On February 8 I saw a lovely tweet from Prime Minister Andrew Holness, regarding a floating cruise ship pier to be installed at Port Royal. It was accompanied by a video…
Port Royal’s SeaWalk floating pier system is ready! Here’s a video from the manufacturer, showing it in operation at their dock. It is currently in-transit to Jamaica, and will arrive here next week. #NewJamaica
I also saw a response from a friend, who had recently taken a colleague to the town of Port Royal. The visitor was eager to see the famous town that was once “the wickedest city” and had slipped under the sea during the earthquake and tsunami of 1692. In a long series of tweets, my friend expressed her disappointment and embarrassment, not only at the state of the town but also at the very poor, rundown quality of the “main attraction” in Port Royal, the historic Fort Charles.
I noted that, during our birdwatching trip to Port Royal and the adjoining Palisadoes wetlands (a Ramsar site) for World Wetlands Day on February 2, the town itself is in very poor shape. Sewage lies on one street; the whole town smells bad; there are blocked drains between the houses. Dogs and roosters roam around, picking at the garbage – which is scattered everywhere, even right in front of the Library. We have been visiting the town regularly for many years, and it was always a sleepy little place. However, in 2019 it seems more dilapidated than ever. Additionally, the Old Hospital, another heritage site, is decaying.
Our BirdLife Jamaica group stopped at the Old Coal Wharf, where the cruise ship pier will be located. There we counted dozens of waterbirds for the Caribbean Waterbird Census. Clearly, they will have to find a different spot to hang out. I also happily noted a small seagrass bed at Old Coal Wharf. No doubt that will be gone.
An agreement was signed about a year ago, and Cabinet approved the budget for the floating pier last July. According to the Swedish manufacturers, it has a “very small environmental footprint,” and can be moved to different locations. Port Royal will be their first installation outside of Scandinavia.
Why has there been so little information available on this development?
What kind of infrastructure will be in place, and what area will it cover on land? Will there be shops and other buildings?
What impact will this have on the marine environment? Will dredging be required?
When and where will public consultations take place?
When will an Environmental Impact Assessment be done? This is a Protected Area.
What do local residents know about the development, if anything? How will this affect the fishermen, the outlying cays, the Port Royal Marine Lab, the Coast Guard station and other activities in the town?
Will any underwater archaeological remains be affected?
Does the Government even realise that this is a Ramsar site – a Wetland of International Importance since 2005? Albeit greatly imperilled by the destruction of mangroves to rebuild the airport road years ago, and the incredible amounts of garbage that currently clog the mangroves?
Our environmental and cultural heritage walk very closely, hand in hand. Let us not be in a rush to invite thousands of tourists to a place that is simply not ready, ecologically or infrastructurally. And let us have a really beautiful environment to share with the tourists when they do arrive!
It seems we are putting the cart before the horse, here. As my friend said on Twitter, let’s get the basics right. Port Royal and its historic sites require drastic refurbishment; and the environment, already under so much pressure, needs proper safeguards in place, before the tourist hordes arrive.
So, it is timely that the Jamaica Environment Trust, having tried to obtain more information on the cruise ship pier, has expressed its concerns. Please see their press release, below:
February 11, 2019
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT GOJ’S PLAN FOR PORT ROYAL CRUISE SHIP PIER IS NEEDED, SAYS JET
The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is growing increasingly concerned about the lack of detailed information in the public domain regarding the Government of Jamaica’s (GOJ’s) plans for a cruise ship pier at Port Royal in Kingston. The cruise ship port is proposed to be constructed at the Old Coal Wharf in the Palisadoes Port Royal Protected Area (PPRPA) in Kingston, a RAMSAR wetland of international importance, and metres away from a from a proposed World Heritage Site – Port Royal.
JET is gravely concerned about the potential impact a cruise ship port and its associated infrastructure could have on the PPRPA, which is already under threat from a variety of sources including illegal dumping, wetland destruction and illegal settlements. While JET recognises that Port Royal has suffered from inadequate upkeep and investment over many years, the kind of mass-market tourism typically associated with cruise ship ports in the Caribbean is not appropriate for fragile ecosystems and important historical sites. The impacts of a cruise ship pier do not stop at the pier structure itself, even one with a reduced ecological footprint as the proposed Port Royal floating cruise ship pier is purported to be. The carrying capacity of the proposed site to handle cruise ship visitors must also be considered.
Despite requests for information by JET from two state agencies – the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) – very few details have been forthcoming from the GOJ on the Port Royal cruise port development. Following multiple Access to Information requests for information in 2018, last October JET received copies of the PAJ’s application for a beach license to NEPA to construct a SeaWalkTM floating cruise ship pier at the Old Coal Wharf in Port Royal. The document provides little information about the larger cruise port/terminal project and no assessment of the potential impact of the pier to the PPRPA. At a meeting of the PPRPA Management Committee, at which JET was represented in December 2018, a representative of NEPA confirmed that a request for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project had been sent to the PAJ; however at the time of writing there has been no further update from either NEPA or the PAJ on when an EIA will be done or when public consultation on the development will take place.
EIAs and public consultations are tools used to guide NEPA’s decision-making on proposed developments and should be carried out before any approvals are given. ‘Port and harbour development’ is listed as one of several prescribed categories under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act where an EIA may be required as part of a permit application.
Last week, two news items referred to developments regarding the proposed Port Royal Cruise Ship Pier. On February 6 it was reported that Orion Marine Construction has been awarded a US$7.5m contract to construct the pier, and on February 8 it was reported that the pier is to be completed by September 2018, and that the PAJ had secured a January 2020 visit from the Discovery 2 cruise vessel operated by Marella Cruises; the Discovery 2 is reported to have a capacity of over 1,800 passengers. The proposed pier was also the subject of a Tweet by Prime Minister the Most Hon. Andrew Holness on February 8 announcing “Port Royal’s SeaWalk floating pier system is ready! (…) It is currently in-transit to Jamaica, and will arrive here next week.”
JET is calling on the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) to present the public with a detailed description of what is planned for the Port Royal Cruise Port development, including an assessment of its potential impact on the environment and the activities of those who live, work and travel on the Palisadoes Strip in Kingston. A development of this nature must be pursued with the utmost transparency, and Jamaicans should be given the opportunity to provide feedback on the plans before any part of the cruise ship pier is constructed.