Jamaica’s last remaining mangrove forests: a cycle of destruction and replanting

You may have noticed from previous blog posts that I am a little obsessed with mangroves – and confused, perhaps, by the Jamaican Government’s attitude towards them. It seems to be a love/hate relationship. Most of the love seems to be professions of love rather than actual caring and concern. We celebrate World Wetlands Day every year, most enthusiastically. And the hateful destruction (with the imminent threat of more to come) just seems to continue. Just over a year ago I asked: Are we just pretending to value our mangroves – which we continuously declare are incredibly valuable as carbon sinks, as protection against the ravages of climate change?

A beautiful area of mangrove at Yallahs Salt Ponds in St. Thomas. I hope this will remain untouched. (My photo)

In my July 2020 post, I listed several areas where mangrove forests have already been destroyed, or their demise was pending. This list included the site of the huge Grand Luxury Princess Hotel and Casino location in Green Island, Hanover. The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has since shared drone footage of bulldozers destroying the mangroves, so the deed is done. Prior to that, considerable damage to the coastline and coral reefs, caused by the construction of the Falmouth Cruise Ship Pier was also deeply regrettable. The Ramsar site (a Wetland of International Importance) on the Palisadoes has been steadily nibbled away at for various reasons in recent years – while chocking on the uncontrolled flow of garbage into Kingston Harbour. The Palisadoes wetlands are at this point possibly our most endangered ecosystem (and there is a lot of competition for that title).

And there’s more. What of the Montego Bay Bypass? I understand construction will begin next year. A friend reminded me that this might be ploughing its way through another area of mangroves – what’s left of it – near the city. My friend also pointed out: “The road construction will also result in the washing down of a lot of marl into the sea, smothering the already stressed reefs. As with every road building project, natural drainage patterns will be disrupted and more people will be subjected to flooding of their houses.”

There seems to be a schizophrenic attitude towards mangroves, though. On the one hand, the relevant Government agencies go out of their way to celebrate mangroves and to teach schoolchildren about their importance. On the other hand, the mangroves are destroyed – primarily in the name of tourism and highways – and then, at some point, replanted.

So you may say, OK. We just had to get rid of some mangroves; now let’s put them back. If it were only that simple. For a start, mangroves take a long time to reach maturity.

According to Wetlands International, the majority of mangrove restoration projects around the world are failing. Young mangrove plants will only thrive in particular conditions. If they are cut down in one place, they will not necessarily do well in another. The conditions of soil, water, tides, etc. have to be just right. You can read much more detail in Wetlands International’s publication: “Mangrove Restoration: To Plant or not to Plant?” here.

The disaster risk reduction project I described includes mangrove restoration. I hope it will be successful.

Swampy reflections: The edge of a small area of mangroves in Williamsfield, Eastern Portland. (My photo)

Meanwhile, JET has returned to the issue of the ongoing destruction of our mangroves. Here is their recent release:

JET Condemns the Destruction of Mangrove Forests Across Jamaica

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is extremely concerned about the continuing destruction of Jamaica’s mangrove forests. JET has recently received reports alleging the removal of mangroves within the Palisadoes Port Royal Protected Area by the National Water Commission (NWC), in the absence of the required environmental permit. We have also received reports of further removal of mangroves to facilitate the expansion of the town of Falmouth, reported in The Gleaner (September 1, 2021).

Mangrove forests are one of the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet and their conservation is a key natural adaptation strategy and mitigation measure in response to climate change, providing protection against storms. The Jamaican government has recognized the island’s vulnerability to climate change as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) and has stressed the importance of adaptation. In fact, Jamaica’s 2020 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in support of the Paris Agreement signed by 196 countries in 2015 stresses the importance of preserving and enhancing the forestry sector.

The threat posed by the depletion of Jamaica’s mangrove forests has long been recognized. The Forestry’s Land Use Assessment for the period 1998 to 2013, found that mangroves and swamps had depleted by some 98 per cent in Jamaica.

“We understand that the Forestry Department plans to restore several of the island’s mangrove ecosystems and intends to prepare a plan to manage these forests,” said Dr. Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie, JET’s CEO. “This is moving far too slowly, however, and may not be completed until next year. While this is still being prepared mangroves continue to be destroyed.”

JET is aware that the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) requires replanting and restoration of mangroves, if a permit permission is given for their removal. The Agency typically requires monitoring of the mangroves to ensure they have properly re-established for only five years, whereas studies generally show mangroves tend to be re-established over a much longer time frame, anywhere between 12-25 years.

While destruction continues in some areas, a major mangrove restoration project is underway in Southern Clarendon where US$2.45 million grant was provided by the UK Blue Carbon, and JET is aware of other mangrove restoration projects in the planning stages. “It is counterproductive that we are still allowing large areas of mangroves to be removed while at the same time planning to replant hectares of mangroves,” said Dr Rodriguez-Moodie. “Even if replanting efforts are successful, it will be decades before ecosystem functions are restored.”  

JET would like to see the preparation of the Mangrove Management Plan speeded up by the Forestry Department; and for NEPA to stop granting permits for the removal of existing mangrove forests and focus on their protection and replanting in areas where they would be most beneficial.

A gnarled mangrove at Yallahs Salt Ponds. (My photo)


4 thoughts on “Jamaica’s last remaining mangrove forests: a cycle of destruction and replanting

  1. This is amazing Petchary! thanks so much for sharing. Are you able to produce a 3-5 minute read for us at exceptionalcaribbean.com on the value and importance of mangroves for the Caribbean? please advise. best regards, auliana.

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  2. Shame on all those who have done and are continuing to do this damage to our world.  Barry Sent from Mail for Windows From: Petchary’s BlogSent: Sunday, September 5, 2021 12:52 AMTo: laobarry1@gmail.comSubject: [New post] Jamaica’s last remaining mangrove forests: a cycle of destruction and replanting petchary posted: " You may have noticed from previous blog posts that I am a little obsessed with mangroves – and confused, perhaps, by the Jamaican Government’s attitude towards them. It seems to be a love/hate relationship. Most of the love seems to be professions of lov"

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