Minister Daryl Vaz – Speech at the Launch of National Environmental Awareness Week 2017

As you may have noticed in various posts on this blog – in the past year or two, at least – the impact of tourism developments on the environment cannot be overstated. Sand has been removed from beaches to create new beaches at new tourism resorts (they have created a “fake beach” recently at the new, huge Royalton development in Negril); deforestation – including the destruction of precious carbon-sinks such as mangroves – is commonplace, in order to build hotels. And why is Negril now facing a water crisis? Paradoxically, our beautiful natural environment is what we depend on to attract tourists. Is sustainable tourism really possible (is it happening, at all?) or is it just a nice catch phrase?

Minister Daryl Vaz, who is responsible for environmental and climate change issues in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation: (My photo)

At the launch of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA)’s National Environment Awareness Week, Minister Without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation (with responsibility for the Land, Environment, Climate Change and Investment) Daryl Vaz expressed support for eco-tourism. Here is the text of his speech on May 25:

Good evening.

Let me begin by making a confession – the observance of National Environment Awareness Week gives me a sense of renewed passion:

Renewed passion for the protection of the island’s natural resources and efforts, across Government, to facilitate sustainable development;

Renewed passion in communicating to the Jamaican public the role we all play in the protection of the environment; and

Renewed passion in ensuring that the impact we have on the environment today leaves it in good condition for future generations.

The observance of this year’s National Environment Awareness Week under the theme Protecting Paradise is also about renewed passions; renewed passions in the sense that we want people to remember the extraordinary benefits that a healthy natural environment offers for economic development, specifically tourism.

Ladies and gentlemen, tourism represents one of the world’s fastest growing industries. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, the tourism sector grew by 3.9 per cent in 2016.

Puerto Seco Beach in Discovery Bay. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

In the Caribbean, approximately 40 million people are drawn to our beautiful beaches and marine life, providing $25 billion of revenue annually – and nearly 50 per cent of the region’s total income. However, as we showcase our tourism product and realise its financial benefits, we must remain good stewards of the environment.

Colleagues, the definition of sustainable tourism adopted by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation states that tourism should “make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.”

Already, we have taken steps to facilitate the development of a sustainable tourism product which respects our biological diversity. This we have achieved by laying a robust policy and legislative framework and by being signatories to international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international treaty for the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources.

Indeed, we would not be able to showcase our famous seven-mile beach in Negril, Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios or our UNESCO Heritage site – the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park – if we had not previously linked an appreciation of biodiversity to our tourism product. However, there remain numerous opportunities for us to respect the environment and maximise our tourism potential.

It is, therefore, fitting that this year’s theme for National Environment Awareness Week is in keeping with the observance of 2017 as the United Nation’s Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Let us take a moment to look at our wetlands.

The thick mangrove fringing Great Goat Island in the Portland Bight Protected Area. (My photo)

Wetlands are home to the natural treasures that make a country unique. For example, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park records an average 1.8 million visitors per year.

Jamaica is home to several wetlands, four of which are recognised under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and are part of the global network of more than 2,200 Wetlands of International Importance, which are used and managed sustainably.

I speak about: The Black River Lower Morass in St. Elizabeth – the largest freshwater ecosystem in Jamaica and the Caribbean. It is also home to the American Crocodile and other native flora and fauna.

The Palisadoes/Port Royal Protected Area in Kingston. This area is rich in cultural and natural heritage. Beyond that, over 26 endemic new species have been discovered in the area.

Mason River, which straddles Clarendon and St. Ann, is our newest Ramsar site and home to rich flora and fauna.

Portland Bight wetlands and cays.  More than 3,000 fisher families make their livelihoods in the Bight, harvesting mostly fin-fish but also lobster, shrimp , oysters and conch.

These wetlands, like so many other natural resources, have enormous potential and have set the framework for their sustainable use, even as eco-tourism is on the rise internationally.

BirdsCaribbean’s Caribbean Birding Trail guide training in the Cockpit Country has greatly enhanced eco-tourism in Jamaica. (Photo: BirdsCaribbean/Facebook)

Ladies and gentlemen, eco-tourism promotes responsible travel to areas that conserve the environment and improve the wellbeing of people in that community. It provides livelihoods. And it spreads wider understanding of the need to protect our precious natural heritage.

Jamaica is in a perfect position to expand our eco-tourism offerings. Therefore, by protecting our natural resources we are safeguarding the development of our tourism product.

Over the next three to five years the Government of Jamaica will implement several strategies towards the protection of the environment. These include:

  1. The implementation of the National Strategy for Biodiversity Conservation, supported by a national programme to enhance and protect our biodiversity and wildlife.
  2. Completion of the overarching Protected Areas legislation and policy, which will support the establishment of the National Conservation Trust Fund in order to improve the financial and operational sustainability of the National Protected Areas System; and
  3. Completion of the National Biosafety Policy to manage the risks and threaten biodiversity, human, plant and animal health as well as the socio-economic consequences of introducing Genetically Modified Organisms and their derivatives into the environment.

Ladies and gentlemen, even as we work to protect the environment and facilitate its sustainable development, we must remain mindful of the impact of climate change on our country as a small island developing state, and our tourism product. I speak of the loss of our coastlines.

Today, we are experiencing more erratic weather patterns – a prime example being the recent rains that we had across the island last week. As a Government, we must therefore be proactive in our efforts for climate change mitigation and the protection of our natural resources.

Flooding on the main coastal road (North Coast Highway) at Runaway Bay, St. Ann last December.

Against this background, I am pleased to announce that we have prepared with the support of the World Bank, the National Guidelines on Coastal Management and Beach Restoration. This document along with a Coastal Risk Atlas to be developed this year will be used to support and inform decisions with respect to developments within coastal areas.

The Government will also develop and implement a Coastal Response Strategy and implement activities for the improvement of coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Government has also received funding from the World Bank Program on Forests (PROFOR) to implement a project aimed at “assessing the economic valuation of coastal protection services provided by mangroves in Jamaica.”

The Grant is linked to the ongoing Jamaica Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project (DVRP), which focuses on enhancing the climate and disaster resilience of key infrastructure and the country’s disaster response capacity.

This activity will be led by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). Indeed, the overall objective of this initiative is to support the Government’s thrust to promote cost-effective coastal protection measures through mangrove systems enhancement.

As Minister with responsibility for the Land, Environment, Climate Change and Investment, let me also use this opportunity to commend the members of corporate Jamaica that have agreed to come on board for the Green Business Jamaica pilot programme.

This voluntary step to make your businesses more environmentally friendly shows a willingness to support the development of our country and growth of the Gross Domestic Product in a manner that facilitates sustainable consumption and production.

Ladies and gentlemen, I will close as I began by stating that the theme Protecting Paradise is geared at eliciting renewed passions among the Jamaican people.

Renewed passion for the protection of our environment and by extension our livelihoods;

Renewed passion in seeing the potential for sustainable tourism products that fully appreciate our natural environment.

Renewed passion for making Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, do business and raise families.

I hereby declare National Environment Awareness Week 2017 and Green Business Jamaica launched.

“Protecting Paradise” is the theme for next week – focus on sustainable tourism.

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