Today (February 2) is World Wetlands Day. For Jamaica (and everywhere) this should be an important date on the calendar. It marks the signing of the Convention on Wetlands in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971. The “official” celebration will be at the Mason River Protected Area in northern Clarendon on Friday, February 7. It is the island’s only inland wetland (a peat bog), designated as Jamaica’s fourth Ramsar Site of International Importance in 2011. The other three are the Portland Bight Protected Area, the Palisadoes/Port Royal Protected Area, and the Black River Lower Morass in St. Elizabeth.
Unfortunately, these four major wetland areas are facing overwhelming challenges; not to mention the smaller pockets of wetlands around our coast. In fact, our wetlands are increasingly degraded and endangered. They are threatened by deforestation caused by development (including tourism) and also agriculture; pollution (including solid waste); and, I would suggest, a general couldn’t-care-less attitude. Who cares about a bit of muddy swamp, full of mosquitoes and crocodiles? It can go.
And it is not so easy to “replant mangroves” in Jamaica, or anywhere. The success rate is not very high; we have seen this on the airport road in Kingston, where mangroves were destroyed to raise the highway. Also, you cannot plant mangroves in places where they never grew before. Besides, their growth rate is variable depending on their situation. The best thing to do is not cut them down in the first place.
Globally, mangroves are disappearing faster than tropical rainforests on an annual basis. Take a look at the Smithsonian Ocean website for tons more information.
Let’s get to the theme for World Wetlands Day 2020, which is “Wetlands and Biodiversity.” This year we turn our focus on all the life that thrives in wetlands, and depends on them. And let us remind ourselves of the ways in which we humans depend on the wetlands, too.
Wetlands are incredibly important stopover points for migratory birds, for one thing, along their flight routes; and for their winter homes here in warmer climes. In fact, many of the birds you find in Jamaican wetlands are migratory – for example, the Blue-winged Teal, perhaps the most common duck that you may see here in the winter. I saw several for the first time recently, in the Portland Bight, splashing and dabbling in the water. A Grey Plover, which we watched for hours feeding along the water’s edge near Black River, actually breeds in the Arctic tundra and leaves the north when it gets too cold.
Jamaican birders focused on waterbirds today. One BirdLife member, Wolde Kristos, had this to say:
We have wetlands all over the Bluefields community and Bluefields Bay, starting from Auchindown to Paradise Point.
We must work smarter to protect these areas, because without them our beaches, fisheries and wildlife areas are threatened.
The mangroves are being removed for development purposes. However, all persons must get a Beach License from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) before any modification takes place. The modification work must also be supervised by NEPA.
Mangroves are being used as a dumping ground for old appliances and building materials, and this must stop. Please report anyone you see doing this. Take pictures if you can.
For long term protection, the community must buy lands so we can better protect these areas. If we lose the wetland in front of the Belmont Fishing Beach, we will be losing the entire land space of the Bluefields People’s Community Association and the Bluefields Bay Fishermen’s Friendly Society, due to the rushing waters from Brighton, Mt. Edgecombe, Cherry Hill and Pitney.
We live here and we have to protect what we have, so we can enjoy the area we love.
Wolde touches on something that I think may be the only hope for us in Jamaica: to establish more (properly regulated and maintained) nature reserves. The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) is dedicated to protecting key habitats throughout the Americas, helping sustain healthy populations of shorebirds. With the addition of Cargill Salt Ponds in Bonaire there are now 103 WHSRN sites covering nearly 15 million hectares (38 million acres) in 17 countries. In Bonaire, this was the result of a strong partnership between the private owners and non-governmental organizations, including BirdsCaribbean.
How about some wetland reserves in Jamaica?