ceremonies, as well as legal actions to protect the rights of Jamaican citizens to a clean and healthy environment. JET has also produced numerous publications on various environmental topics and issues; the most recent of these can be found on JET’s recently redesigned website: http://www.jamentrust.org

The 25 Places & Projects campaign will be disseminated through JET’s Facebook fan page, Twitter and Instagram accounts: 

· Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jamentrust 
· Twitter: @jamentrust
· Instagram: @jamentrust1991

Here is the founder of the Lasco Releaf Environmental Awareness Program (R.E.A.P.) initiative, Stephen Newland of the band Rootz Underground, with students of St. Jago Cathedral Preparatory School. LASCO REAP is a recycling, conservation & tree planting initiative in schools in Jamaica. I was guest speaker on this day, at the 2014/15 launch of the program. (Photo: LASCO REAP).
Founder of the Lasco Releaf Environmental Awareness Program (R.E.A.P.) initiative, Stephen Newland of the band Rootz Underground, with students of St. Jago Cathedral Preparatory School. LASCO REAP is a recycling, conservation & tree planting initiative in schools in Jamaica. I was guest speaker on this day, at the 2014/15 launch of the program. (Photo: LASCO REAP).

At the fourth annual LASCO Re-Leaf Environmental Awareness Programme (REAP) awards ceremony last week, the Minister Without Portfolio at the Office of the Prime Minister, who’s also responsible for the environment, Daryl Vaz made an impassioned plea for people to dispose of their garbage properly – especially plastic waste. The participating schools diligently collected over 700,000 plastic bottles and planted over 1,000 trees as well as flower and vegetable gardens. This is all wonderful, and action projects like this really help to educate our youth on the importance of protecting and caring for our environment. Minister Vaz was absolutely correct in his comments. It’s an awesome project and I commend reggae musician Stephen Newland for his vision. They have a fabulous new website, too: http://www.lascoreapja.com

But in addition to awareness programs, educational programs, speeches and awards and essay competitions and poster competitions – we need action! And dear Government of Jamaica, much of this lies at your feet. We need to see you doing – yes, doing – more for our environment, and at the risk of repeating myself (see yesterday’s blog post on World Oceans Day!) passing laws, enforcing them properly, and enforcing the current ones that are flouted daily. Jamaica just signed the Paris Agreement on climate change. Let’s show we are serious and go for renewable energy in a substantial way – not setting ourselves unambitious long-term targets, but big, bountiful goals to aspire to. We may surprise ourselves!

Garbage illegally dumped in Hellshire, part of the Portland Bight Protected Area. (My photo)
Garbage illegally dumped in Hellshire, part of the Portland Bight Protected Area. We came across several other examples during a recent birding trip – quite a bit of it was construction waste. (My photo)

And let’s do it now! We have talked long enough, examined the problems, and we know what needs to be done.

Then, who knows…the Jamaican public (those that throw garbage from their SUVs and taxi cabs, for example) will get the message. They may start to realize that their Government is actually serious about combating climate change and making this island a better place to live, too. Of course, Jamaicans must take responsibility. But right now, I feel the Government must set the example, and take action. We will all reap the benefits, sooner than we think.

And yes. It’s good to have World Environment Day. But let’s avoid tokenism. I came across a tweet today from Indian columnist and journalist Madhavan Narayanan, which sums this up:

Roads choked
Garbage forms mountains
Air hurts nostrils
We talk growth 364 days a year
And then say: Happy #WorldEnvironmentDay
One day

Let all 365 days a year be World Environment Days.

P.S. I have not touched on the theme of this year’s World Environment Day, which is an urgent and important one: Zero Tolerance for the Illegal Wildlife Trade. If we think that this is not relevant to the Caribbean, and it is just about Africa and Asia and big animals, then we are so wrong. But that is a matter for another blog post. You can read much more on the World Environment Day website: http://www.wed2016.com

The UN notes: "Eco-crime hits record high at up to $258 billion, outstripping the illegal trade in small arms, as international criminal gangs and militant groups profit from the plunder of Earth's resources." In this photo, a policeman holds one of 22 water bottles, each with a yellow-crested cockatoo inside it, at the customs office of Tanjung Perak port in Surabaya, East Java province, Indonesia. (Photo: Reuters)
The UN notes: “Eco-crime hits record high at up to $258 billion, outstripping the illegal trade in small arms, as international criminal gangs and militant groups profit from the plunder of Earth’s resources.” In this photo, a policeman holds one of 22 water bottles, each with a yellow-crested cockatoo inside it, at the customs office of Tanjung Perak port in Surabaya, East Java province, Indonesia. (Photo: Reuters)

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