Good News in Jamaica On The Eve of World Oceans Day


Tomorrow – Wednesday, June 8 – is World Oceans Day, and I have some very good news to report.

Rainforest Seafoods, a major importer of fish and seafood products, announced yesterday (June 6): “As we prepare to celebrate ‪#‎WorldOceansDay‬ this Wednesday, we’re very excited to announce our parrotfish conservation effort in partnership with the UWI Alligator Head Marine Lab (UWI AHML)! Additionally, we are no longer participating in the importation, production and sale of parrot fish.” The company has signed a partnership valued at J$1.25 million with the Alligator Head lab in Portland to implement protective measures for the highly threatened reef fish population, including parrotfish, while training local fishermen in environmentally sustainable fishing methods.

Major kudos to Rainforest Seafoods!
Major kudos to Rainforest Seafoods!

“At Rainforest, our operations have been guided by the highest environmental standards. We are constantly updating ourselves on developments that may threaten our ecosystems, both regionally and internationally,” said CEO of Rainforest Seafoods Brian Jardim. “This is part of our ongoing effort to identify best practices that will both sustain the livelihood of our fishermen and protect the longevity of our marine resources.” Kudos to him, and we hope that other private sector players will follow his company’s example.

Director of Research at Alligator Head Dr Dayne Buddo will oversee the installation and maintenance of two fish aggregating devices (FADs) in Portland. The FADs are used to attract fish further from the shore, such as the mahi mahi, tuna and jacks. Local fishermen will be fully trained in the building and use of the FADs. This will assist in the protection of parrot and other reef fish that reside closer to shore. It’s well known that few large parrotfish are to be found in Jamaican waters, although I did see some quite large ones on sale at Old Harbour Bay fish market last summer. I was told that they were caught much further out at sea, possibly at Pedro Cays. 

The beautiful parrotfish grazes off coral reefs, keeping them healthy.
The beautiful parrotfish grazes off coral reefs, keeping them healthy.

Why is it so important to protect what is left of our parrotfish population? Because they are vital for the health of our coral reefs and hence, our beaches and our coastline in general. I wrote about the virtues of the fish in the Gleaner recently: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=3261 They have terrific teeth (like a parrot’s beak) that graze algae off the reef, crunch it all up and then poop it out, creating the material for our lovely white beaches.

Earlier this year I attended the launch of the Alligator Head Foundation in Portland, and wrote about it here: https://petchary.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/the-alligator-head-foundation-another-fish-sanctuary-rises-to-the-surface/ The new Marine Lab and Fish Sanctuary, established with funds from long-time Portland resident and Swiss-born Archduchess Francesca von Habsburg-Lothringen and UWI, is an extremely welcome development. You can find them on Facebook and here: http://ahmarinelab.org and they deserve our full support.

Francesca von Habsburg catching some of the predatory and invasive Lionfish in Portland. (Photo: Alligator Head Foundation)
Francesca von Habsburg-Lothringen catching some of the predatory and invasive Lionfish in Portland. (Photo: Alligator Head Foundation)

I was not impressed by the Director of Fisheries’ assertion on television a few weeks ago that neither a ban nor any limitation on the catching of parrotfish was advisable, as it would put fishermen out of work. Of course, if over-fishing continues unchecked, there will be no livelihood for our fishers anyway! And this is already happening. Clearly the man in charge of our fisheries has never heard of the word “sustainable,” but happily some of our businessmen “get it” (thank you again, Mr. Jardim!) I would love to see a complete ban on the herbivore parrotfish, and a continued concerted effort to rid ourselves of the carnivorous and invasive Lion Fish. Alligator Head and others all already battling the very fancy-looking but greedy Lion Fish, which gobbles everything in sight. I understand it tastes good – which is something to bear in mind!

Another piece of great news: just this week I learned about the new Trash Free Waters in the Caribbean Initiative, aimed at reducing marine litter in our seas, to be launched in Jamaica this summer (although it was actually announced at the Our Ocean II Conference in Chile in October, 2015). This is a partnership among the United Nations Environment Programme’s Caribbean Environment Program (UNEP/CEP), which will engage the government and ensure its active participation; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (which will provide training and develop and adapt tools for use in Jamaican communities); and the U.S. Peace Corps (who have the volunteers on the ground). The project sounds very promising. Let us hope, too that the private sector will play its part.

This infographic gives you an idea of the development and impact of micro plastics - creating a "plastic soup."
This infographic gives you an idea of the development and impact of micro plastics – creating a “plastic soup.”

Now, the problem of marine litter is closely connected to solid waste management on land. In the wider Caribbean region, up to eighty per cent of marine litter comes from garbage…solid waste originating on land. So we are back to the issue of plastics – and microplastics, which break down, slowly, into smaller and smaller pieces, and are eaten by fish, which we then eat. We are ending up eating the plastic we have created. More on this in another post.

I hope it is significant (and a positive move) that the environment portfolio, in Daryl Vaz’s care, comes under Economic Growth and Job Creation. Because, as I learned at a recent seminar on the Green Economy, there is so much potential for making money from solid waste, with just a little innovation and creativity – not to mention renewable energy, of course. If you browse the Internet, you will see hundreds of examples of community-based recycling and repurposing projects, for example. So let’s get busy. Meanwhile, I would like to see the Holness administration get busy with legislation and the enforcement of existing laws. Use the environmental levy for the purpose it was intended for, for example; enact deposit legislation for plastic bottles, find an eco-friendly alternative to styrofoam…and more.

There is hope for our seas. But there is a lot of work to be done, on all sides.

Happy World Oceans Day!

Note: If you want to delve deeper… In recognition of World Oceans Day 2016 “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet”, UNEP-CAR/RCU is re-releasing the updated Marine Litter in the Wider Caribbean: A Regional Overview & Action Plan. This document provides an update to the 2008 “Marine Litter in the Wider Caribbean: A Regional Overview & Action Plan” (RAPMaLi). The regional overview and development of the 2008 RAPMaLi was part of an initiative conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme-Caribbean Regional Coordinating Unit (UNEP-CAR/RCU) with financial support from UNEP’s Regional Seas Programme and the UNEP Global Programme of Action. This update was commissioned by United Nations Environment Programme Caribbean/ Regional Coordinating Unit (UNEP-CAR/RCU). You can download it here: http://www.cep.unep.org/cep-documents/rapmali_web.pdf


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